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When Bad Things Happen To Good Neighbors


It has been suggested that good fences make good neighbors. But in this age of gated communities, shared driveways, perceived lack of privacy and any number of other transgressions – real or imagined – it can be difficult to be neighborly.

In Louisiana, a woman angry by her neighbors’ treatment of her dog arranged a single digit salute for them with her Christmas lights. Sarah Henderson told reporters the illuminated insult was the only way she could effectively communicate with her neighbors – with whom she has had a running argument for months. In Utah, a neighbor unhinged by his neighbor’s complaints over the height of his view-obstructing roof line arranged for his contractor to install a particularly creative array of vents to convey his feelings, and the upturned finger icon he chose has turned up in everything from topiaries to garden gnomes as neighbors battle over everything from dog droppings to late night construction projects.

Closer to home, neighbors in Moraga unholstered their lawyers over another obstructed view recently – even though the picture window in question was part of a new addition constructed, apparently, without benefit of city permits. Years back, a Sanders Ranch resident couldn’t figure out why his Christmas lights kept blipping off every holiday season – until he stayed up one night and caught his neighbor patiently unscrewing bulbs to black out the strand. And, lower in “The Numbers” of the 24/680, there was the hot button case of Alamo’s “Dr. D,” a convivial ridge-top resident and Walnut Creek plastic surgeon who angered his neighbors by periodically choppering in a couple of hundred of his closest friends for parties at his 13-acre estate. Neighbors complained of traffic, noise, the chopper making low passes over the neighborhood and the occasional be-thonged lovely changing in the middle of their Via Romero neighborhood.

But fans of Dr. D (Kevin Degnan) said neighbors upset by his thrice-yearly bashes were “jealous” suburbanites too old to remember how to have fun. The neighbors, for the most part, have said they couldn’t care less about who was doing what to whom up there – as long as they didn’t have to hear or see it. A lawsuit ensued, lawyers did well, and life appears to have returned to normal.

Another neighbor-on-neighbor incident, this one in the gated enclave of the Stonegate community in Alamo, did not end well.

There, on Aug. 27, two groups of neighbors squared off over an ongoing property dispute and one, Michael Littman, 59, lashed out at neighbor Doris Penico’s husband – the blow striking Mrs. Penico instead.

County Sheriff’s investigators said that Penico fell to the pavement and hit her head. She was taken to the hospital and later died of her injuries. Littman was arrested three days later and currently faces charges of murder and assault by force likely to cause great bodily injury. He has entered a plea of not guilty.

The Littman/Penico case is, by far, the most tragic local example of how small issues between neighbors can fester and grow – with unexpected, expensive, and sometimes far-reaching consequences. To be sure, for every lawsuit or case of fisticuffs, there are dozens of neighbors living in peaceful coexistence with others. But, as we have seen, that is not always the case.

How about you? Small-town bliss and good relations, or over-the-fence verbal sniping – or worse?

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