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Tale of a Novato Drug House

For years, residents of one Novato street battled trash, loud parties and neighbors who sold drugs out of their home. How did it happen and why was it so difficult to stop them?

Shot of home at 430 San Marin Drive from Google Earth. Police say the property was a major nuisance, a place where users came to buy and use heroin and other drugs.
Shot of home at 430 San Marin Drive from Google Earth. Police say the property was a major nuisance, a place where users came to buy and use heroin and other drugs.

Updated 9:50am Monday with comments from HOA president Pamela Griffith Pond

For years, the home was the bane of the north Novato neighborhood.

Trash piled up in the yard, pitbulls chased children, and visitors came and went at all hours, sometimes hopping the back fence to enter. When police responded, they found people inside who were wanted for outstanding drug warrants, burglary, marijuana distribution and other crimes.

The address was 430 San Marin Drive and police say it was a bona fide drug house, a place where junkies, dealers and prostitutes came to get their heroin fix and “party.” Neighbors say they suspect methamphetamine was also produced there, prompting fears about a fire or explosions.

From 2010 to 2013, Novato Police visited the home 81 times and made 33 arrests. But that did little to deter the seasoned criminals who hung out there.

Neighbors were horrified about what was happening on their quiet street.

“It was a flop house,” recalls one neighbor, who declined to give her name for fear of retribution. “There were all kinds of things piled up in the back yard, blankets with blood on them, old furniture, arm chairs, clothing. I felt so uncomfortable every time I left my house."

Police were equally frustrated, making arrests only to watch the criminals quickly get released and return to the home.

“The problem was we could send the people to jail, but we couldn’t force them to move out because they owned the house,” said Corporal Chris Andres, who is part of the Novato Response Unit, which investigates blighted properties around town.

The home was initially owned by Rose Holman, who died in 2006. The property then passed on to her son, Hamilton Harley Holman II. At some point, Holman II moved out, but let friends stay at the property. His son, Holman Harley Hamilton III, also spent time there. Both Holmans have an extensive criminal record and spent a lot of time in jail, for drug charges, assault and other crimes.

In addition to running a drug house, the owners and their visitors defrauded PG&E by illegally tapping into the electrical supply after their service was shut off for not making payments. They also stole water from neighbors by hooking a hose to their spigots.

Calls to code enforcement and the health department proved fruitless too.

“The health department told me ‘We can’t do anything about it (trash in yard) unless there was standing water’” said one of the neighbors. “I called code enforcement and all I got was lip service. They just told me ‘Well, these things take time.’”

Pamela Griffith Pond, president of the Del Monte Highlands Homeowners Association, says the criticism is not fair. She said the police conducted wellness checks when the Holmans left their door open and took off, sometimes for weeks. Raccoons and other animals would get into the house, leaving behind feces.

Pond says the bigger problem is that the lender took so long to foreclose on the property after the Holmans stopped making payments on the house in 2006. Ironically, this was happening at a time when the number of foreclosures in Novato and around the country soared.

Code enforcement came out to the property and hung notices, but these were ignored by the Holmans.

"The city can say this is a nuisance, you need to clean it up, but if the person is already in jail and didn’t care, what can you do?," she said. "Who has the authority to do something more? I don’t know."

Then in 2012 Hamilton Holman II died. But there was confusion over the title of the property, which further stalled the foreclosure proceedings. The home was finally sold at auction this summer.

Then on July 25, Novato police swooped in and arrested Holman III on charges of drug possession, lying to an officer and petty theft with a prior. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and is currently on probation.

With Holman in jail, the new owner, a mortgage company based in southern California, could finally clean up the home that had become such a sore spot for the neighborhood. After the home was vacated, neighbors watched as workers carted away six Dumpster-fulls of items from the property.

The new owner is now doing major renovations, including knocking down walls, tearing out carpets and replacing the balcony.

Neighbors are finally breathing a sigh of relief and crossing their fingers that the next tenants will be more civilized. 

"Living next to this house felt kind of like living under constant siege," Pond said. "People should not be afraid to go outside."

