News

'They turned my world upside down'

Atherton man says he lost his home in a foreclosure sale after judge kicks him out

James Kristofferson, the Atherton man who in July was barred by court order from his Redwood Way home for a year after town officials had it declared a "drug house," has lost the home in a foreclosure sale, he said.

Mr. Kristofferson said the house, valued on the Zillow real estate website at $2.4 million, sold at auction on his 57th birthday, Aug. 12, for $1.9 million. That was slightly over the $1.8 million he owed the bank. He said he thinks the house, with a little work, could sell for $3 million.

"They turned my whole world upside down over someone selling $20 worth of drugs," he said on Thursday, as he worked to salvage as many of his possessions as he could from his home of 11 years.

"It's not anything like they're saying," he said. "I surely didn't deserve to lose my home."

Mr. Kristofferson, his longtime girlfriend Yvette Simmons, and others living in the house were first ordered to move out in a preliminary court ruling on April 25. On July 16, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Joseph Scott barred Mr. Kristofferson from the house for a year, and ordered him to pay a $25,000 penalty and $26,223 in legal fees and abatement costs to the town.

Mr. Kristofferson said he will appeal the ruling even though he has lost the house because he can't afford the fine.

The town had claimed the home was a "drug house" and the judge's actions are one of the remedies in the law referring to such public nuisances. Atherton City Attorney Bill Conners said a "drug house" is defined in the Health and Safety Code as "a place where illegal drugs are sold, served, manufactured, stored, used, kept, distributed, or given away."

Mr. Kristofferson said he had been in the process of refinancing the house when he had to move out. Since he had been relying on income from renters with whom he was sharing the property, when he could no longer rent out rooms, "I wasn't able to qualify for the loan," he said.

Mr. Kristofferson said his troubles began when a business deal with a Chinese manufacturer of tankless water heaters went sour. He had spent years, and made more than 50 trips to China, getting the water heaters certified for sale in the U.S. and Canada, he said. He was finally ready to begin importing them when the Chinese company told him it would not ship the product unless he renegotiated the contract. "They were using my first order to extort me," he said.

Mr. Kristofferson said he is now deep in a lawsuit against the Chinese company, which he is confident he will win. In the meantime, however, to cover his mortgage, he decided to take in renters.

He acknowledges that he had six renters, and since all of them often had overnight visitors, there were as many as 14 people in the house.

One of those renters, who Mr. Kristofferson said had lived for five months in a small guest unit behind the garage, was accused of selling drugs to a police informant while on Mr. Kristofferson's property. That led to a raid on the house by the San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force, after which Mr. Kristofferson was arrested on felony charges including possession of methamphetamine for sale and maintaining a house for narcotics use.

The charges against Mr. Kristofferson were reduced to three misdemeanors alleging possession of methamphetamine, concentrated cannabis and drug-use paraphernalia. "The evidence was not sufficient to prove for Kristofferson or any of the other three defendants that the drug possession was for sale rather than for personal use," San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.

Mr. Kristofferson and his girlfriend say the drugs they were charged with possessing was medical marijuana a visiting friend had left behind. They had found the paraphernalia buried in their yard, and it was still covered with dirt from being dug up, they said.

Two of those arrested at the home, Lauren Weil and Robin Vaka, were charged with felony possession counts. The cases are scheduled to be tried in September and October.

Mr. Kristofferson said in addition to losing his home, he will have to abandon many of his belongings because he has been living in a motel and can't afford much storage space. On Aug. 28, he packed into a rented truck the most valuable of his large collection of artworks, many passed down from his father, keepsakes such as family photos, and tools from his garage.

While the house was in disarray, which Mr. Kristofferson blamed on the police search, and showed signs of a rodent infestation while sitting empty, it appears to have recently been an upscale dwelling complete with leather furniture, a full wine rack and a dining room with china and crystal ready to be set out.

Mr. Kristofferson said he will probably sell some of his artworks so he can rent a house.

A number of things disappeared from the house while it was empty, Mr. Kristofferson said, including several computers, a large-screen television, a humidor full of fine cigars and many collectibles.

