Locke property owner Martha Esch has been embroiled in controversy since purchasing Laura Ulewicz’ old property for $21,000 on Levee Street last year. While the LMA sued Esch for “not following proper procedure”, the court case continues.
In recent weeks, Esch’ attorney Mark Wasser sent a letter to Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully notifying her of the lack of attention that the LMA pays toward following the Brown Act. The letter suggested an intervention to stop some of the practices going on within the town.
This situation, however, is a completely different battle – a battle of signs and the right to have a business versus a formerly residentially zoned street. Esch’ across the street neighbor, David Garcia, has put out signs stating that it is a residentially zoned street and that Esch has no right to have a business in her building.
Esch has responded with signs that state Garcia’s are wrong, and point to her art gallery, which is called “The Shack”. Esch explains that several folks visiting the town were run off by Garcia and others for walking down Levee Street. Garcia claims that Esch has always had a problem with him, and that she unnecessarily calls the sheriff when he hasn’t done anything wrong.
According to Esch it all started on July 29 when the George W. Locke Family Reunion bus tour was visiting her shop. The family members (which were close to 50 people) came from all over the country to tour their great-great-great grandfather’s settlement.
“Garcia didn’t like them going into my shop, so he came out and hammered up his little protest signs and hasn’t taken them down since,” said Esch. “Since then, I’ve asked five different LMA directors and Mr. Wayne Miller to intervene and manage the situation. Unfortunately, management is not the strong suit of the LMA.”
Esch felt the LMA should have rolled out the red carpet for the group as honored guests of Locke. She has called the sheriff on Garcia three times for yelling at tourists and allegedly screaming at them, “she is not allowed to have a business and it is residential-only zoned.”
Garcia, who has lived in Locke for nearly 30 years, feels that it was a huge oversight mistake by the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (SHRA) to re-zone the town and make Levee Street commercial/residential.
“It has always been nothing but residential,” he said. “She (Esch) stripped away all the vines and privacy. She has taken out 1,000’s of dollars of rare plants that Laura had in her backyard. She’s been harassing me since the first day she’s been in town about eight years ago.”
Garcia maintains that Esch told sheriffs that he was “threatening to kill her” and “break all her stuff” and cause violence against her.
“She has had contentions with every person in this town,” said Garcia. “Not one soul in this town wants her here.”
In speaking with LMA Property Manager Wayne Miller, he discussed the heated confrontations that have taken place and that there really isn’t much one can do about it.
“These are two people with dynamic opposing points of view,” said Miller. “Martha’s building was always historically residential, but when SHRA did zoning, they turned Levee Street into a commercial/residential zone. It should have stayed residential. These two don’t seem to have any common ground.”
Miller discussed that this is an extremely delicate issue because of the lawsuit that has already been going on for over a year against Esch.
“She is trying to increase the commercial use of the building by expanding,” said Miller. “In the CC&R’s, one can have discreet signs stating that it is private property, etc. Her property does not follow the CC&R’s. There is a lot of friction at the end of that street, but she is in a commercial zone. This further complicates things because of litigation with the board.”
Several Locke visitors commented on the signs and how they thought it was damaging to the town and for business.
“I went there a month ago to take my kids to check out Locke,” said Steve Crouch of Galt. “There were signs that said no trespassing, so we were about to leave but we saw Martha and asked if she was open. She told us to come in and ignore the signs.”
Crouch explained that Garcia’s signs would have deterred him from checking out her shop had she not been outside.
“I respect people’s rights, but this is hurting her business,” he said. “This is a legitimate business in a commercial zoned area. I can see where these signs would hurt her business.”
Garcia feels that Esch has a “parasitic hold” on the town, and that he doesn’t want the store there across the street from his house. He noted that each time the cops have come, they went away with no problems and didn’t bother him.
“She lures tourists up to her place,” said Garcia. “Would you like 40 people on your front step? She took down a county sign with no permission and nothing happens to her. Now she covers up the Levee Street sign with her signs. She feels like she can do anything with no consequence. I talked to the town manager and he said my signs are just fine.”
Miller spoke of the residential character of Locke, and how that has to be preserved. While several projects have gone off without a hitch in Locke, others are halted by the Locke Design Preservation Committee. Esch feels it is a double-edged sword for those that want to get something built or changed. She has several plans to alter her building and make it ADA accessible, but was just recently shot down by the committee unanimously 4-0.
“The community does not want her here,” said Garcia. “If you ask them, they’ll tell you. I’ve got a big problem with her.”
Locke visitor Erica Zador noted that she was basically chased off by a “very intoxicated” man when she tried to walk up to Esch’ shop and down Levee Street.
“I just wanted to go down the road to see the gallery,” she said. “There was a drunk guy yelling at me that it was private property. It was an uncomfortable situation to be put in.”
Esch maintains that Sacramento County, who issued her business license and drew the zoning map of Locke would beg to differ with Garcia’s view.
“The biggest part of this picture is that the LMA refuses to manage the situation, and that the LMA appears to be supporting Garcia’s efforts to undermine my licensed business,” she said.
Look for future updates in the RNH as the story develops.