By Michele Johnson
The story struck an all-too-familiar chord. Road Superintendent Mark Sanchez of Los Angeles County Public Works had ordered Farley's removal after receiving just one complaint from an anonymous neighbor. Sanchez once again gave the County party line--"Anytime we get a complaint from a citizen, we have to respond." According to Sanchez, the neighbor thought Farley's encampment was a "fire hazard," even though Farley says he never cooks, and Sanchez admits he found no evidence of a stove, though he did find "a pile of cigarette butts."
Twice before, Charles Farley has been thrown out of what he has called his home. In 1990, Sanchez came without warning, evicted Charles and removed what he estimates was $5,000 worth of his property.
As he wrote in a legal brief protesting the most recent eviction, the property removed then included "tools--some new and all useful--plus some 200 books including Richard Feynman's 'Lectures in Physics,' Linus Pauling's 'Nature of Chemical Bond,' the Oxford Bible given the Plaintiff by his mother around 1948; three slide rules, one of which he had learned on in 1943, another that belonged to his father; and 17 years of journals." At the time, Farley protested the confiscation of his property, and according to his friend, Topanga criminal lawyer Gregory Humphries, who has helped defend him pro bono over the years, that case went all the way to the Supreme Court which finally refused to hear it. And his property? "After searching for three years," Farley wrote, "Plaintiff raised Mr. Sanchez on the telephone, asking what had become of his property. 'That all went to the dump.'" All his efforts may not have been in vain though, because now the County does give warning before evicting the homeless from their campsites so they can try to remove their valuables.
This time the warning came for Charles
on Friday, April 21, the day after his first motion for a temporary
restraining order was denied by Judge Laurence Rubin in a ruling
in his chambers, and before he could appeal that ruling. Charles
was given both verbal and written warning, but he had no way
to remove his things.
LIFE BEFORE THE BRIDGE
Farley is a bent, grey-bearded, soft-spoken
but remarkably eloquent man. He has lived for 26 years in Topanga,
and except for five years when he was a caretaker, most of that
time he's camped on the land or under the Old Topanga bridge,
located where the Backbone trail crosses the road about a wuarter-mile
from the Center. Though he says, "I'm somewhat of a hermit,"
Charles has made friends of several of his neighbors and of many
of those who have picked him up hitchhiking over the years: "I
meet some of the nicest people." Al Rollins, who owns land
across from the bridge says of Charles, "He's a great guy.
He never hurt anybody or anything."
LIFE BELOW THE BRIDGE
His life under the bridge had been very low-key. He takes "no powder drug--I'm clean, if that's the term." He was a drinker, but has recently quit for his health. He claims he didn't even use the creekbed as his bathroom: "I walk to the potty and occasionally I can use a private rest room--I bathe in the sea, or I know where there's a garden hose I can use." As proof that he kept his encampment clean, he said, "I've had Ernie Fielding, the Health Inspector, on my case. He couldn't find anything."
A BRIEF MOMENT
Humphries spoke on Wednesday, May 3, the
day that Charles appealed Judge Rubin's order in Judge Valerie
Baker's court. "We were in court," Humphries sighed.
"We lost. He [Charles] wrote a brief probably a thousand
times better than my brief for the first hearing--I usually help
him with these things. I do most of the typing." Humphries
said Judge Baker refused to even hear the case, citing technicalities.
"She exalted procedure over substance this morning,"
said Humphries. He and Farley argued that Farley had never really
had a proper hearing, and that he lives on federal land under
the bridge and is not trespassing on the bridge or the paved
County right-of-way. Farley's brief reads, "Plaintiff questions
whether a third-party trespass complaint from Roads, against
one residing on stream banks administered by State Department
of Fish and Game, can lie against him." Farley went on to
claim that the eviction was doing him "irreparable harm."
At this point the brief is heavy with Farley's pain, as he writes
the following: "Among areas of emotional distress are: insomnia,
urgency, distraction, lapses of caution and carefulness, difficulty
with sequential achievement of multi-step procedures, vocalizing
in public, high blood pressure with the dread sound of a steam
locomotive ascending grade; frequent tearfulness; regression
to earlier, simpler sentence composition; increased tobacco use;
depression upon awakening one day nearer deprivation; deadline
anxiety; worsened post-whiplash sequelae, with slumped involuted
posture; recurrent images ("flashbacks") of previous
armed daylight burglaries on the same scene; fidgetiness; and
all else set aside while spending four-plus hours daily in law
libraries, with commute and dining expenses."
LIFE OUT FROM UNDER THE BRIDGE
Humphries says they he and Charles plan no further legal action. Humphries was obviously distressed by the decision. "I like Charles. I think he's an interesting fellow, one of the most intelligent people I've ever met. He's a good man." And, he went on, "Part of it is the principle with him. He really is a very bright person, with a very attuned sense of justice." Humphries hopes that, "Maybe out of this something better might come." Right now, Charles Farley has a "temporary arrangement," living on the property of yet another man he met and befriended while hitchhiking. Though Humphries wasn't paid anything to help Charles, he'd do the same again. "He's a grateful client, and if he can help me in some way, he will." Then he chuckled. "Actually, he loaned me $10 for parking this morning." In the end, Humphries summed Charles up this way: "He's living by the beat of his own drum, and God bless him."
On Monday, May 1, an early morning fire destroyed a two-story house at 21275 1/2 Entrada. Jane Robbins, who had lived at the house for six years, was awakened by her landlord, David Carroll, and was able to escape from the fire which consumed the structure within minutes. Robbins, who had returned from a trip to Africa the day before, was asleep when the fire started. A preliminary investigation indicates the fire was started by a wall heater.
STATION 69 OUT ON FALSE ALARM
Los Angeles County Fire's response to the
fire was delayed, as Station 69 had responded to a 911 call reporting
a stabbing at 1572 Gunnison in Old Canyon. The 6:39 a.m. call
from outside Topanga dispatched Engine 69, a rescue team and
a unit from the Lost Hills Sheriff's station to the location.
When the 6:59 a.m. call reporting a "structure fully involved"
was received, Station 69's firefighters were in Old Canyon at
the Gunnison Trail address where no stabbing victim was found.
A Sheriff's Department spokesman reported that the 911 stabbing call at the Gunnison Trail address was placed by a person living out of the Canyon who suffers from diminished mental capacity and has been known to have placed similar false 911 calls in the past. No charges will be filed against that individual.
FOR THE VICTIMS, A TOTAL LOSS
Jane Robbins lost all her possessions in
the fire except her address books. On her way back to Los Angeles
from Africa, Robbins had stopped off in New York to visit her
mother and was informed that the baggage weight allowance on
her flight would limit carry-on items. She decided to mail her
address books to Topanga where they were waiting to be delivered
by the Post Office.
Are you a subscriber to the premier source
of Topanga news and views? If not, now's the time to come on
board. Topanga Elementary School is sponsoring a Messenger
subscription drive. Half the proceeds of each subscription
sold will benefit TEP (Topanga Enrichment Program)--the school's
booster club that pays for all the extras, from teacher's aides
to art programs.