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Defending Desert Rats

Readers were pissed off last week by Mars Melnicoff's story about L.A. County's campaign to enforce code violations even in the remotest areas of the high desert ("L.A. County's War on Desert Rats," June 24). The story gave example after example of Antelope Valley residents being forced to tear down homes, haul away cars and otherwise spruce up property they have lived on without incident for decades.

In some cases, people are being rendered homeless by the actions of the county's Nuisance Abatement Team. Apparently it's better to be homeless than to live well in a house that doesn't meet code.

The comment by a reader identified only as "muckraker" is typical of many: "This was a splendid job of investigative reporting by Mars Melnicoff. Kudos to her and the people who are standing up to [County Supervisor] Mike Antonovich, DA Steve Cooley and the Nuisance Abatement Team goon squad.

"At one point in the story, Melnicoff quotes a government type named Grover who said, 'We do not want to push them off their land.' Of course the government wants to push them off their land, that's why the government creates then uses Machiavellian laws, to screw people and justify their bureaucratic existence. Government doesn't have an understanding of the term 'free spirit.' How about this: Why not send those abatement team code enforcers and gun-bearing SWAT-team types to all the properties owned by county employees and elected officials to see if their properties are in compliance?"

Ellery Sorkin has a different perspective: "As a California criminal defense attorney, I've seen government concerns range from residential backyards where tenants had to climb over piles of refuse and 'recyclables' to get into their homes, to silly complaints about four yard sales in one year. I know that most problems can be reasonably (and fairly inexpensively) resolved.

"Prosecutors are usually clear about what the law demands, tolerant about what they will accept, and patient with earnest homeowners acting in good faith. BTW, anyone who might ever have been injured at Phonehenge would have sued the government for failing to demand code compliance. Sometimes, good solutions can be hard to find."

A reader aptly named "Irate" writes: "This is nothing short of pathetic. With the condemned buildings left standing throughout the county left without people living in them, why do they target buildings and structures with people in them? Answer: They're isolated so they can complain but there's no risk of a riot. There's no reason to force people that are living comfortably on their property that they have to renovate or tear down their home."

And "Spedteacher" notes: "Ironically, these are people who aren't on welfare, do contribute to society, are living light on the earth and express their fundamental American rights to private property and freedom of expression."

Former Times Reporter Demands Retraction

Our story about former L.A. Times reporter Chuck Philips' call for the Times to retract its 2008 retraction of a story he wrote about an assault and robbery of Tupac Shakur two years before the rapper's murder brought an interesting response from a reader who claims to have worked at First and Spring.

Philips made his demand to the Weekly after an inmate serving a life sentence issued a statement saying he had committed the assault, a claim that backed up what Philips had written — and what the Times had retracted.

"The culture [at the Times] had always been that reporters fall on the sword for editors," writes someone identified only as "Appalled." "Philips was trying to get to the truth, which is the entire goal of any reporter worth his or her salt. But why would a person with noble intentions devote their life to a cause attached to a cooperation where management is clearly corrupt?

"Philips will never in a million years get a public apology from the Times, but I hope he keeps the issue alive and keeps applying pressure. The Times sacrificed a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter because the editors were more worried about their mortgages and no longer remember why they got into journalism in the first place.

"The truth is that any young reporter after Philips knows better than to try to tackle such a controversial investigative piece."

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