- Photo by Carrie Peyton Dahlberg
- These two units, joined by a garage wall, became the site of discord after the family in front complained that the occupants in back were running a marijuana grow. The opaqued garage windows on the back unit were one of the first clues, the neighbors said
The 2-year-old toddling in front of Nickelodeon, one pudgy first wrapped around the remote as her daddy packs boxes, took her first steps inside this small, plain duplex in McKinleyville. It's where her parents celebrated her first birthday and first Christmas, where her older sister had friends so close they looked on it as a second home.
But now, in the days before Thanksgiving, the family is packing to leave, given notice by a landlord who insists they are liars.
He says he would never sanction a marijuana grow.
They say they began complaining back in spring that the other half of the duplex, connected to theirs by a shared garage wall, had been turned into a grow house. The garage windows were covered first, they said, then came construction sounds, and then the smell, so strong it was nearly gagging in their garage.
"It was such a huge amount, and it was not 215; it was way above the 215 amount," Laura Cline said earlier this month. She worried about electrical fires and about robbers who might mistake one look-alike unit for the other. She worried that she and her fiancé and their two girls might be told to move, to make way for more lucrative tenants. Cline had heard that the tenants next door were paying $2,400 or $2,500 a month -- far more than her family's $1,400 monthly rent.
In April, she took her fears to Cathy MacMullin, who once had managed that property for its owner, Brian Lawrence. MacMullin confirms that she wrote a letter to Lawrence, telling him some of Cline's concerns, including that she had been hesitant to come forward because she had two small children and nowhere to move to.
"She was fearful to talk to him," MacMullin said last week. "She didn't know what to do." MacMullin figured a letter would protect herself, Cline and Lawrence. "I was telling him, ‘Hey, you've got a problem.'"
For his part, Lawrence says, "I'm very upset over this whole thing. Obviously, this is someone who believes certain things that are not true." He asked to speak about the matter off the record, and the Journal declined.
"Has she presented proof to you of any of these allegations? What I understand is she's accusing me of renting to people who grow marijuana, and that is not true. I personally have never allowed that," he said.
Lawrence ended the phone call before saying why he'd asked Cline to move, what he had done after receiving MacMullin's letter, or whether he found any evidence of a grow on his property. Then he had his attorney write the Journal's publisher, claiming the conversation was off the record and saying he had not given permission to have his name used.
A couple of days later the attorney, Chris Hamer, emailed again, this time saying that whoever was talking to the Journal had lied to try to avert eviction for "her bad actions as a tenant."
Told of the assertion, Cline burst out laughing. "What bad actions would that be? Asking to get my toilet fixed?" She said she took her worries to MacMullin because she was trying to protect her family.
Although Lawrence initially implied the Journal needs permission to use his name, no one needs permission to look at county property records, which show Lawrence owns the duplex at 1794 Edeline Ave. in McKinleyville, where Cline and her fiancé Mike Palmer are now packing to leave Unit A. No one needs permission to drive by his other properties, including a nearly identical duplex on Sutter Road in McKinleyville, where the back unit's garage windows are covered with an opaque lining.
The lining looks just like the stuff that went up soon after the new tenants moved into Unit B at the Edeline duplex, Cline says.
Cline and her fiancé, Mike Palmer, say Unit B is vacant now. No one answered the door when a reporter knocked, and a gap in the mini-blinds showed an empty-looking slice of living room, with what might have been boards or plywood or construction along one wall.
"This is just horrible for our family," Cline says. MacMullin has tried to help her find other places to live, but Cline and Palmer decided instead to move to Seattle, where they can get help from Cline's family and be closer to her older girl's father. She thinks the notice to move was so unfair that she ought to get some extra compensation, and she's been trying to make that case to Lawrence's current property manager.
"We've lived here a long time, 2½ years," she says. "We've always paid our rent on time."
Cline describes herself as "marijuana friendly," but says there ought to be limits, that families shouldn't lose out to growers who can pay higher rents.
Lawrence insists that isn't what happened here.
Who is right? It might become clearer after new tenants move into units A and B at 1794 Edeline.