continued Other issues the city has with Porrello's landscaping include sand runoff and his use of cactus and large boulders in the city-controlled right-of-way, the first ten feet from the curb toward the front of any house. "A lot of people make the mistake of thinking the whole front yard is their property," says Tony Khalil of the code-enforcement department. "But actually, there is a curb-to-property line distance, called the public right-of-way, which is usually wider than just the sidewalk. It's usually eight to ten feet from the curb, and usually the sidewalks are only four- to five-feet wide."
Though such things as grass and sprinklers are allowed in the right-of-way, Khalil says large rocks, fences, and large bushes are not. Consequently, his office has ordered Porrello to move some plants and rocks back toward the house. "But look," Porrello says, pointing to a neighbor's house. "His bush over here is in the public right-of-way. That bush is perhaps 20 feet high. Technically it is illegal. That other tree overhangs on the public right-of-way. Those people over there had a fence in the right-of-way. Everybody has stuff in the public right-of-way. When I point that out to them, they say, 'Let's talk about your property, not about anybody else's.' I am being required to comply with things that nobody else is required to."
Porrello believes the codes regarding sand runoff, right-of-way, and garbage are being enforced on him in an effort to make him stop work altogether. And Gerald Unis, an Irvine lawyer who has taken up his cause at the request of the Arizona-based Western Conservative Alliance, agrees. "The 10th Amendment," he explains, "allows the states to use their police power to make the environment safe and habitable for its citizens. The state can also abuse that police power and trample the rights that the 5th and the 14th Amendments give us; basically that no individual citizen of the United States shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation. And if the City of San Diego interferes so severely with Mr. Porrello's use of his property, then they have essentially taken his property without just compensation."
Khalil responds, " You expect me to ignore a violation in the right-of-way? Do you know how much the city pays off in injuries and people tripping over little potted plants? An old lady walking her dog falls and displaces her hip because she fell over the little potted plant that another 80-year-old lady put in front of her house thinking that it is on her property. We are not going to expose the city to liability. That is a violation; there is no question about it. The storing garbage, we will pursue that anywhere in the city of San Diego. Anywhere. Storing of trash material -- if it is not covered, if it is exposed in the right-of-way -- we pursue it anywhere, not only on Galloway. And, of course, if you have sand runoff, if you have poor drainage, and if you have surface material that is sloughing off the property down to the sidewalk and people trip and fall."
Khalil believes the city is an innocent middleman in this situation. "We have been very cooperative with Mr. Porrello. We've tried very hard to help him get through all of this. The whole situation is really about Mr. Porrello and his neighbors. We respond to complaints, and his neighbors have filed numerous complaints against him.
"He has been insensitive to the neighborhood," Khalil adds. "Four years is a long time to live next to a construction job. Even the most understanding people, living next door to something like this for this long will say, 'Enough,' and I think he shouldn't be having the sympathy that we have given him in the last four years. He has been given numerous, numerous opportunities to correct whatever he needs to do and just move on. Meanwhile he is completely insensitive to the neighborhood, and likewise they are not going to cut him any slack, and we are in the middle trying to get him to just keep moving."
Most of the complaints filed against Porrello have come from his next-door neighbor, Barbara Ventura, who happens to work for the city manager's office. She refused to comment when she answered the door to a reporter, as did several other neighbors. One, who wouldn't give her name, said, "It isn't really Mr. Porrello versus his neighbors. It's Mr. Porrello versus one of his neighbors."