Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Timeline of TLC's Illegal Business Expansion

Today I climbed the pole for my yard light in order to take aerial pictures for a later project. It is an old wooden pole and, beginning about twelve feet up, has those climbing lag screws that linemen used to use before lift baskets. I hope the light bulb never burns out, but I will have to rewire the light someday.

This picture is an overview of the neighbors business yard, in the back of their half-acre lot.

Back to the very core of my complaint to (and about) the city.

Immediately following the cover letter to the city manager were these two inclusions - the footnoted research report and the discussion regarding the health department source. You'll see that fifteen years ago code enforcement fell asleep, like Rip Van Winkle, but I'm still trying to wake him up.

Timeline Regarding 810 Fishback Street

December 17, 1986 - the City of Manteca annexed the area including 18954 S. Fishback Road
[A] and re-numbered the property as 810 Fishback Street. The existing business use was noncompliant with City zoning ordinances for an R-1 district, and was “grandfathered” or allowed, but limited to current level of business use at date of annexation. [B]

March 15, 1989 - Fictitious Business Name was recorded for TLC Catering.
[C] It is unknown whether previous filings were made, but no subsequent filings are in the Grantor/Grantee Index of the Recorder's Office after the five-year expiration date.

March 7, 1991 – TLC Catering application letter to EHD listing the four external commissaries utilized by TLC Catering at that time.
[D] All of the commissaries listed were away from the property, the main one being a Save Mart supermarket in Tracy. All of these commissaries are businesses, as are the pre-approved commissaries listed on EHD's website. [E]

1992 - The City of Manteca adopted into its Municipal Code, Section 17.25 Home Occupation Permit, with which TLC Catering was noncompliant to an even larger degree than before.

June 29, 1993 – Legal status and limitation letter from Manteca Planning Department to TLC Catering, at the business' request.

September 17, 1993 - The owners of TLC Catering made application payment to EHD to establish and operate a catering truck commissary, naming their property at 810 Fishback Street as the location.

July 13, 1994 - EHD issued commissary permit to the owners of TLC Catering.

July 1, 1994 through June 30, 1995 - EHD permits allow three MFPU’s, and one new commissary.

January 1, 1999 through December 31, 1999 - EHD permits allow three MFPU’s, one Limited Food Prep Vehicle, and one commissary.
[J] [K] This is the highest number found for permits issued in a given year.

December 9, 2002 - First commissary inspection on record in EHD files, even though the commissary permit was issued July 13, 1994.

November 18, 2003 – Permit renewal invoice for 2004 reduced to two MFPU’s and one commissary.

December 9, 2003 - First commissary inspection reference to ice - "Ice for cooling only."
[N] Sometime prior to that inspection a secondhand Scotsman/Follett icemaker was acquired for commissary use, and improperly located and installed so as to create a noise nuisance for neighbor.

Between September 2002 and May 2004 – According to aerial photos, sometime within those twenty months, seven massive solar panel arrays were acquired and installed to handle the electrical needs of the commissary business, the MFPU business, and all personal household uses.
[O] [P]

Commissary inspections - December 21, 2004, January 31, 2006, February 20, 2007, January 29, 2008.

August 18, 2008 – Current EHD listing shows only one MFPU and one commissary now active.

- - - - - - - - - -

[A] Linda Lund, Commission Clerk, LAFCO. Email of August 22, 2008. (Manteca annexation #106, 1984-4, Brocchini – Pacific Road, Resolution R-7838.)

[B] Benjamin Cantu, Senior Planner, City of Manteca. Letter of June 29, 1993.

[C] County Recorder, Grantor/Grantee Index.

[D] Theresa Brassey, one owner of TLC Catering. Letter to Dan Guerra, of San Joaquin County, Environmental Health Department.

[E] EHD website, Program Forms.

[F] Ben Cantu, ibid. (See document B.)

[G] EHD statement of 8/15/94, invoice #004168, dated 9/24/93, payment of $234.00 posted on 9/17/93.

[H] EHD statement of 8/15/94, invoice #013551, dated 7/13/94. (See document G.)

[I] EHD permit letter, issued 10/5/94.

[J] EHD Invoice #051871, dated 11/16/98, in the amount of $700.00.

