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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also Like us on Facebook , Follow us on Twitter @NovatoPatch or start your own Blog.