Santa Fe’s Notorious Nightmare Neighbor

A KRQE News 13 Investigation

Larry Barker

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Think Santa Fe and perhaps the historic Plaza comes to mind. Or maybe the magnificent Santa Fe Cathedral? Or how about the staircase at the Loretto Chapel? But definitely NOT 1004 Calle Feliz. Hidden away in a pleasant central Santa Fe neighborhood is the City Different’s most infamous address.

“It’s disgusting. It’s filthy,” Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales said.

“It’s just an eyesore,” Santa Fe City Councilor Ron Trujillo said.

“This is one of the worst properties in the whole neighborhood in terms of it being just a junk pile,” neighbor Chris Eustice said.

Consider the front yard. There are derelict cars. A dilapidated camping trailer. Canned food. A car door. Dingy mattress. Truck bed, Assorted junk, trash, and filth. And no, it’s is not some abandoned rattrap. The homeowner, John Valerio, is a self-described ‘collector’ of sorts.

“What I do is recycling. Recycling and trying to get everything organized,” Valerio told KRQE News 13.

But others see Valerio as a ‘nightmare neighbor.’ Chris Eustice lives across the street. He says when he looks out his window he sees, “blight and a fire hazard. I’m worried about my property values. More importantly, I think it’s just a health threat. It’s a menace.”

Calle Feliz is in City Councilor Ron Trujillo’s district. Trujillo says he would not like to live next door to John Valerio. “I’ve met with many, many constituents on the street. They’re not happy. Something has to be done,” Trujillo said.

“It’s substandard in violation of city ordinances. It’s a very big problem,” Santa Fe Assistant City Attorney Zach Shandler said.

In fact, for nearly a decade, John Valerio has stubbornly defied his community and the law by refusing to clean up his blighted property.

Is this the worst kept home in Santa Fe?

Valerio says, “This is not that bad. I can find a lot more that are much worse.”

But Chris Eustice says, “Some of the neighbors and I (have) offered to help clean up the property, haul some of the stuff off to the dump but he doesn’t want it touched.”

Assistant City Attorney Zach Shandler said, “I’ve been trying to persuade him, cajole him to get him to come into compliance.”

At City Hall, John Valerio is an outlaw of sorts. In fact, when it comes to nuisance abatement Valerio is City Hall’s public enemy number one. But if you thought Santa Fe was aggressively enforcing its ordinance, think again. As far as Santa Fe is concerned, 1004 Calle Feliz is a ‘prosecution free zone’ and John Valerio is an ‘untouchable.’

Zach Shandler admits Valerio’s property is a ‘no man’s land’ and, he says, Santa Fe has no power to bring Valerio into compliance with city law.

What’s so special about John Valerio and his property? Since 2012 the ownership of 1004 Calle Feliz has been tied up in District Court in foreclosure proceedings. Years ago, City Hall decided not to enforce the nuisance ordinance at Valerio’s property until the foreclosure issue is resolved in court. Rather than take aggressive action against an egregious community violator Santa Fe Code Enforcement Inspectors simply stand on the sidelines watching John Valerio trash the neighborhood.

And, when it comes to documenting the violations, don’t look to Code Enforcement. Despite years of blatant city violations, the only documents in Valerio’s City Hall file are a stack of emails, some letters, two notices and four photographs. That’s it.

According to Santa Fe’s Zach Shandler, the city cannot enforce its ordinance if a property is tied up in foreclosure. However, Sandler admits he is not aware of any court orders preventing Santa Fe from enforcing its laws. “I believe that if the city took action, Mr. Valerio’s lawyer would file something against us and we would lose in court,” Shandler said.

Neighbor Chris Eustice doesn’t think Santa Fe is doing its job of keeping the neighborhood safe. “My message to the city, please just simply do your enforcement. Do what you’re being paid to do,” Eustice says.

KRQE News 13’s investigation finds Santa Fe’s failure to enforce its ordinance at the Valerio property is based on nothing more than a misunderstanding. Oops.

Just three weeks ago, City Hall reversed its hands off policy and slapped John Valerio with a citation charging him with excessive litter and junk cars. Valerio will tell his story to a Judge later this month.

Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales had harsh words for his legal department. “I’m extremely disappointed that it’s taken as long as it has. Clearly, responsibility lies both in our City Attorney’s office and our Land Use Office for not moving it into the courts,” Mayor Gonzales said.

The Mayor added, “Any time you see a property that looks like this that has been unaddressed by the city, of course, they dropped the ball and it’s something that needs to be addressed.”

Meanwhile, Chris Eustice has a message for his neighbor across the street. “Try to be a better neighbor. Try to clean up. Haul some of this stuff off to the dump. It’s got no value whatsoever. None,” Eustice said.

“This is not going to continue to go on,” Mayor Gonzales said. “(John Valerio) can’t continue to avoid (his) responsibility to (his) neighborhood and to the city. And one way or another that property is going to get cleaned up.”

KRQE News 13 caught up with Valerio shortly after he was served with a citation. Will he clean up his property?

“If I want to yes. If I don’t I won’t. But I will,” Valerio said.

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