Amos Washington is passionate about fighting for his neighborhood and north Lafayette. The 68-year-old former teacher is a man on a mission.
He'll take anyone along for a ride, pointing out the tall grass, dilapidated houses and broken sidewalks, or walk his well-kept neighborhood with a visitor, explaining how the properties drain, why he believes one house floods and his theory on why most of the driveways are cracked.
He's passionate about keeping up appearances. All it takes, he says, is someone to throw one piece of litter on the ground. The next day there will be another, then another. Before you know it, the whole neighborhood is infected with a lack of self esteem that becomes a chronic problem. If people see nothing good, it affects their whole attitude.
"When you start having dilapidated housing it leads to crime, a lack of pride and the neighborhood starts to deteriorate," Washington said. "People start to lose hope. They give up."
Washington's latest mission is his own Radcliffe Drive neighborhood off Simcoe Street.
The ditches, Washington said, haven't been maintained by the city since the 1970s. In some areas, he points out, drainage pipes going under driveways are half-silted up with dirt. If the water can't drain well in ditches and a coulee at the front of the neighborhood, he said, it can become stagnant, attracting mosquitoes, rats and other pests, or flood houses.
Most of the brick and veneer ranch-style homes on Radcliffe Drive were built in the 1960s and 1970s. The lawns are cut, houses are well maintained.
"This is a beautiful neighborhood. People have a lot of pride," Washington said.
Many driveways are cracked horizontally, along the city's drainage pipes. Washington blames the city. When Joey Durel was City-Parish President, the city took X-rays of the pipes to see if they had collapsed. The city repaired four driveways, he said, but none since.
"The funding was there," Washington said. "They realized they were at fault."
Donald Benjamin, a 65-year-old U.S. Army veteran, owns the best-kept property on Radcliffe Drive. Bushes and shrubs are perfectly manicured, ditches are squared-off. The entire neighborhood drains toward his house, at least one time pushing water into the home he purchased around 1979.
"The whole neighborhood's water comes to my yard," Benjamin said. "The city hasn't been addressing it at all."
On Benjamin's corner, erosion is claiming his property along the open ditches. The city repaired the street where it is washing away, but did nothing to help his property, he said.
"It's wiping the poor guy out," Washington added.
Brian Smith, with the drainage division of Lafayette Consolidated Government, said the public works department has a big file on the complaints from Washington and Benjamin.
A few weeks ago, Smith said, he walked the neighborhood with Washington, listening to his concerns.
"What people fail to understand is a driveway is for residents to access their home," Smith said. "It's not the responsibility of LCG."
LCG will help with permits and tell homeowners the size and grade of pipe needed, he said, but doesn't install drainage pipe and pour driveways anymore because an attorney general opinion declared the practice a violation of state ethics laws.
If the drainage pipe under a driveway is crushed and affects the flow of water, the city can act, Smith said. He got on his hands and knees and looked into the pipe and they are open. In some places, concrete from the driveway sits on top of the pipe because the driveways aren't thick enough.
"That's not an LCG problem," Smith said. "If you want your driveway fixed, you have to do it yourself if the drainage is working."
As for Benjamin's erosion problem Smith said the homeowner's zealous grooming is to blame. Benjamin keeps square-cutting the ditches in front of his house and spraying them to stop the grass from growing.
Washington and Benjamin criticize City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux who represents their neighborhood for not getting something done.
Boudreaux said the professionals, administrators and councilmen investigated and determined the problems the men point out are not the fault of LCG.
"When the professionals say the system has not failed, we unfortunately cannot expend public dollars," he said.