Little Old Lady Reluctantly Pleads Guilty, Gets Probation

*This is an update to our earlier story.*

Wearing a red knit cardigan, and barely visible in an oversized wheelchair, Genoveva Aranda wept heartily yesterday afternoon after she was given a year of probation in criminal court for a few minor construction code violations in her home (read our earlier post on her situation here). In courtroom C66 at the Superior Courthouse in Santa Ana, Aranda reluctantly agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts as part of a plea deal in order to avoid a jury trial that could, at worst, land her in jail for the code violations the city of Orange decided to prosecute her for.

"Now it's as if I am a criminal," Aranda told the Weekly in Spanish as she crumpled further into her wheelchair and blew into her handkerchief. "But what can I do? It's in God's hands now."

Additional charges, which included such crimes as failure "to provide natural ventilation to rooms," and "Deteriorated exterior walls," were dropped because the superior court judge found that the Orange Police Department had broken the law when they brought a building code enforcement officer along with them to Aranda's house during a probation check on her son back in 2003. The code enforcement officer would have required separate warrants that the city never filed for. Strangely, however, Aranda will still be required to bring the two rooms fully up to code as part of her probation terms, despite the charges for those violations having been dismissed.

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"They say now that the city is going to help me. But why haven't they helped before?" Aranda said.  

When asked why the city decided to prosecute an elderly woman living on social security, assistant City Attorney Wayne Winthers said that "After working with the family for five years to get compliance, it became evident that we weren't going to and this was the only thing left to do...Our goal is compliance." Asked if the city offered assistance to people like Aranda living on limited incomes, Winthers said "As far as I know she either did not qualify or there was not a program that was applicable to her."

Aranda's daughter, Gema Tapia, said she's exhausted every option to get the city or a non-profit to assist Aranda with bringing the two small rooms that were built in her home prior to Aranda's purchase of it nearly 40 years ago, up to code. "I've contacted everyone. I went to Senior Housing, the Historical Home Society, Habitat for Humanity, Build Together, Flipping the House, Blue Ribbon Contractors, Senior Services Reverse Mortgages," and a slew of others she said, but, ironically, Aranda often didn't qualify for assistance because of the code violations on the home. The city, she says, has repeatedly flip-flopped on the specifics of what they want done to the home.

"We're back at square one now," she said, "Except now my mom is on probation and they're making her make all the same changes to the house when they're the ones who entered illegally."

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