[K] EHD permit letter, issued 1/19/99.

[L] Entire Commissary File copies. (See document L-7.)

[M] EHD invoice #IN0113520, dated 11/18/03.

[N] (See document L-6.)

[O] San Joaquin County, G.I.S. aerial photo, September 2002.

[P] San Joaquin County, G.I.S. aerial photo, May 2004.

[Q] (See documents L-5, L-4, L-3, and L-2.)

[R] EHD Facility Ownership Information File. (See document L-1.)

(Referenced documents to be edited in when - or if - I get around to them.)

Immediately following the researched timeline was this discussion regarding the significance of the files held by the County's Environmental Health Department.

Review of EHD Public Records for TLC Catering

August 20, 2008 – Research visit to San Joaquin County, Environmental Health Department (EHD) offices, to review the public records for TLC Catering. Copies of certain items pertaining to this matter were obtained. References to EHD permits and inspections are used to establish operating business timelines.

One particular document has singular and stunning relevance. This letter was written in 1993 by Benjamin Cantu, in his capacity as Senior Planner, City of Manteca Planning Department, to Lynda Allen, one of two TLC Catering business owners, and is highly significant for three reasons. First, its mere existence indicates that Manteca City Planning undoubtedly has certain files which apply directly to this matter. These files could help establish the pre-annexation level of business use (ie., the number of catering trucks being parked on the property.)

Second, the letter creates an indisputable benchmark as to when and how much the owners of TLC Catering knew concerning their rights, obligations, status, and restrictions under the City's zoning ordinance for home occupations (nonconforming since the 1986 annexation, doubly nonconforming after the 1992 home occupation ordinance was adopted.) Correspon­dence with Mr. Cantu on August 22, 2008 indicates that the owners’ request for the letter of clarification of legal status was prompted by a complaint, investigation, and action taken against the owners of TLC Catering.

Third, the letter was hole-punched and filed in the Environmental Health Department files for TLC Catering, showing that EHD was definitely in the communication loop, but still issued an increasing number of health permits, including a new on-site commissary. Why this particular letter was in EHD files is a puzzle, but EHD’s actions are consistent with its mission.

EHD permits have no bearing on zoning or home occupation permit decisions made by city or county jurisdictions. However, it is obvious that the business owners relied on them as authority to expand their business on their property, even after being explicitly told by the City of Manteca on June 29th, 1993, that they could not do so. Just two and one-half months later they applied to EHD for a health permit to operate a home-based commissary, had it permitted by July, 1994 (see EHD statement and 94-95 permit), and subsequent EHD inspection reports verify its operation.

The two conclusions I have reached from my research are: First, the business use of 810 Fishback Street is “grandfathered” only to the extent of its use at the time of annexation to the City on December 17, 1986. According to what I found in the EHD files, that use consisted only of overnight parking of MFPU’s (also known as, Mobile Food Preparation Units.) The number of units in 1986 is unclear, but reached the number of four valid MFPU permits issued in 1994.

Bear in mind that an EHD MFPU permit only grants authority to operate a unit in a sanitary manner. An EHD permit does not grant authority to park a unit on any given property, even though an address is specified for inspection purposes. Local zoning laws control the land use (R-1 residential, in this case.)

Second conclusion: Because nonconforming uses are prohibited from expanding, it follows that the substantial enlargement of scope, business assets and operations since annexation, resulting in a fully operational on-site commissary, is illegal and must be abated. The deliberate and contrary decision by the owners to develop a commissary on their property came almost immediately after a City Planning Department letter of legal status and restrictions was delivered to them. In fact, the most damning aspect of this violation is that the letter had been prepared at one of the owners’ request and they still went against the instruction.

Again, bear in mind that an EHD commissary permit only grants authority to operate such a service business in a sanitary manner. This EHD permit does not grant authority to operate this service business on any given property, even though an address is specified for inspection purposes. Local zoning laws control the land use, both generally and more particularly by the Home Occupation ordinance adopted by the City in 1992 (Municipal Code 17.25), the year prior to the owners’ EHD commissary application.

This research proves that my neighbors and certain city personnel are guilty of rather serious errors, omissions, and misinterpretations. There is also the possibility of "protection" being afforded by patrons of TLC in the city's bureaucracy, as well.

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