When he was initially kicked out of his home, he said, "we had no clothes, we had no toothbrushes; we had nothing."

A lawsuit against Mr. Kristofferson by the town of Atherton includes a number of allegations in addition to those regarding drugs. It says more than 120 police calls were made to the property, and lists unsafe conditions that caused the house to be red-tagged as unlivable.

Mr. Kristofferson said he had let an old childhood friend move in, and most of the police calls came about after it became apparent that the friend was mentally ill. The friend was asked to move out, he said.

The home was red-tagged, Mr. Kristofferson said, because his power was turned off when he could not pay the bill. He was using car batteries to power a few things through an inverter and extension cords. Other work was under way on the property, including repairing the swimming pool and adding a guest unit to the garage. Most of the items the town had asked to be repaired were already fixed when he was kicked out of the house, he said.

"I was doing everything they wanted me to do," he said.

Mr. Kristofferson said he has been a licensed contractor since he was 26, but he has not been able to take on many contracting jobs recently because he has to keep traveling to China to deal with the lawsuit.

Hanging on a wall in his former home is a newspaper article from the May 13, 1990, Santa Rosa Press Democrat. The article shows a 32-year-old Mr. Kristofferson standing in front of a home he had built, which was at the time one of the most expensive in Sonoma County.

The headline reads: "The House That Jim Built 21 rms, mtn view, $2.6 million."

Mr. Kristofferson said he always had good relationships with his Atherton neighbors. "Two of my neighbors are partners in my corporation," he said. "The one across the street I built a house for."

Now, he says, all that has changed.

"Everything's gone," he said. "They just took my world and turned it upside down."

An earlier Almanac story on this case can be seen here.

Comments

 +   3 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Sep 3, 2014 at 4:21 pm

Welcome to the Land of the Free!


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Shocks the senses
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 3, 2014 at 9:02 pm

Atherton's City Attorney states: "a 'drug house' is defined in the Health and Safety Code as "a place where illegal drugs are sold, served, manufactured, stored, used, kept, distributed, or given away."

Either the Almanac has misquoted him, or he is misquoting the law, which states a drug house is a "place for the purpose of unlawfully selling, giving away, or using any controlled substance." (CA HSC 11366).

In other words, use or possession of drugs in the home is not enough, as Mr. Conners' quote indicates is sufficient. The home must exist for the purpose of transacting drugs.

It is simply shocking to one's senses that this fellow lost his home because of this, when the D.A. stated the evidence is not there to prosecute. [Portion removed; off topic.]

120 police calls is troubling, but does not rise to the level of kicking someone out of their home for one year unless the police calls establish a drug house was operating (and it clearly was not, or Wagstaffe could and would prosecute). Other more commensurate remedies were available that likely would have had the effect of getting Mr. K to solve the issues that were troubling his neighbors.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 3, 2014 at 9:09 pm

pogo is a registered user.

I'm as much of a civil libertarian as anyone and it is truly shocking that you can be tossed out of your own house. It doesn't even seem Constitutional!

But 120 police calls? That's A LOT of calls. If I were a neighbor, I don't think I'd be too happy about that...


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Shocks the senses
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 3, 2014 at 9:27 pm

But then I'm sure you'd agree that calling the police in and of itself can't establish a basis for anything. If actual crimes were being committed on even a small fraction of the 120 or so calls, he would have been arrested, convicted, etc., and the nuisance eliminated. If there's no crime, but noise, ruckus, etc., a series of escalating fines, etc. is then appropriate. This was not a "drug house" under the law and that remedy was not appropriate.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 3, 2014 at 9:28 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

120 police calls is ridiculous. The neighbors could have sued just for the house being a "nuisance." It's unfortunate he chose to bring in a tenant that caused so much trouble, but as a landlord it's his responsibility. Also, 7 people with nightly visitors sharing a house in Atherton? I suspect the town would consider that house a nuisance for that alone. I'm sorry he lost his home, but some of the issues at his home were life safety issues and had to be addressed immediately. Bottom line, bad choices equal a really bad, sad outcome.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 3, 2014 at 11:29 pm

