PORT ANGELES — City officials were preparing on Friday to warn former Clallam County Superior Court Judge Brian Coughenour that he could face court action in two weeks unless he cleans up his downtown property, Deputy Police Chief Jason Viada said.
Coughenour, who resigned from the bench June 1, did not make progress in addressing a Sept. 30 notice of violation that said he must clean up the the three debris- and vehicle-strewn East First Street parcels by Friday, Viada said.
Coughenour said Friday that city officials have ignored his recent efforts to address removal of tires, abandoned vehicles, large appliances, construction debris and wood and metal scrap that runs, unbroken, nearly the length of an alley behind Safeway between South Laurel and Lincoln Streets.
Viada said police Code Enforcement Officer Erin Brown was preparing a notice Friday afternoon warning Coughenour that he would have 14 days to address the violations at 101, 105 and 115 E. Fifth St. or the city would prosecute him in District Court for flouting the municipal code.
Viada said the notice would be sent to Coughenour this week.
The city could seek a court order to force him to remove the refuse, Viada said.
Coughenour said he offered to enter into a voluntary abatement agreement contract, which Brown said in the Sept. 30 notice of violation is an option, and did not know Friday that he could face court action.
Brown, who works part-time, did not return a call for comment Friday afternoon or respond Saturday to a text message.
“I wish they would communicate with me when I send them something,” Coughenour said.
Police Department personnel Friday morning inspected the violations across a broad alley from the Lincoln Street Safeway, evaluating the abundant debris without setting foot on the cluttered parcels.
Three buildings include the ToadLily House International Hostel, which is closed.
Brown was accompanied by police Sgt. Kori Malone, Officer Jackson Vandusen and social worker Amy Miller. Coughenour and his son, Cody Coughenour, who lives on the property and manages it, were not present.
Several chickens could be seen Friday morning wandering around in the debris. Noncommercial animal husbandry is not permitted and is one of the violations.
“You don’t need to go onto the property to see that code violations are occurring,” Viada said.
“You can see that from a distance.”
The abundance of debris and vehicles has sparked drive-by Facebook videos and, according to an ongoing Peninsula Daily News public records request, numerous complaints since at least May.
Viada said Friday he was unaware of Coughenour’s offer to enter into the abatement agreement.
The pact would have to include “a reasonable timeline and also very visible milestones of progress,” Viada said.
“The community wants it cleaned up five months ago,” he added, repeating the statement twice for emphasis.
City Attorney Bill Bloor wrote Coughenour a Sept. 1 letter obtained through the public records request that cited “many, many complaints.”
He said authorities responded to reports ranging from unsafe living conditions and drug overdoses to felony-level assaults.
“The complaints are becoming more frequent,” Bloor told Coughenour.
“The City respects and appreciates the service you have provided this community as a practicing attorney and former Judge of the Clallam County Superior Court.
“Considering these circumstances, the City will not initiate formal enforcement action at this time.
“Rather, we call your attention to the unsafe and unhealthy situation that now exists on these properties and ask you to take measures appropriate to remedy these conditions.”
Coughenour responded to Bloor in a Sept. 4 email, saying a COVID-19-related moratorium on evictions made it nearly impossible for him to remove people who had flocked to the hostel run by his son when the pandemic hit last spring.
“I acknowledge that my son Cody, who for years successfully managed the Hostel (105) and the Peace House, my old office now an historic homestay (101), has collected a lot of stuff, cars, trailers and rv’s which I am doing my best to get him to relocate. The major problem is that people started to inhabit the houses and rv’s and claimed a covid privilege to stay,” he said.
“I cannot get a handle on the garbage since the dumpster is filled the moment it is emptied by squatters and drifters behind the Safeway who get their hand-out food and deposit their trash on our property. I have finally cleared 101, closed down 105, put a trespassing fence around the front of it on 5th street to notify that no one is invited there any longer.”
He asked Bloor for a specific rundown of violations that Coughenour said he never received and then was mailed the notice of violation, which he said was not sent to him until after he learned about it from a Peninsula Daily News reporter.
“It’s like constantly hiding the ball instead of talking to me directly,” Coughenour said.
Bloor said Friday he did not know about Coughenour’s request to enter into a voluntary abatement agreement and that Brown had outlined the violations to Coughenour.
Bloor said the condition of the property has not improved since he wrote to Coughenour on Sept. 1.
“It’s just pretty obvious what needs to be done,” Bloor said.
Coughenour, who lives on Eden Valley Road about 10 miles west of Port Angeles and has physical custody of his 8-year-old granddaughter, said he could not be at the Friday morning inspection and has a hard time traveling to the city on weekdays.
“I don’t know what’s going on there because I am not living there and most of the stuff they want out of there is my son’s property, my son’s trailers and buses and stuff like that,” Coughenour said.
“If he won’t move them, I’ll have to hire someone to move them.”
He said his son does not have a phone, so communication is difficult.
What would Coughenour say to residents who wonder why he has not acted sooner?
“I had to deal with COVID derelicts and trespassers and squatters who I could not evict due to the coronavirus order, and my son was arrested for trying to kick out a trespasser,” he said.
“When I finally get rid of most of the people, [city officials] come down on us.”
Most of the abandoned vehicles, he added, were owned by people who were staying on his property and left them behind.
Miller, program director of the city Rediscovery Program for homeless and at-risk residents, accompanied the officers to help to anyone there who might need it.
She said between 20 and 30 people were living on the property a few months ago, unlike what Miller saw Friday morning.
“It looked quiet,” Miller said.
Some trash had been removed since the Sept. 30 notice was issued, and the alley right-of-way had been cleared enough to allow a fire truck to get through. Those were good signs, Viada said.
But more vehicles and junk has been relocated to the public right-of-way bordering the property on Laurel and Fifth streets, and debris remains around light poles in the alley, making it difficult for utility workers to access them.
“A lot of hard work is being done, but it’s not productive work, it’s moving stuff around in circles, moving stuff into the right of way, moving it back onto the property, moving it here and there,” Viada said.
“Another way to say it is, the mess has not been cleaned up.
“The junk needs to be taken to the dump.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected]