Where does Settle live?
October 19, 2009
By KAREN VELIE
During the past four months, police and fire have responded to a San Luis Obispo house owned by City Councilman Allen Settle at least three times. The visits, prompted by complaints about noise, suspicious activities and an illegal fire, have some facing a sensitive question.
The question is: Who really lives in the house?
Settle, 66, who has been on the council and served as mayor for nearly three decades, says he lives at 1244 Drake Cir. He claims it as his primary residence in order to qualify as a legal city resident and to serve as in elective office in San Luis Obispo as prescribed by the city charter.
Settle maintains he stays part time at both the home on Drake Circle, valued at $550,000, and at another home he owns on Fox Canyon Lane north of Arroyo Grande, which is worth about $1.1 million. Over the years he has allowed foreign-exchange students to live rent free on Drake Circle, Settle said.
“I have been there constantly, but at times have taken time off,” Settle said. “It is my primary residence as designated by law. If I let a student from Sri Lanka stay there, that’s up to me.
Settle’s long standing in San Luis Obispo’s political scene and his position as a tenured professor of political science has repeatedly quieted talk about where he really lives. Many of those who have heard the allegations have discounted them because of Settle’s credentials and claims that he lives in the house he claims shares with students from other countries.
But, there are still doubters.
One of the four renters, who currently live in the house on Drake Circle, said they are not foreign-exchange students and added that Settle does not live there. But he does come by regularly to pick up his mail, said the renter.
A fair amount of neighbors on Drake, who also asked that their identifies be kept secret for fear of retaliation from Settle, assert that Settle moved out more than two years ago.
“My neighbors do not know where I stay. They don’t know if I come in at two in the morning. My wife stayed with me at the house last weekend.”
One neighbor pointed out that the renters’ cars fill Settle’s driveway and that it is difficult to miss a car parked in a cul-de-sac that has only five homes.
“He is a liar,” one woman said. “He hasn’t lived there for years. An investigator from Sacramento asked if he lived next door. I told her no and they did nothing.”
Another neighbor said she has only seen Settle when he regularly takes out the trash on collection days and picks up his mail.
Like the neighbors, the student renter, also insisted on anonymity, and added that he and his roommates, all U.S. citizens, have had no problems at the house, but he could not satisfactorily explain why police and firefighters have visited the house three times since July.
On Aug. 18, police responded to a late-night noise party complaint at 1244 Drake and issued a noise-violation warning, according to the San Luis Obispo police log.
When asked about it, Settle said he was at the next door neighbor’s home when the police arrived.
“I have a neighbor who is sensitive to music,” Settle said. “It ended when I said I can’t have this anymore.”
Although San Luis Obispo’s city charter requires its elected officials to live in the city, the City Attorney and other ranking officials are powerless to enforce the city’s residency requirement if an elected official is involved.
City Atty. Jonathan Lowell said the responsibility to enforce the residency requirements rests with the state Attorney General’s office. He added that he did not know if Atty. Gen. Edmund G. Brown Jr.’s office is still looking into the matter
However, the Cal Poly student interviewed by CalCoastNews said officials in Sacramento were asking questions about whether Settle actually lives at the Drake Circle address.
In two lengthy interviews with CalCoastNews in the past week, Settle maintained that he has done nothing wrong and that the assertion that he really lives in the Arroyo Grande-area home is untrue.
“Your primary residence is where you declare your domicile,” Settle said. “I get my mail there (1244 Drake Cir.) and claim a homeowner’s exemption there.”
According to California Revenue and Taxation Code Section 218, in order to receive a homeowner’s exemption, the home must be a person’s principle place of residence. In addition, the exemption does not apply to property that is rented.
Currently, the Cal Poly student said he and the three other occupants are paying rent to Settle.
In explaining his arrangement about the two homes and his longtime involvement in politics, he said he was very familiar with state and local laws governing residency requirements because he is a political science professor at Cal Poly.
Settle said that California’s Election Code allows politicians to move while retaining their residency as long as they are in office. His said the code refers to all state employees that hold public office.
However, the code specifically allows a member of the state Legislature or a representative in the U.S. Congress to claim their residence at the time they filed their affidavit of registration as their domicile.
The code does not mention elected municipal officials as having the same leeway.
In addition to the questions about residency, Settle has never included rent collected from his Drake Circle house on his financial declarations filed with San Luis Obispo’s city clerk.
The Cal Poly student said he and his three roommates pay between $400 and $650 a month.
“There are four rooms and four renters,” said the student. “Everyone pays a different amount.” Two of the renters attend Cal Poly, one is a Cuesta College student, and the fourth is not in college, the student said.
In response to the renter’s reports that he never stays at the Drake Circle address, Settle said he was planning to “take over the place.”
“So you (CalCoastNews) are comfortable, I will reoccupy what I had before,” Settle said in an interview. “The renters don’t know where I stay. I have other homes in the neighborhood.”
In addition to the noise complaint, the San Luis Obispo Fire Department responded to an illegal burn at the Drake Circle house on July 12. Fire department officials explained to the residents that their recreational fire pit was illegal and helped put the fire out, according to the fire incident report.
Fire responders also spoke with a next-door neighbor, who “demanded that the responders notify the owner of the property, Allen Settle, that his renters were endangering his property,” according to the fire-incident report.
Settle has served for 21 years on the City Council and eight years as mayor. He declined to respond to questions regarding reports that he plans to run for mayor in 2010.
Term limits, primarily used to reduce abuses of power, limit San Luis Obispo’s mayor and members of council from serving more than eight years concurrently in the same office. However, by switching between offices, Settle has remained a voting city official for nearly three decades.
In 2006, the Fair Political Practice Commission fined Settle $6,000 for voting on an issue in which he had a conflict of interest.