Have a news tip for Novato Patch? Drop Local Editor Karina Ioffee a line at karina@patch.com. You can also Like us on Facebook , Follow us on Twitter @NovatoPatch or start your own Blog.
Pamela Griffith Pond December 02, 2013 at 01:17 AM
Actually, it was the HOA that removed the pile of debris from 430 San Marin Drive. All Code Enforcement did was to post a notice that the house was condemned, since the meters had been removed and there was no utility service.
Alicia Owens December 02, 2013 at 01:21 AM
With all the snitches and undercover narcotics task force, you would think that the NPD would and could have done more, i guess when they make their living playing dirty cop, and turning an eye so they can Profit from it thats when these houses are able to pollute the comunity for so long.
JAN December 02, 2013 at 01:33 AM
Egads, Alicia what a nasty rant! The Novato PD is stuck with acting within the law. Acting outside the law has a nice feel to it but it ain't legal. Good job by the HOA. Hard to believe Code Enforcement would have the authority to clean up the mess.
Michelle D December 02, 2013 at 02:43 AM
Trying to work with the Novato Code Enforcement office is like trying to have a conversation with a ham sandwich.
Lou Judson December 02, 2013 at 10:12 AM
Pamela, I would like to encourage you to pursue getting the accurate story out! Have that conversarion with the ditor, if they have time to talk facts. Let's see it "in print!"
Pamela Griffith Pond December 02, 2013 at 12:55 PM
The essence of the story is true, but some of the details were incorrect. The writer relied on what those she interviewed told her, and that information was only as good as their memories. In fact, problems at the Holman house went on much longer than three years, for example. The first time the police came to my house asking for information was in the summer of 2008. Also, the lender actually began foreclosure proceedings way back then. There was a reverse mortgage on the house, taken out just before Rose Holman's death. I don't know why the lender didn't proceed with the foreclosure at that time. I have pointed the writer of the story to additional information, and she will be updating the story.
Megs L. December 02, 2013 at 01:07 PM
Very important to check sources. Journalism 101. This is a important story too because there are other troubled houses/places in Novato.
Karina Ioffee December 02, 2013 at 01:15 PM
@Megs. If I backtracked and verified every single piece of information sources told me, you'd be getting one article a week from me and I would be out of a job. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to do deep fact checking like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, and neither do any other regional newspaper reporters. This is why we tack on the attribution at the end of the sentence...like, police said or according to so and so. It's common journalist practice. When errors are found, we write a correction.
Green T December 02, 2013 at 02:22 PM
wow! 2 things! #1: They stopped paying the mortgage in 2006 and stayed for 7 years???? Good to know. #2: Maybe more important, for readers at least! Did you read the comment by the writer/editor above? (Irina Ioffee). SHE DOESN'T HAVE TIME TO CHECK HER FACTS! So basically she may be writing a comic strip..poor woman doesn't have time to check her information- she just writes wahtever she hears? Like I said...wow.
NovatoGuy December 02, 2013 at 02:39 PM
Frankly, I think the neighbors should have banded together and hired an attorney. And then sued the hell out of the these scumbags for lowering property values and making it impossible to enjoy their own homes. They wouldn't have been able to collect, but perhaps they could have gotten a lien on their property and forced them to leave. Granted, it would have taken time (and money) but maybe better than doing nothing. And I wonder why the homeowner's association couldn't have done this for these poor neighbors.
Pamela Griffith Pond December 02, 2013 at 02:41 PM
NovatoGuy, you are definitely missing something. HOAs can do only what is specified in their governing documents, and only what is allowed by Davis-Stirling (the name of the laws governing HOAs). When a homeowner violates the governing documents, the HOA must follow the legal process of sending notices and holding hearings. In this case, there were times when the association went right to a hearing because of safety concerns. The remedies for HOA governing documents violations are all financial (fines, liens, judgements, foreclosures). In each case, the HOA board must determine whether the cost of the action can be justified by the likely return. In this case, the public record shows a HOA lien against the property. Foreclosing was not a realistic option; there was no equity in the property, and the lender had its own foreclosure proceedings underway beginning in 2008 (again, public record). In deciding whether to pursue a judgement against a homeowner, a HOA board has a duty to determine whether there is any likelihood of realizing any payment if a judgement is awarded. When the owners are in prison and have no assets, and the home has no equity, pursuing a judgement is not prudent. There's an old saying, "You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip." Similarly, you can't squeeze money out of a prisoner with no assets. BTW, you can find good information about what HOAs can and cannot do at www.davis-stirling.com.
Megs L. December 02, 2013 at 03:03 PM
Katrina I didn't mean any disrespect. I'm just a stickler for facts and verifying information. Even the MarinIJ gets it wrong I'm sure.
Pamela Griffith Pond December 02, 2013 at 03:17 PM
