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Bells Beach residents protest drugs, crime

The back door of the rusty single-wide mobile home swings back and forth, while nearby a hand-painted sign in the yard threatens “Beware I’m watching you.” The trailer shares its space with an old house and at least six cars parked around the yard.

As Bells Beach-area residents Richard Cannon, Vicky Harvey and Richard Bullock walk by, a white kitten scampers out to greet them. The three are among a group of area homeowners who have been vocal in recent months over what they see as the deterioration of their neighborhood.

Harvey says scenes like this are typical of what they believe to be South Whidbey’s drug sub culture. They allege that their neighbors are dealing in methamphetamines, an allegation that at this point has no merit in the eyes of the law. Although the Island County Sheriff’s office has served an eviction notice to the inhabitants of the trailer to vacate by Sept. 7, they are not being investigated for drug crimes. The evidence, in this case, just isn’t there.

But for neighbors, that doesn’t matter. There is a track record of drug arrests in the area and they are fed up — so much so that they recently petitioned both the sheriff’s office and the Island County Prosecutor’s Office to investigate their soon-to-be evicted neighbors, who live in a small enclave of older, manufactured homes on the west side of Saratoga Road.

Bullock, Cannon and Harvey and about 50 other people from the Bells Beach area — most of whom live on the east side of Saratoga Road — then met with county officials Thursday night to discuss these issues and try to come up with solutions.

Bullock described what he sees at the problems in the neighborhood in an interview after that meeting. He alleges that several trailers and houses along Saratoga Road have been home to drug dealers and users during the past few years. This is borne out by the drug arrest record in the area. At Thursday’s meeting, Sheriff Mike Hawley said several drug arrests have been made in the area, the most recent resulting in a January 2004 conviction for selling methamphetamine. The convicted man was sentenced to 365 days in jail, but 275 of them were suspended.

Bullock said the people he believes to be drug dealers in his neighborhood are not deterred by this sort of sentence, nor by efforts to move them out.

“They live in one house one for awhile then move across the street,” he said.

Bullock said he and his neighbors have had to contend with loud parties, drug deals going on all night, speeding cars and trash everywhere.

Cannon and Bullock moved to South Whidbey from Los Angeles. They bought the old Saratoga Store building and are in the process of renovating it.

“We left Los Angeles to get away from crime,” Cannon said.

Across the street from them, former South Whidbey resident Jean Carl has returned to the island to repair a rental unit she said was ruined by people who were using drugs.

“I had to have my renter evicted,” she said. “Now I am replacing floors and removing piles of garbage from underneath the deck.”

Carl said she wished there was a property management business on the island to help landlords find good renters.

Another single wide, which partially burned two years ago, and shed were recently demolished and taken away by the Island County Health Department. The bill was footed by a mortgage company which has a stake in the property when it was discovered the property owner was in jail.

At Thursday’s meeting, Sheriff Hawley told attendees that the neighborhood is being watched by law enforcement. He said his deputies have done a lot of enforcement in the area, made arrests, and have jailed several people.

“It is one of the most heavily patrolled areas on the island,” Hawley said.

Hawley also noted that Thursday’s meeting was intended to raise people’s awareness to what’s going on in their neighborhood. He told the crowd to call law enforcement whenever they see something suspicious.

Several people at the meeting questioned why law enforcement does not go into houses and stop what residents allege to be drug activity. Sheriff’s Lt. Evan Tingstad responded by saying that drug trafficking can be an easy crime to spot, but one of the hardest crimes to deal with.

“We have to have probable cause to into a home,” he said. “When there are noise ordinance violations, underage drinking and speeding, that will give us probable cause to walk up to someone’s door.”

Other issues of concern that came up at the meeting were animal control and speeding. Several members of the audience said although they are happy about the drugs arrests and evictions, they have yet to see better traffic enforcement. The posted speed limit on Saratoga Road is 40 mph, but Richard Cannon said cars often drive through the neighborhood at 50 or more.

“We are hoping to decrease the speed limit through here to 35 mph.”

As for animal control, free-roaming dogs was the issue. Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton, who attended the meeting, agreed that this is a problem. He encouraged the neighbors to utilize the county’s animal control department. He also said some of the problems may take care of themselves.

“Hopefully some of the dogs will leave with this recent eviction,” he said.

Standing in their neighborhood Thursday, the day after the meeting, Cannon, Bullock and Harvey said they will continue to push to clean-up their community.

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