PORT ANGELES — City staff are reviewing former Clallam County Superior Court Judge Brian Coughenour’s voluntary proposal to clean up his stretch of three debris- and vehicle-strewn properties on East Fifth Street by Nov. 26.
“Generally, it seems workable,” said Bill Bloor, Port Angeles city attorney, on Tuesday.
The parcels at 101, 105 and 115 E. Fifth St. have prompted numerous citizen complaints, police calls and disapproving Facebook posts to group sites since at least May.
City officials expect to have a draft agreement ready for Coughenour’s signature “certainly by the end of the week,” Bloor said.
“We are making it a priority. We want to get the voluntary agreement.”
Coughenour’s son, Cody, 42, who lives on one of the parcels, was working on making the lots presentable Tuesday morning.
“I’ve been working on this for months and months,” he said.
“We’re recycling and organizing some of the stuff.
“It’s not like the city makes a decision and points a finger at a boy and says clean up your room, and that’s how you get it done,” he said.
“It gets done by hard work, by people volunteering their work and time.”
Brian Coughenour, who resigned as judge June 1 and lives on Eden Valley Road west of Port Angeles, offered to enter into the voluntary abatement agreement in an email Thursday morning to part-time code enforcement officer Erin Brown.
“My plan is to have the place looking normal by Thanksgiving, if not before,” he pledged in the email.
The properties are on the south side of a broad alley that is bordered on its north side by the back wall of the Lincoln Street Safeway.
Concrete refuse, abandoned vehicles, metal scrap, wood scrap and large appliances line the alley from South Laurel Street almost to Lincoln.
“I have spent the last two weekends catching up on the primary public health problem which was the depositing of real trash by trespassers and Safeway users who use the alley as their personal dump,” Coughenour said in the email.
“Trash has been reduced significantly since we removed most of the squatters and tried to reduce the traffic of derelicts behind Safeway who deposit their waste there. I have paid for double 300-gallon dumpster pickups in the last month to get it hauled way.”
Coughenour did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
Bloor told Coughenour in a Sept. 1 letter that the condition of the property had prompted, with increasing frequency, “many, many complaints” from citizens.
He cited an “unsafe and unhealthy situation” on the properties and police reports of hazardous living conditions, drug overdoses and felony-level assaults.
Brown’s Sept. 30 notice of violation set last Friday as the deadline for the former judge to haul the detritus off the parcels.
Brown, two police officers and a social worker visited the site for an inspection Friday morning, standing on the perimeter to assess what Brown subsequently determined was a lack of progress in addressing the Sept. 30 notice.
A long “NO TRESPASS” sign on a fence warns that “You are hereby warned that the owner or tenant of this property requires all public officials, agents or person(s) to abide by ‘the supreme law of the land.’ ” It said a warrant for “inspection” of the property was required.
“Alleged zoning or code non-compliance do not establish constitutional reasons for entering the property. Violators will be treated as intruders.”
Deputy Police Chief Jason Viada said it was not necessary to go onto the property on Friday in order to conduct an inspection.
Police would always obtain a warrant to go on private property for non-emergency reasons, Chief Brian Smith said.
Viada said Brown, who works three days a week, did not see Coughenour’s email until either Friday or Monday, after she started preparing a 14-day notice warning Coughenour that he could face court action.
She had suggested in her Sept. 30 certified-mail notice that Coughenour could request the voluntary abatement agreement to avoid further action.
The letter was returned as unreceived. Then Brown personally delivered it late last week before the inspection, Viada said.
Coughenour said in an earlier interview that the properties, which include the closed ToadLilly House International Hostel, had become a magnet for homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic. He and his son, who manages the property, said they had difficulty removing people because of Gov. Jay Inslee’s moratorium on evictions.
The former judge said he wanted to be present for the inspection Friday but couldn’t be there.
“Due to COVID-19, I must be caring for and schooling my granddaughter,” he said of the 8-year-old, adding he also had a doctor’s appointment.
He said in his email that a white ambulance on the property owned by a “covid squatter” could be tagged as junk, as he never agreed to store it, and that a trailer with a house and boat on top of it will be removed by the first week of November.
Ducks that were on the parcels in violation of animal husbandry restrictions “are gone,” Coughenour said.
“I noticed some banty chickens which will take some time to catch.”
Coughenour said issues involving metal behind 101 and 105 E. Fifth St., and rubble and dirt walls on the edge of the alley, will be resolved.
“I have responsible new renters in 115 [East Fifth St.] who are committed to cleaning up the house and assist[ing] in reclaiming the property from squatters and trespassers. I’m sure the police and fire department dispatches have been reduced significantly,” he said.
Viada said he could not yet answer what will constitute a satisfactory cleanup of the properties.
“The finish line is going to be something that is agreed on by the city and the judge,” he said.
Two part-time code enforcement officers, both working 18 hours a week, began working public-nuisance cases in September, several months after police began receiving the first complaints about Coughenour’s properties but not making them a priority.
“We are talking regulatory crimes here — we’re not talking about crimes of violence — that are simply not at the top of a priority list for a fully commissioned police officer,” Viada said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].