Santa Barbara Courthouse. | Credit: John Thomas Rose

On a quiet Sunday afternoon in late April, 84-year-old Santa Barbara resident Kenneth D. Fink climbed the stairs to the top of the clock tower observation deck at the S.B. County Courthouse and jumped to his death on the sidewalk near Anacapa Street. Around 4:30 p.m., the Santa Barbara Police Department received a call that a man had leapt from the lookout. Authorities later ruled Fink’s death a suicide with no foul play involved.  

At the time, Fink’s death received little attention, but a deeper look into the man’s life reveals another layer to the tragic incident, which tells the story of an elderly man fighting in court to keep the home he had lived in for more than 50 years — a home the city has contended posed an extreme safety risk.

Fink had lived in a modest 700-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath home on Cooper Road in Santa Barbara’s Mesa neighborhood at least since the deed to the property was first entered into the county records and signed by Fink in February 1968. In the ‘70s, the property had an estimated value of just over $48,000. The current assessed value, according to a listing on Zillow, is estimated at over $1.3 million. Almost all other homes on the same block, located on a sleepy street off Cliff Drive, are estimated to be worth between $1.5 million to over $2 million.

But while the rest of the neighborhood is full of neatly packed small homes with manicured yards, a reporter’s visit to Fink’s property revealed a house that had fallen into disrepair, deep and tangled with overgrowth of vegetation, trees, and greenery spilling over the fence into the street. That stark contrast eventually brought the attention of the City of Santa Barbara, which began to pursue civil penalties against Fink for an extensive list of property, public health, and fire safety violations. 

PUBLIC NUISANCE: The City of Santa Barbara filed a complaint against Kenneth Fink, alleging he had ignored decades of violations and that his Mesa home was a health hazard. Just a month after his final court date in the matter, Fink climbed to the top of the Santa Barbara Courthouse and jumped to his death. | Credit: Jack Magargee

Assistant City Prosecutor Denny Wei filed the lawsuit on behalf of the city in July 2022, following an extensive history of reports that Fink had been living in his home without any sort of maintenance for decades.

According to court documents, the property at 114 Cooper Road “has been maintained as a dangerous nuisance” since at least August 2003. The complaint also says that fire inspectors were called to the property on several occasions, when they “observed overgrown and excessive accumulation of personal belongings and junk in the yard.”

During inspections conducted in 2003 and 2013, inspectors observed “extremely hazardous and unsafe hoarding conditions,” as well as “substandard living conditions such as no working plumbing, no heating sources, and improper disposal of human waste.” These were all considered violations of both Santa Barbara’s municipal code and state law, according to the city.

But in the past year, the city ramped up the pressure against Fink. On April 27, 2022, fire inspectors observed more overgrown vegetation and excessive personal belongings in the yard and on the property, which were deemed “an extreme fire hazard.” On May 23, 2022, Fink was issued a “Notice and Order to Repair and Abate,” which gave him 30 days to repair or abate all of the violations. The violations, the city argued, would be a danger to Fink and others if there was no access in the case of medical or fire emergencies. If Fink failed to clean up his property — which at this point had accumulated decades’ worth of damage, foliage, and waste — the city could take a number of actions, including appointing a receiver to take of control of the property to bring it into compliance or, in the worst-case scenario, demolish the whole thing.

In June 2022, Fink was served with documents informing him that city inspectors returned to the property on June 22, 2022, and found that none of the changes had been addressed in the 30-day time period. In addition, the lawsuit contends that Fink failed to correct any of the violations issued over the past two decades.

Over the next few months, the court held several case management conferences that were continued due to Fink being unable to appear in court. The final date held on the matter was on March 24, 2023, just one month before he died by suicide.

Ken Fink: Courtesy

Fink’s neighbors described him as a reclusive but sweet and loving man, someone who knew everybody else on the block. He was born and raised in Ohio, and attended Ohio University before moving to Santa Barbara, where he worked as a high school math teacher and county welfare employee before retiring in 1991. He had a passion for flowers, the neighbors said, and was known to propagate and photograph daffodils as a member of the American Daffodil Society. Following his death, neighbors gathered together in a ceremonial circle to sing his favorite Don McLean songs and share stories for their departed friend. 

According to an obituary published online, Fink’s only living family are his two sisters, Ruth and Rema, and their children. 

A month after his death, a mother and son, Letitia and Jeremy Harper, filed a petition to administer Fink’s estate, adding another wrinkle to the court case. The Harper family claims to have visited with Fink regularly, and on June 7 their attorney Dana Longo filed two pieces of evidence that aim to corroborate their relationship with Fink. Neighbors have questioned how well they knew Fink, and the City Attorney’s Office has asked for a continuance in their original lawsuit until after Fink’s estate is settled.

Regardless of who is determined to be the rightful owner of the property, Wei said that the lawsuit will continue to go forward, and all violations must be corrected or the court can rule on a number of actions, including appointing a receiver of the property and taking liens out against the home to pay for repairs, destruction, and legal fees incurred by the city.

Judge Colleen Sterne will hear the Harper’s petition regarding Fink’s will on July 7 at 9 a.m.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or text TALK to 741741.



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