David McCauley and his wife, Karen Burkett, stand on their vacant quarter-acre lot across the street from their Loomis home, where they had allowed a needy Elk Grove family with two children to stay with their trailer. Last month, however, Placer County officials cited McCauley and Burkett for multiple violations and ordered the site cleared by Dec. 29. The needy family then moved.
A Loomis couple’s act of benevolence has landed them in hot water with Placer County and put the homeless family they tried to help back on the road for the holidays.
After collecting blankets, toys, strollers and hundreds of other contributions for victims of last summer’s 49 fire, David McCauley and Karen Burkett decided they could do more for people in need.
The couple own a quarter-acre lot across the street from their modest home on Maple Lane in Loomis. The property is vacant, they said, but connected to electricity, well water and a septic tank.
“We were trying to do a good deed,” said Burkett.
In late October, McCauley placed an online classified ad offering free water, electricity and a sewage connection to a family in need that had a travel trailer. The ad quickly generated 12 responses. After interviewing several people, the couple agreed to let an Elk Grove family with two children use the property.
On Nov. 6, within days of the family making Maple Lane its new – if temporary – home, McCauley received formal notification from the county that camping was not permitted on the site.
He responded with a letter to the county asserting his belief that his property was in compliance with the law and asking that, in any case, an accommodation be made.
The Elk Grove couple had lost their jobs in industries battered by the economic downturn – his in construction, hers in real estate, McCauley said. They had lost their home and were in the midst of a rough patch, he said.
On Nov. 17, county officials cited McCauley and Burkett for unlawful land use, illegal camping, illegal storage of a vehicle not owned by the property owner, unlawful sewage disposal and illegal use of a storage container.
“Immediately discontinue use and occupancy of recreational vehicles,” the Dec. 1 notice of code violation states. The deadline for clearing the violations was set for Dec. 29.
The family of four since have moved. McCauley said he’s lost touch with them and has no idea where they might be.
“They are displaced once again,” McCauley said. “They are in grave need.”
Tim Wegner, chief of Placer County’s building department, said his department doesn’t patrol neighborhoods looking for violations, but rather responds to neighborhood concerns.
Wegner said it’s illegal to camp or live in a travel trailer in residential areas of Placer County, except by special permit.
And while the property may have a sewer, well and electrical connections, they have to meet county standards, Wegner said.
As of Wednesday, Wegner and McCauley were trading faxes and e-mails regarding a face-to-face meeting. Both seemed a bit put off by the exchange.
Wegner said his staff tries to be flexible but has to uphold public health and safety standards. He added that McCauley has been unwilling to meet with county staff to see if a deal could be reached.
“We are not trying to be unreasonable here,” he said. “If they don’t sit down with us, we can’t work those things out. We can’t compel them to come in to meet with me.”
McCauley bristled at the assertion he’s been unresponsive. He said he wants their exchanges put in writing.
Burkett lamented both that a neighbor apparently filed the complaint and that it has spiraled into a conflict with the county.
A travel trailer belonging to an Elk Grove family that lost its home took up temporary residence on the property of David McCauley and Karen Burkett. The Loomis couple placed an online classified ad offering the space in late October.
The Loomis couple and Placer County officials have yet to meet over the matter.