"Lexington’s record on intelligently addressing and abating the adverse effects of the intensive, business-oriented use of residential properties is dismal at best. Not only can’t the city mitigate problems created by those that already exist — it can’t seem to identify them in the first place, hidden as they are behind the fig-leaf assertion that they are not what they most certainly and self-evidently are."
Both cities have a distinct problem enforcing longstanding zoning codes because city leaders charged with upholding quality of life goals are wholly inadequate to the task. Their policies and procedures manuals must say, "Close your eyes and maybe the property owners will magically obey the laws. ("If the law [or its agent] supposes that, then the law [or its agent] is a ass, a idiot! Dickens, Oliver Twist.)
Risking going overboard the other direction, the first commenter to this Code Attorney blog post says the "City of Fort Wayne... now use[s] administrative hearings where civil penalties are attached as a special tax assessment." Hey, good idea! The Code Attorney is jealous of her inspector colleagues in Indiana... and Minnesota.
You know, that's what City of Manteca [in California] is going to do, too. By passing Ordinance 1457, Administrative Enforcement Provisions, at tonight's City Council meeting, code enforcement will theoretically have the means to remedy an identified violation. That's the rub, though... it has to be an identified violation. It falls to the various department heads to:
- 1) have a possible violation somehow randomly impinge upon their consciousness,
- 2) think to themselves, 'Gee, this might be a violation?'
- 3) circulate the reporting party's name in-house to see if he or she is only a crackpot who can be safely ignored,
- 4) figure out if the violator is somebody important who can make personal trouble for the department head in the event of enforcement action, or is a campaign contributor, or a developer, or a friend, relative, neighbor, priest/pastor, or a [ fill in the special interest ],
- 5) try to hand off the problem to another department,
- 6) check to see if it's lunchtime yet,
- 7) while eating, have a lackey do a cursory check by making a couple phone calls to other bureaucrats,
- 8) run the situation past other department heads, city manager, mayor and council, and the city attorney to see if any closets containing political skeletons might inadvertently be opened,
- 9) have a lackey call the reporting party to say, "There's nothing we can do / will do / want to do,"
- 10) if the reporting party throws a hissy fit, have a lackey visit the violator and write down on the courtesy notice whatever the violator says. (This is also known as an "inspection" in Manteca.)
Of course, Manteca could go whole hog - do a 180° turnabout - and become one of those cities vilified by the bloggers at F.A.C.E.OFF. (Fight Aggressive Code Enforcement Office). This new blog features the anti-gum'int passions of those dispossessed by code enforcement crackdowns. (Think Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona type passions on one side and zealousness on the other.) City of Downey, City of Madera (particularly its Redevelopment Agency), and County of Contra Costa have been "written up" so far.
Closer to home is the code enforcement debacle in Stockton, next town north. Even now Stockton responds to the Grand Jury that the city does not need policies and procedures in the area of identifying and documenting violations because they belong to the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers and have two-way communication with cities throughout California.
I still think the City of Austin, Texas, has the best idea. They operate their Code Compliance department within their Solid Waste Services. What better way to get "eyes on the street" continually than to have ride-alongs on the garbage trucks that criss-cross the city every week, beginning in the wee hours of the morning.
How to balance code enforcement? The administrative hearings ordinance will have NO EFFECT so long as fair identification and proper investigation of violations remains an undocumented whim, a caprice. So many variables...
A county district attorney in Texas last year said, "The most perfect law in the world could be sullied by the individuals carrying it out. It goes to the integrity of the people enforcing the law."