Sonoma Bay Residents Say Crime, Foreclosures Mar Area

Development Made To Revitalize, Bring New Families To Riviera Beach


Article Courtesy of WPBF.COM

July 30, 2009

RIVIERA BEACH , Fla. -- Sonoma Bay was a community that was supposed to bring new families and a new way of life to Riviera Beach , but people who live in the development said it has become infested with crime.

Residents in the development that was part of the city's effort to revitalize the Congress Avenue corridor said they fear their cries of help are falling on deaf ears.

Sonoma Bay was supposed to be a community of homeowners, but that all changed after the decline in the economy. Now, it's filled with foreclosures and crime.

One Sonoma Bay resident, who didn't want his identity revealed, said he fears for his life after a confrontation last weekend with neighbors over a parking spot.

"The next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground in a pool of blood, unable to see because my eye was swollen," the man said.

He said several men armed with pool sticks attacked him, scarring his face and nearly taking out his left eye.

"The local police try their best to keep peace there with the perpetrators," the man said. "They're fighting a losing battle. It's not going to happen."

But police said they are well aware of what's going on. A list of 911 calls from Sonoma Bay showed that there have been more than 2,000 in the last two years and more than 100 reported burglaries.

In 2006, the community made national headlines when a murder suspect featured on the TV show " America 's Most Wanted" was captured inside Sonoma Bay .

"The police department, they have done a fantastic job of what they can do," said homeowner Keith DiLisio. "Now it's up to the builder to enforce these rules."

DiLisio said he purchased his home in 2006 for more than $250,000.

"It's got a beautiful lake, all this area, but it's very hazardous here," he said.

He said, now, the property is only worth $50,000, and it's not just because of the economy.

"I can't have anybody rent here," DiLisio said. "If somebody rents here, they automatically pack up the next day because they will get burglarized that day."

WPBF watched on Thursday as several cars tailgated through the automated gates, gaining entry into the neighborhood and highlighting the site for a potential security breach.

With the mounting crime, owners are fleeing. Of the more than 300 units, there are only 12 homeowners left. The rest of the units are either rentals, government subsidized housing or in foreclosure.

Riviera Beach Mayor Thomas Masters said he hears the complaints and is willing to do what it takes to make things better.

"If that means coming here and making camp for two or three months, or four or five months, you know, I'm with the people," he said. "I want the people to feel good about their community."

But even with that assurance, homeowners said they feel trapped and have a hard time clinging onto hope.

"That's really the only place I have," said the man who didn't want his identity revealed. "I tried to rent it out to somebody. I can't rent it out, so I have to live there. I have to stay here. I've got to pay the mortgage. I pay my bills."

Riviera Beach police have not made any arrests in that man's attack due to a lack of witnesses, they said. Meanwhile, residents said they're thinking about legal action, saying when they moved in, they had no way of knowing that they would have to end up fearing for their safety.

There's no longer a traditional Homeowner's Association in Sonoma Bay , and the contract for the management company expires on Friday. The developer, Cornerstone, is legally still in control of the property. Residents said they feel like their complaints to Cornerstone are being ignored.

WPBF left numerous messages with Cornerstone and the person in charge of Sonoma Bay on Thursday. Those calls haven't been returned.

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