At a house across the street from where Ross Pavio lives, a sign pinned to a scarecrow says, "No hookers or crack heads, please!"
Pavio, 56, said that's the message he has been trying to get across in his North Kenwood neighborhood since moving in four years ago, but his efforts backfired.
In the past few months, Pavio said, a fire has been set in his back yard, a video camera above his garage tampered with, and his beloved plants and lawn ruined with chemicals. Last week, he called St. Petersburg police to his home on two consecutive days to investigate the vandalism.
Police classified an earlier incident in July as criminal mischief. The officer dispatched to Pavio's house said he saw two brown patches close to the road.
"He had multiple trees and bushes with some leaves that were beginning to turn yellow and brown. I could find no evidence that they had been sprayed with herbicide, however,'' the police officer said in his report.
According to Pavio, though, his once verdant yard is ruined, lush ferns faded and thinning, and hibiscus, bromeliad, Mexican sunflower and other plants disfigured with brown leaves.
He blames his problems on being outspoken. When prostitutes started strolling down his street and a steady stream of drug buyers made their way to the doors of two neighbors, he called police. He objected to loud rap and heavy metal music, partying into the wee hours and dog walkers who refused to pick up after their pets. He also approached kids who dropped fast food wrappers and containers on his street.
"I have been very, very verbal,'' said Pavio, who owns a cleaning business. "I've asked my neighbors, please keep your music down. If the pictures on my walls are rattling and my windows are rattling, it's too loud. As far as I can tell, I'm the only neighbor who has said this has to stop. Everybody else looks the other way."
Scorched lawns and ruined plants might not get much sympathy from other residents who have been victims of the city's recent crime wave. According to recent statistics, reported crime in St. Petersburg rose 9 percent, compared with the first six months of 2008. Specifically, property crimes such as auto theft, burglaries and larcenies climbed 10 percent.
Cass Rael, who lives about a block from Pavio in the North Kenwood neighborhood, said Pavio could have made himself a target for reprisals. He, too, talks to kids about dropping litter on the streets, but when they ignore him, Rael said, he picks up their trash. Additionally, he said, his property is armed with video cameras and motion detectors.
"I'm pretty proactive in trying to prevent any type of crime,'' he said. "There is another way to handle it, and that's by working with your neighborhood association and your crime watch.''
"Crime is a concern with all of our neighborhoods,'' said Rebecca Saylor, a North Kenwood Neighborhood Association board member. "I know it's been a hot topic at the CONA [Council of Neighborhood Associations] meetings, and it's been brought up at our meetings, probably every month this year.''
Pavio, who said he doesn't blame the police for his troubles, isn't interested in joining any groups. After spending about $55,000 to renovate his two-bedroom, two-bath house and cultivate its barren yard, he has had enough.
"I came here with this wonderful idea that I was going to be coming into this up-and-coming neighborhood,'' he said.
"I had great hope. I was not even worried about investing the money. I thought it was worth it.''
Times Researcher Will Gorham contributed to this report. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.