There are always two sides to every story and this article painted a colorful version of what really transpired over the last several years with that residence, its owner, and occupants. How would you like it if you were living in Atherton but the front yard of the house next door to you , or down the street from you was literally so jammed packed with rusted cars and cluttered with garbage and stacks of who knows what that it looked like a junk yard; or, you had unfamiliar vehicles coming and going at all hours of day and night. The police didn't make that mess, it that was the constant state of that residence. The whole article focuses on the poor homeowner, really? How does he get to play the victim; he wasn't aware of what his renters were doing? What about the neighbors that had endure everything that went on there, and the eyesore his house became in the neighborhood. What about the Atherton Police that were called over 120 times because of all the trouble associated with that residence? And Mr. Kristofferson is saying "they turned his world upside down". Maybe he should look in the mirror.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by girl next door
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 4, 2014 at 1:13 am

I beleive Mr.Kristofferson was targeted. He has been a good neighbor,and never ran into such trouble like this.the article is all about him, absolutely. This is a travesty and he needs to speak out. Wouldent you? If you got everything taken away for a mistameaner. It seems like a hate crime to me, and not from Mr. Kristofferson.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 4, 2014 at 7:22 am

pogo is a registered user.

There are a lot of options for property owners other than turning their quiet neighborhood home into a boarding house. If this couple was in such dire financial shape, why not sell the house before all of this took place?

That sort of thing happens all the time. You lose a job, you sell the house and move someplace less expensive.

That said, none of this needed to happen and I do think that some officials over-reacted. But I don't think the homeowners are without fault. As others have pointed out, I wouldn't want such a fiasco to happen next door to me.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 4, 2014 at 8:14 am

Reading this article at face value would make me wonder why this individual was "targeted" as well. However, when every paragraph of the story begins with or Mr. Kristofferson said, says, or say, it reads more like a "poor me "tale instead of a news story. Where are the actual facts behind any of these allegations, background information, what were the nature of these 120 police calls and in what time frame? If you couldn't qualify for a bank loan and you couldn't afford electricity is it the City's fault or polices fault that your home is foreclosed upon?


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Shocks the senses
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 4, 2014 at 9:00 am

The problem here is that the law (which I find more important than individual senses of right vs. wrong, since unlike these opinions, the law is published, and people are on notice of it before they choose to act) cannot justify removing someone from their home because the police were called 120 times, or there was junk on the lawn.

Operating a "drug house" -- a place of business for selling or manufacturing drugs -- does, but this clearly was not that (a renter using drugs specifically does not count in the law, nor does possession), and the district attorney confirmed this by stating there was no evidence to prosecute it as such.

The Town of Atherton could have demanded Mr. Kristoferson remove the debris, issue escalating fines, and ultimately get a court order to have the debris removed at his expense. A lien could have been placed on the property if he didn't or couldn't pay these monies.

The rationale for following the law in this instance, even when neighbors are outraged and like the "end justifies the means" result that apparently was achieved here, is to me not unlike why we don't impose the death penalty for shoplifting, however much that might help shopkeepers or deter that crime. It just wouldn't be a commensurate punishment with the crime, and, more selfishly and importantly, if "you" were incorrectly accused of shoplifting, that would be horrible, wouldn't it?

The same thing can happen here.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2014 at 9:33 am

Michael G. Stogner is a registered user.

Does anyone know if William B. Conners has done this before? To identify a home as a Drug House is pretty substantial. He seemed to know that this was not an accurate description of this property.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Menlo_Oldtimer
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 4, 2014 at 10:46 am

"They turned my world upside down"...seems like if you were behind on a mil plus house and you had to rent out to over six people, drug dealers and users etc. your world was already upside down. He had choices and could have done a short sale etc. We had a similar issue with a foreclosure on our street, the owners became upside down on their mortgage and were evicted. Then teens took the empty house over as a party pad, then hard core drug users moved in. For months cars and noise went up and down the street to this house, and all our neighbors were afraid to go in and out because of the scary visitors. What about the street were this occurred on Redwood way, does he feel no sympathy about turning those neighbors lives upside down? This paper should do more investigating into how this "success story" financed his prior houses and development projects, and his residency history before wasting print on his sob story.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Tulips are forever
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Sep 4, 2014 at 11:10 am

We all know that some of the house flippers (aka "real estate success stories") that got caught without a chair when the music stopped. It wasn't the coat of paint that made you your money, it was holding the house for a year in an ever-rising market.

