By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“Poor man wanna be rich/ Rich man wanna be king/And a king ain’t satisfied/ Till he rules everything ...”
A few months ago, in mid-March, Union Pacific sent Alan Shinn, a Union Pacific police officer, to Jimmy’s tent — the railroad company’s police officers, according to Union Pacific spokesman Tom Lange, are “fully commissioned and work with local, state and federal agencies.” Shinn visited Jimmy, according to Lange, after “we were informed by area businesses and citizens” of his presence near the railroad tracks.
“While we certainly sympathize with anyone who is homeless,” Lange writes in an e-mail, “Union Pacific also is concerned for the safety of the general public, as well as the safety of our employees and customers. The presence of someone trespassing on any of Union Pacific’s properties poses a danger for everyone.”
In one of his journals, Jimmy, who is a good writer with a nice flair for the language, describes the scene this way: “This police officer was not listening, noncompromising, and he appeared to be a poor-people hater. I was explaining what I was doing here, and he never paid attention to what I was saying.”
By the end of the meeting, which Jimmy says grew contentious, he received a citation from Shinn. Lange says Union Pacific police first gave him a three-day notice to pack up and leave or else he would be ticketed for trespassing. According to Frank Mateljan, a spokesman for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, “a three-count criminal case [was] filed against Mr. Nasralla for lodging without permission of the property owner, trespass on rail property and a general trespassing count.
“Our office has jurisdiction to prosecute all misdemeanor crimes within the city of Los Angeles,” Mateljan writes in an e-mail. “Our office believes there are public-safety issues relating to an individual living in a makeshift shelter near a railroad line, which need to be addressed in this case.”
Mateljan also writes in an e-mail that the City Attorney’s Office has been in “constant contact” with L.A. Councilman Greig Smith’s office. Smith lives in Granada Hills, with his district field office right around the corner on the north side of Nordhoff Avenue, just a short walk from Jimmy’s tent. Matt Myerhoff, a spokesman for Smith, says the council office received calls from business owners and citizens, reporting a homeless man living in a tent. Myerhoff wouldn’t say who made those calls since those things are kept “confidential.”
Then at some point, somebody from Smith’s 17-employee staff visited Jimmy. Myerhoff wasn’t sure when that occurred, and eventually answered a list of e-mailed follow-up questions with an official “no comment” given by Smith’s chief of staff, Mitch Englander, and by the councilman himself. Over the course of the undated visit by Smith’s staff, Myerhoff says, the staffer offered to refer Jimmy to services that might help him. The unnamed staffer also concluded that Jimmy’s situation was a “safety issue” for both Jimmy and the public, according to Myerhoff.
But Smith’s office came to an additional, and quite interesting, conclusion: According to Myerhoff, Jimmy, in fact, resides on “county property.” The spokesman explains that even though he is inside the Los Angeles city limits it’s a “county issue.” Smith’s office now considers Jimmy’s fight to be “out of our hands.”
Mary Cummins, a longtime real estate assessor, has independently deduced that he is, indeed, on county-owned land. But she questions whether or not Union Pacific issued a valid citation for trespassing. If Jimmy is living on county-owned property edging the railroad spur, Cummins’ logic goes, then the railroad company may not be able to charge him with “trespassing” on the railroad’s “private property” or of “lodging without [their] permission.”
As an expert real estate assessor for more than 25 years in the Los Angeles area, Cummins knows how to read tract maps. Just recently, for example, she was hired to testify in court over a major real estate dispute at the Ambassador Hotel. Feral-cat activist Muzika started looking into Jimmy’s case, and he asked Cummins, a friend from animal-rights circles, to help.
Cummins, who normally charges $100 per hour for her expertise, took up Jimmy’s cause for free. She looked up Jimmy’s location on Google Earth, found an L.A. County Assessor’s map, and placed the Google map on top of the county’s map. “You can clearly see Jimmy’s on the L.A. County flood-control channel” land, Cummins says. She is also “absolutely certain,” and would testify in court, that Jimmy is on county-owned property, not the railroad’s.
Cummins sent her findings to Muzika, who e-mailed the maps information to Councilman Smith’s office, and alerted the city attorney at Jimmy’s court hearing on July 1 in the Los Angeles Superior Court in the small town of San Fernando, in the far northeast Valley.