A sad conclusion to a long battle between the City of Emeryville and nearly 50 year-long Emeryville resident Andre Carpiaux came to a close on Tuesday as Council approved “abatement” of his home citing fears of its collapse. The 1264 Ocean Avenue property had been red-tagged since 2015 and vacated by the 82-year-old Belgium citizen who has identified himself as homeless as a result.
Carpiaux made an impassioned plea to preserve his home and instead use the cash to help him remediate it as well as return items to him that he claims were seized. “I lost my machine shop, I lost my submarine, I lost scaffolding to make my special stainless steel roof,” Carpiaux proclaimed. “$175,000 to demolish my house instead of rehabilitating is something I really don’t think you’ll get away with” making a comparison between the city’s actions and Nazi Germany.
The house was deemed “uninhabitable” back in October 2015 by the City of Emeryville Chief Building Inspector Victor Gonzalez citing “the danger presented by the dilapidation, deterioration, and illegal construction” at the single-family residence. The decision was appealed by Carpiaux but it was upheld at a special meeting in August, 2016.
Carpiaux’s feud with the city apparently goes back decades. “We have records of the city having code enforcement activities at this property as early as 1976 and on and off throughout that time” according to City Attorney Michael Guina. The staff report notes complaints against Carpiaux include structure and foundation deterioration, illegal construction, faulty electrical, lack of a potable water system, non-permitted well water, etc.
Carpiaux refutes the claim that his house is unstable and refers to the frequent measurements he has taken from his basement. “Anything that isn’t an office building to them is ‘blight'” he noted in a tour of his dwelling. Carpiaux allegedly excavated soil under his home and the public sidewalk to accommodate his work on his submarine that he described being built for an emergency escape. Carpiaux says that the issues the city claims stem from a sewer connection line that public utilities would not address and he needed to remedy himself.
Andre Carpiaux was born in 1934 in Belgium and is one of four children. He witnessed the fighting of World War II as a youth, something he noted he was emotionally involved with and personally witnessed an ambush of Allies by the Nazi army. “Seeing all the American soldiers being killed was just frightening to me,” Carpiaux recalled in his thick accent.
Carpiaux came to the U.S. in 1958 to attend college at the age of 25. He married his wife, an American from Oakland, in 1964 and had two sons with her while living in neighboring Berkeley. Andre was hired as an instructor as Los Medanos community college in Pittsburg, CA where he worked for a decade teaching hydraulics and dynamics. He bought his Emeryville Ocean Avenue home in 1968.
Carpiaux has been a fixture at council meetings for decades and is a regular at the Emeryville Senior Center. He generally starts off his frequent public comments with his signature introduction, “Good evening ladies and gentleman, my name is Andre Carpiaux …” Carpiaux has advocated many time on homeless issues and has even allowed some unhoused residents to set up camp in his property’s back yard. He’s touted many “out of the box” solutions to remedy homeless including turning the old Bay Bridge (since demolished) into a shelter.
City Staff recommended that Council authorize the resolution and it was passed by council 5-0. City Council approved a $175,000 resolution authorizing the city to open a contractor bidding process to cover the abatement cost. This cost will come from the city’s general fund. Several liens exist on the property for various penalties.
In an emotional moment, council allowed Carpiaux to clarify their decision with him. “Is it your opinion, is it your opinion …?” he repeated several times expressing his desire for the space to be turned into a museum for solar cars. “It’s violence!” Councilmember Bauters, put into a difficult spot but nonetheless approved the decision with his fellow councilmembers, could be heard taking a deep sigh afterward.
No timetable for the abatement has been established nor what measures are available for Carpiaux to continue his fight. He will be given an opportunity to remove any personal property at a future undetermined date.
One thing is for sure, an Emeryville without Andre, would be notably less “E’ville”.
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