Mountain View Voice

News - February 26, 2010

The little house on Boranda Avenue

Officials said having to demolish elderly woman's home was 'gut wrenching'

by Daniel DeBolt

City officials say they explored every alternative they could think of before deciding to demolish an elderly woman's home on Boranda Avenue late last year. In the end, they said, the 100-year-old house was too far gone to be saved.

The small yellow house at 913 Boranda Ave. had gone unnoticed behind overgrown foliage before city building inspectors arrived last summer in response to a tip from Adult Protective Services that the roof was falling in. It was occupied by Loretta Pangrac, an elderly woman on a fixed income whose family had owned the property and the home for decades and passed it along to her.

Months went by as the city tried to work with various volunteer organizations to see if the house could be repaired or rebuilt. As winter neared, then-building official Dave Basinger was worried the oncoming rains would cause the roof to fall in on Pangrac, who refused many times to leave her home.

"Why didn't they just leave me alone and let me deal with it?" said Pangrac, who spoke on the phone from the Mountain View hotel room where she has lived since November, when the house was demolished. She said she feels like the city stole her house.

Basinger, who was taking on the role as interim building official at the time, said he called building officials in other cities for advice. Most said they never had to deal with such a situation. A few told stories that were just as "gut wrenching" as this one was turning out to be, he said.

He eventually had to declare the home a dangerous "public nuisance," and it was demolished in November to prevent it from falling on someone, officials say.

"She didn't want to leave her home; this was her home," said interim city attorney Jannie Quinn, who supervises the city's building inspectors. "I cannot stress enough how hard city staff worked with Loretta Pangrac to find a solution to her situation. We couldn't find a way to fix it."

Because Pangrac was unable to afford repairs, the volunteer organization Rebuilding Together was called in to see what could be done. But after years with a damaged roof, the house's walls and roof support beams had sustained serious water damage and were crumbling, Basinger said, and the roof was in "imminent danger of collapse."

The home would have to be completely rebuilt at a cost of $250,000, which was unaffordable for Pangrac and beyond what Rebuilding Together was able to do, he said.

Officials said that on the day they came to deliver a court order to Pangrac forcing her to be out by November, she appeared to be exhausted from emptying buckets of water from a heavy rainstorm the night before. The Police Department's top negotiator was there to talk to her and she left willingly, officials said.

On Tuesday the City Council took up the matter of whether to place a lien on the property, and during the discussion council member Jac Siegel said that more of the roof had fallen in on that rainy night. It was also revealed during the meeting that on the day she was removed from her home, Pangrac was taken to a holding cell by police and then given a psychiatric evaluation.

At one point Pangrac asked to live in a trailer on the property, but city ordinances won't allow for it, Basinger said. Real estate agent Timothy Proschold said he has been contracted to put the property up for sale once some issues with the title for the land are worked out.

Ultimately, the council voted 4-2 on Tuesday to place a lien on the property in order to recoup $19,630 in city expenses, including putting up Pangrac in a hotel for two weeks, putting her belongings in emergency storage and nearly $18,000 in demolition costs.

Council members Margaret Abe-Koga and John Inks opposed the lien, with Inks saying it was "chilling" how the city "scraped" the home. Other members disagreed, including Ronit Bryant, who said it was appropriate for the city to step in to prevent the house from falling in on Pangrac, as well as recouping the costs through a lien. Siegel appeared to caution others against feeling sorry for Pangrac, because she refused to be helped by several community members he knows who work with seniors. He said he himself had visited the home and that it was in such bad shape that a person could shake the whole building with their hands.

Pangrac said she was upset about the lien, which the city will subtract from the property's sale price.

"They are responsible for everything they did and now they want to me to pay for it?" she told the Voice.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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