SACRAMENTO — Wreaths and welcome signs are common door ornaments along leafy U Street in the Newton Booth neighborhood, just east of Poverty Ridge, in Sacramento.
Then comes this jarring juxtaposition in the front window of one home: a red flag bearing the bold symmetric angles of a swastika.
It's every homeowner's nightmare.
"I'm assuming it's an illness, because I've tried to rationalize it and I can't make sense of it," said Jolane Davis, who has put her home next door up for rent after contentious battles over the years with her swastika-flaunting neighbor, Joe Ongaro. "I just don't want the children around it anymore."
The dispute between neighbors began soon after Davis and her husband, Chet, bought their 1915 Victorian in 2004.
The couple invested $300,000 in a 2006 renovation of the one-time convent, expanding the house 22 feet back, picking paint in shades of sage, coffee and mocha, and selecting beveled-glass built-ins to match the originals.
The neighbors agree their relationship deteriorated during the remodel.
Ongaro said he let the contractors use his property to access the Davises' yard, even allowing dirt to be stored there. But then items were stolen from his property and the contractors verbally mistreated him, Ongaro said in an e-mail exchange with The Bee.
Jolane Davis said Ongaro felt the contractors weren't doing things correctly and became angry when she asked him not to interfere.
Davis blames Ongaro for blocks of dark chocolate being thrown into her yard in an effort to poison her dog. She believes he dumped a corrosive liquid on the hood of her husband's truck. She says he shot BBs into her yard while her daughter was playing there.
She filed suit against him in civil court. She has mounted surveillance cameras all around her home. She has taken out a restraining order.
Then, nine months ago, she returned home from a hospital after the difficult birth of her son, tried to prepare a baby bottle, but found the water turned off – something she believes Ongaro was responsible for doing repeatedly.
"Here I am with a brand new baby, and I can't even warm a bottle," said Davis, who works as a human resources manager for an insurance company.
"I've always hoped, 'Maybe he'll go to jail and the harassment will stop,' but then nothing happens. We've felt helpless for years."
Ongaro, an electrical contractor, denies any harassment and said the restraining order was unwarranted. He also takes issue with security cameras directed into his yard, he said.
"I've read some of the comments of my neighbors about how I am terrorizing the neighborhood. Definitely not the case," he wrote. "In fact, I have never used offensive language or threatened anyone."
Davis and her husband, a vice president for a claims adjusting firm, cashed in their 401(k)s for a down payment on an east Sacramento house and moved in November.
Hoping not to sell their house at a severe loss, they listed the 4,000-square-foot property for rent at $3,500 a month.
But this week, the swastika flag went up in Ongaro's Craftsman-style two-story frame home.
Ongaro bought the flag from Amazon.com because he hopes to drive away potential renters.
"Of course I was concerned, because in no way do I believe what the Nazis did was right," he wrote. "Well, it was a tossup between a Nazi flag and a white power flag. A Confederate flag just didn't seem wild enough."
Ongaro said he will be "nice and courteous" to whoever moves in but wants the Davises to sell, not rent, and have a "clean break."
In the meantime, the flag will stay, he said.
"We have a lot of freedoms, and one of them is freedom of speech," said Sacramento Police Sgt. Norm Leong. "Obviously the swastika for many people is associated with hate and violence, but whether displaying it is illegal it's not."
There were seven calls for service to Ongaro's home in 2010, mostly alarm calls, noise and disturbances, Leong said. Police are currently investigating whether Ongaro damaged one of the Davises' security cameras, he said.
But when it comes to neighborhood disputes, a resolution can be difficult, he said.
"There's no easy answer," Leong said. "Certainly there are times I have advised people, if it's feasible, to move."
Dan Schofield bought the house with Ongaro in 2000, lived there for about seven months, and then moved on after Ongaro bought him out.
The two were college roommates while students at California State University, Sacramento, but have lost touch over the years.
Schofield was shocked to hear of the swastika flag.
"I don't know what's going on with Joe right now, but it's not because he's a skinhead," Schofield said. "But I couldn't tell you for sure."
Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/2011/01/22/3342765/swastika.html#ixzz1Bnzs9zr9