We need to remember that the Patch is different from traditional newspapers. Traditional newspapers have significant infrastructure, including buildings and staff. Each Patch is a one-person operation. The idea is to get local information out fast, and Novato Patch does that. Unfortunately, there is no infrastructure in place for in-depth reporting. I appreciate Karina's having brought this problem to the community's attention, and her willingness to update her article as additional information has become available.
NovatoGuy December 02, 2013 at 05:13 PM
@Pamela: The idea wasn't to squeeze money from the scumbags. The idea was to sue them, get a judgement they couldn't pay, and use that as a lien to get them the hell out of the cesspool. Then have the bank forclose the craphole. Maybe the neighbors would have been better off that way. I don't know, but it sounds like in any case, this could have gone on indefinitely, ruining the lives of the people around them.
Pamela Griffith Pond December 02, 2013 at 07:17 PM
@ NovatoGuy: If you check the public record, you will see that the HOA recorded a lien against the property back in 2010. The HOA board has followed its lawyer's expert advice every step of the way. A judgement is not necessary for recording a lien. Getting a judgement is very expensive, and not prudent when there is no chance of collection. The lender chose not to pursue its original foreclosure proceeding. The HOA has no control over the lender's decisions.
NovatoGuy December 03, 2013 at 10:35 AM
@Pamela - everyone is entitled to their opinion. It's unfortunate that this expert legal advice you were following seemed to accomplish nothing. What changed? Those poor neighbors were having to live next to the these scumbags. Sounds like only though good luck that the situation resolved itself, and not through anything the "expert" lawyer did. What kind of monetary value do you place on what the neighbors went through, for so long? Are you suggesting there was absolutely nothing that could have been done and if it had gone on for another 10 years so be it? Your lawyer was the final word? I'm willing to bet the right lawyer could have done something more.
M. Calwald December 03, 2013 at 11:34 AM
Rev. Pond, now you finally have experienced what we have been living next to Wendover. Aren't you the one from the Neighborly Novato group that called people NIMBY's and unwelcoming? Are you finally getting it?
Gram December 03, 2013 at 12:08 PM
Love our Novato PD, but what took them so long!!!
NovatoGuy December 03, 2013 at 12:49 PM
@M.Calwald: I believe Ms. Pond is an "affordable housing" pusher.
Craig Belfor December 03, 2013 at 10:46 PM
81 police calls and 33 arrests? How many did the Patch report? I know, Karina is an army of one. I'll make a deal. If they ever pass a law that makes excuses count, I'll nominate that one for the hall of fame. Meanwhile why don't we help out? Someone who has time, balls, and the wish to have Patchers get all of the news could go down to the police station once a week and pull them up for the Patch. They could run a blog. Or ask the information officer of the police department to put them in a printed form that we could get online.
Gram December 07, 2013 at 11:04 AM
Everyone involved should be in jail for felony drug violations for starters, and the house should be bulldozed out of memory for the poor neighbors of these cretins!
tom keena December 08, 2013 at 04:17 PM
My neighbors and I on McClay Rd suffered for about 5yrs with a drug house. Novato PD could do nothing since drugs being used but not sold. Jack, at Novato Code Enforcement threatened a lien to abate an immediate health hazard(rats in yard waste). Mortgage holder called in the loan....rats and residents were finally gone. One million thanks to Novato code Enforcement.
ET December 22, 2013 at 01:33 PM
Renovations will not clean up the drug and toxic chemical contamination from meth lab. I hope that the current owners know what they are doing, and that whoever ends up living there has the house tested for meth before moving in.
h December 24, 2013 at 05:03 PM
This story should be titled "fairy tale" because it is definitely as true as one. The real truth of what happened there probably wouldn't get the attention of the morons who believe it, but I suppose that's how most news reporters keep their job by exaggerating reality with absurd made up drama. Isn't it wonderful how the internet makes it legal to slander someone's name, ruin their already difficult life with lies, and broadcast personal info about people they know nothing about. This could never be in print because the still living Holman would not hesitate to Sue you for your lies at his expense. I'm sure there version of this rediculous fairy tale wouldn't be even remotely similar to the propaganda written here, and it would certainly expose the NPD for the over paid and under worked training academy that it is. Holman SR did leave his home for friends to watch because he was very sick with liver disease which he died from. Rose Holman was a respected member of the community who oneed that home since it was built, and the youngest Holman did have a few legal problems that anyone who lost their family
Trailbikerbilly December 24, 2013 at 10:50 PM
81 police calls and 33 arrests? If anyone had a case against the cops, they'd be driving an Escallade with an ounce of coke on the dash. Sounds like these crackheads are bitching the loss of their crash pad, and sleeping under the overpass with the other dirtbags while waiting for their free pass at Wyndover is taking too long. Tough luck, h. You want sympathy? Look in the dictionary. It's right there between shiit and syphllis.
h December 25, 2013 at 07:26 PM
With a picture of right below it I'm sure.
h December 25, 2013 at 07:26 PM
*You

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