Until it didn't rise. Then you take in renters. Then you make mistakes about renters. Or you knew. Who knows? In the first threads, you post under your own name. Under advice, you stop posting, or tey and be clever and change to an alias.

Bummer.

Hey, we enjoyed all those stories the house flippers regaled us with at parties and at our kids LL games. Tulip prices don't rise forever. Someone gets stuck holding the bag. Every time.

Speaking of bags...

11377(A) Possession of Controlled Substance
11357(A) Possess Concentrated Cannabis
11364.1 possession of drug paraphernalia

Sounds like quite the party while it lasted.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by another girl next door
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Sep 4, 2014 at 11:24 am

I ordered the call log from the Atherton pd. Its not a call log what they are referring to is a log in which they document everything on fir the house in rwference.
Ie: security check. Then they log an incident number
Btw: the security check is when they drive by your house and make sure it's not on fire basically. They do this twice a day to every house in Atherton. At this particularly house the checks are do be at 8am and 10pm. And this is what is logged. And counted as part of the 120 calls.
There is another log note, it's a traffic stop for a driver named Alecia Something. I asked the previous owner who that was n they have no idea.
This is the 120 calls that make up this allegation.
You can order this log yourself.
Nothing is what it seems. That is a quote from Yvette. The ling time gf. Of James.
I live on Redwood Way and nit once did I feel threatened it afraid.
However, I did get harassed by the police on several occasions.
I was also intimidated. Oh by the police.
I was ticketed for some made up charge. Which I was found innocent if all charges. Case dropped for lack of evidence.
I'm more afraid of my grandmother than James Kristofferson.
People if you dint know the REAL facts. Dont bother your pretty little fingers. Just read, don't comment. Really. Try and controll your gossip.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Tulips are forever
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Sep 4, 2014 at 12:05 pm

"They do this twice a day to every house in Atherton." Really? EVERY house?

"I was ticketed for some made up charge."

"I'm more afraid of my grandmother than James Kristofferson."

"Try and controll your gossip."

Which one of these charges is gossip?
11377(A) Possession of Controlled Substance
11357(A) Possess Concentrated Cannabis
11364.1 possession of drug paraphernalia


 +   2 people like this
Posted by The plot thickens
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 4, 2014 at 12:22 pm

All those three charges, or even convictions, are rumor, if you're suggesting they in any way can justify ejecting someone from his home. If a significant portion of the hundred and 20 calls for the Atherton Police Dept. were of their own volition, rather than a citizen calling them to the home, that also radically changes the complexion of this situation.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 4, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

plot:

120 calls for service is A LOT of calls. It doesn't matter whether the calls came from neighbors or from the house itself. It's indicative of a big problem. I can count on one finger the number of times I've had to call the police to my house.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Jack Hoff
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2014 at 2:18 pm

This was covered in posts above, but I'd like to chime in on the subject of not knowing what was really in those 120 police calls.

I was with a police officer (different city) who responded to a "loud party" call. We went up to an obviously very loud house, and encountered a very uncooperative resident. But then, a neighbor ran up, identified himself as the person who had called the police, and said "Not this house, that house." He pointed to a totally quiet house.

Basically, he was using the police to harass a neighbor he did not like. a very unhappy and somewhat upset police officer left quickly.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Shocks the senses
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 4, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Menlo Voter: I'm not disagreeing with you on the 120 calls, if 120 calls were made by people. another girl next door says she got the logs, and it shows many of these were not calls in the sense we would assume, but the APD deciding to drive by the house on their own initiative, and logging it as a call.

