City’s case against Fonua family heads to trial

A court trial begins Monday in the city’s bid to oust a Tongan patriarch and his family from their North Grant Street home after family members were accused of “terrorizing” their neighbors and local police.

The City of San Mateo is seeking an injunction that would displace owner Olaiha Fonua Sr. and up to 50 people affiliated with his household for a year, and would require court approval before Fonua could lease or sell the single-family home at 107 N. Grant St., according to Lance Bayer, the attorney representing the city’s case. The move follows several years of ongoing reports of problems at the house, including large numbers of people living there and recurring problems with noise, trash and obscenities near the house, according to court documents filed by the city.

“The area was being terrorized, and they had neighbors … who wanted something to happen, but couldn’t come forward, out of fear,” according to Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. Wagstaffe said some members of the family had lengthy rap sheets.

Some residents living near the house said the neighborhood has enjoyed a relative measure of peace since six members of the Fonua family have been arrested in recent years. Some are serving prison sentences for violations ranging from cocaine sales to attempted murder.

“It’s been quiet,” said Margie Perez, who has lived in an apartment across the street from the Fonuas for the past two years. “They stay on the property. They have friends over, but those don’t stay too long.”

Members of the family contacted Thursday declined to comment on the impending trial. Their lawyer, San Francisco-based John Hartford, did not return calls for comment.

When the trial begins Monday, Bayer expects to call a number of witnesses, particularly those from the San Mateo Police Department, who will provide evidence of the Fonuas’ alleged public nuisance activities.

“We expect to present evidence … based on the types of conduct, which involve violent behavior and quality-of-life concerns affecting the neighborhood andthe community,” Bayer said. The trial is expected to continue through the week.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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