Friday, February 5, 2010

Cities, Lawyers, Neighbors From Hell, and Courts

My friend over at Manteca Live! is having difficulty wrapping his head around the authority/legality/whatever-you-want-to-call-it that the City of Manteca has to promulgate rules for all of us to live by... or, more precisely, the question of whether city hall is arrogating too much authority to itself and its agents. What he doesn't know would scare him even more...

Local governance is more of a crap-shoot than anyone can even dream possible. To make the point, here is a post by an attorney who trains code enforcement officers and building and fire inspectors. In this example, she refers to at least FOUR commonly used codes (IBC, IFC, IRC, and IPMC) that apparently overlap but each reaches into areas not covered by the others.

So the first question is, Which code, if any, is being used to justify a violation? The second question becomes, What administrative process does one endure (or undergo) in order to obtain vindication (or conviction.)

(For all the lip service about due process, city ordinances are often merely window dressing, here day-before-yesterday, gone the next day, and back today in ogre form. City attorneys, with limited experience in anything other than rubber-stamping documents churned out by the city machinery, are part of the problem. Manteca's has been feeding at the same table since before 1986 - more akin to a catfish than a shark.)

After treading the shifting sands of local politics and their shifty rules, and after all hopes for humane treatment from politicians have been dashed, one can always turn to the courts. This author's post generalizes the decision made in this New Hampshire court decision. A property buyer wants to fix transmissions on his residential property and tries to resurrect a land use variance abandoned by the prior owner. The city, however, repeals the zoning ordinance, but issues an agreement letter for the mechanic to continue the iffy land use pending final decision by the zoning board. Surprise! They turn him down and he sues the board and the city. In the end, the court decides in the city's favor.

Notice anything? The grease monkey tries to do exactly what my stirred-and-fried neighbors have gotten away with for twenty-three years on their residential property... and on our city attorney's watch! I don't know which one is the worse public nuisance.

Anyway, Joe, keep up the fight. You fight from the outside and I'll fight from the inside. If we give up, we are giving up either to totalitarianism or to anarchy.

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