Can the Almanac get the log and see how many times the police were actually called -- by anybody -- to this house?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 4, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Police calls "including, but not limited to, complaints of multiple disturbances of the peace, service of arrest warrants, reports of parole violations, allegations of assault and battery (with) some resulting in arrest, dog fights, loud noise, suspicious vehicles, illegal parking, suspicious persons and complaints of suspected drug activity" indicates problems more serious than Mr K now acknowledges. He also says that he never allowed drugs on his property - OK, so his boarders & their guests brought drugs without the landlord's permission. He had no awareness? Weren't some of these renters under the same roof as Mr. K?

After the notice of default on the loan was filed by the bank, as is required by law, Mr. K still could have sold the house & maybe even some his collectibles to make his payments. Maybe one problem with a refinance was the lack of code compliance for electrical & plumbing systems which an appraisal would have revealed.

Even though he violated sanitation, safety & zoning ordinances, taking away his house is a very extreme action. I don't believe he's an innocent victim as he continually claims even in threads on other topics which he has hijacked (the recent pedestrian fatality at Almendral) but there's certainly a better way for Atherton to get rid of a problem than commandeering the house.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by do da google
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Sep 4, 2014 at 3:20 pm

The three charges listed above are for mr K "long term girlfriend". Really know your stuff, K.

Public record. Do the search. Her name is in he article.

How is that a "rumor"?

Party house. Plain and simple. A 3rd party supposedly has the log. Right.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Tulips are forever
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Sep 5, 2014 at 8:38 am

"another girl next door says she got the logs"

Another girl? Inadmissible hearsay in court, okay in a blog I guess.

Therefore: I heard from another guy who has a friend whose cousin said she heard it was a satanic cult, based on a hybrid Walter White Jim Jones mix, listening to Zappa all night long, cooking up...

See how it's done?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by girl next door
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 6, 2014 at 2:22 am

Tulips are forever,,,,,,,,
Really? Thats really mature, way to.get at them. The thing is dont beleive everything you read. Also everyone makes mistakes, im sure all of you have. Where is your compassion,dont you think hes already being punish.God goodnight


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Redwood Way Resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 6, 2014 at 10:18 am

I am a longtime resident of Redwood Way, and familiar with 67 Redwood Way and the problems surrounding it.

The article focuses on the problems of the resident, and vaguely implies some impropriety on the part of APD and the district attorney's office. I'm not equipped to comment on the legal aspects of declaring a house a nuisance or "drug house", or what evidence is required for serious drug charges. However, I can comment on the environment on the street created by the presence of the house.

Over the past 5 to 7 years --the problem is not new-- I have witnessed:

-the visible nuisance of broken down cars and trash in the front yard
-suspicious cars and people coming at all hours of the day and night
-people passing items to and from residents through the gate, or via the mailbox, at all hours
-cars and motorcycles visiting the house and driving unsafely up and down the cul de sac
-at various times, multiple pit bulls, sometimes running freely in the street
--residents and visitors from the house going through and stealing items placed outside our house for charitable organizations
--loud screaming and arguments, often late at night
--visitors to the house passed out in cars in front of the house
--countless visits to the house by APD and San Mateo County Sherriff officers

I am generally of the mind that what goes on behind closed doors is the business of those involved. I also have sympathy for those harmed by the downturn in the economy. However, this house has created a public nuisance for years and has at times caused my children to fear for their safety.

The police calls should be well documented. This very paper has noted the house often in the "police blotter", detailing arrests for drug possession, parole violations, assault, and the list goes on.

APD has known about the house for years, and spent countless man hours and public funds visiting and conducting surveillance on the house. The only question might be, not what did the authorities do wrong, but what took them so long?



 +   2 people like this
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 6, 2014 at 10:29 am

pogo is a registered user.

Redwood Way Resident -

Thank you for providing some insight into this problem from the perspective of a neighbor.

Many of us suspected this wasn't just some innocent homeowner being victimized by the system. It would appear this has been a serious blight on the neighborhood for quite some time.

I'm glad this problem is being resolved for the peace of the neighborhood.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Sep 6, 2014 at 10:45 am

Michael G. Stogner is a registered user.

I agree with Pogo,

Redwood Way Resident -

Thank you for providing some insight into this problem from the perspective of a neighbor.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Really?!
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 7, 2014 at 4:57 pm

I think a better headline might have been "I turned my world upside down."


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