But it’s the kids, including the Brians’s 16-year-old daughter and two sons, aged 12 and 4, who matter most of all, say the couple. I look out the back window of their kitchen onto a volleyball court they recently installed for their daughter, who will be participating in the sport this year at her high school. “She brings her friends and teammates here to practice,” says Robert Brians.
“There are young people at the Cronk’s place, too,” he continues, adding that other people in the neighborhood sunbathe in their backyards, sometimes in scant clothing. “So Simmons can come anytime he wants and look over the fence while they’re out there?”
I call David Garcias, Imperial Beach’s head of code compliance, hoping to find out if his department uses safeguards to protect its residents from invasion of privacy. He says he cannot comment on anything related to the Robert Brians case because it is going to court. Garcias has a reputation for being heavy-handed in running his department. In 2008, in an interview with Voice of San Diego, he chalked up local resistance to code compliance in his city to a small-town mentality and lack of good enforcement prior to his regime. “And the rules are being enforced now because the city really needs to develop,” he said.
Kristen Brians tells me that of late there seems to be more code compliance activity in her neighborhood, which she speculates is due to the Imperial Beach Redevelopment Agency’s latest project, a two-and-a-half-block commercial area on the south side of Palm Avenue between Seventh and Ninth. Delaware Street runs south from the commercial area. Businesses at the site have been boarded up since March. Parking for the center, after it’s renovated, is planned for the area behind and south of the new buildings, adjacent to neighborhood backyards. At planning meetings, where local residents’ concerns have been aired, the privacy of neighboring backyards came up. Some residents worried that their backyards would be visible from the new buildings.
Although the City’s mayor, Jim Janney, has expressed frustration that local property owners aren’t embracing redevelopment in the community, Kristen and Robert Brians and other residents feel that too much may be forced on them. “The redevelopment people act like they want us to become the next Coronado,” Kristen Brians tells me. “We try as best we can to keep our properties up. If they want us to do more, maybe they’d like to help us pay our mortgages.
“Imperial Beach is a very tight-knit community,” she continues. “My husband and I both grew up in the community and have lived here all our lives.” Robert Brians says he has never missed any of his children’s school outings. Several times when I call him, he answers from boys’ football practices.
“You know,” he adds as I’m about to end my visit, “I just remembered something about the day that the code compliance guy was in the alley. After I confronted him, and before he drove away, he aimed his camera at me. I was pointing my finger at him then, but I had a big smile on my face. And I hope that, at my trial, the judge makes him produce that picture.”
“You weren’t waving your middle finger, were you?” I ask. Brians laughs. “No, I was pointing like this,” he says, jabbing his index finger forward into the air.