Site of deadly Pasadena fire has rough past
House where two died in suspected arson has had several code problems.
A Pasadena firefighter talks with an unidentified man who came to pick up paperwork from the gutted home on the 1300 block of El Sereno Avenue in Pasadena on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)
At the time of the fire, 20 men were renting rooms in the duplex at 1385 El Sereno Ave.
Paul Richard Boyd, 75, and Cliff Juan Clark, 56, died in the blaze. Perry Simons suffered “severe respiratory distress” and minor burns to his face and limbs, according to Pasadena Fire Department documents. Sixteen others escaped.
Tenant Garth Allen Robbins, 49, has been charged by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office with intentionally setting the fire. Robbins pleaded not guilty on Nov. 10 to murder, attempted murder and arson. Prosecutors say they may seek the death penalty.
Jeanette Broussard, a 73-year-old Altadena resident who has owned the house since 1991, declined to comment.
City code enforcement records obtained under the California Public Records Act show officials issued a “red tag complaint” against the home, meaning it cannot be entered, on Jan. 17, 2003. The complaint describes the property as “a boarding house.” It is not clear from city records when the “red tag” status was lifted.
A Feb. 10, 2003, notice of violation letter to Broussard notes 23 bedrooms, only seven of which were legally constructed.
“The other 16 bedrooms are built with interior modifications covering spaces or portions of living area, e.g. living room, kitchen areas, dividing already existing rooms,” wrote former city code compliance officer Larry Mills, who ordered Broussard to remove illegal bedrooms.
Broussard sought permits to renovate the house two days after receiving the letter. But a May 2003 inspection revealed that construction efforts did not match plans submitted to the city, with a playroom, pantry, den and dining room still converted to bedrooms.
Officials issued four citations to Broussard from December 2002 to February 2003. In March 2003 an administrative hearing officer reduced a fine of $1,600 to $500, though it was determined at the hearing that bedrooms had been built without permits.
The city deemed the complaint “abated” on Oct. 14, 2003.
Code enforcement officers returned to the El Sereno property on May 6, 2008, after a caller complained that a tenant in “an independent living home with 20 boarders” was creating fire and health hazards “with hoards of newspapers and other materials.”
In May 2009, another Pasadena home owned by Broussard caught fire, killing a tenant. In court documents city officials described that home, at 655 Del Monte Ave., as an illegal boarding house and filed six misdemeanor charges against Broussard, including housing code violations.
Broussard sued the city for the right to operate a group home at the Del Monte property on Sept. 29, 2009. In January 2011, after Broussard agreed to comply with city codes, prosecutors dropped charges against her, and she dropped her lawsuit against the city.
Back at El Sereno, code enforcement officers received another complaint in September 2009 about possible vermin and roach infestation, with the city’s City Resources Against Substandard Housing (CRASH) team brought into the case.
The CRASH team includes representatives from the city health, fire, police, code enforcement and building departments as well as the city prosecutor’s office, said Acting Chief Prosecutor Kimery Shelton. The team addresses properties with issues beyond the scope of a single department, she said.
The outcome of the 2009 CRASH activity is unclear. City officials redacted the parts of documents offering insight into the CRASH effort. City Attorney. Michele Beal Bagneris said the information was blocked while officials determine whether “civil or criminal legal action should be pursued” related to the home.
In an email, Bagneris said the CRASH team had not been called to the home in the three years leading up to the fire. However, she also noted that the CRASH team was scheduled to discuss the property on Nov. 8. In the wake of the deadly fire a week before the meeting was to take place, inspectors visited both the Del Monte and El Sereno homes and launched a new probe.