At a capacity meeting hosted by the Anza Valley Municipal Advisory Council, nearly 100 residents lodged protests about tactics used by county code enforcement in issuing citations. Residents complained of unauthorized entrances onto their properties, even into their homes, by a particular officer they accused of using “Gestapo” tactics.
They complained of not receiving directives from code enforcement about how they should be complying and about receiving inadequate information about the nature of infractions once they receive them. One resident stated the fire department sends out compliance notices citing what needs to be remedied.
“Why doesn’t code enforcement send us guidelines regarding what we need to fix? We need guidelines,” she said.
Brian Black, newly appointed code enforcement 3rd district supervisor, began the meeting by announcing he would discuss the public nuisance process, types of cases in the Anza Valley and particular infraction statistics. He stressed that code enforcement is not charged to go looking for infractions; rather they respond when complaints are lodged with his agency, usually by neighbor. Once a complaint is lodged, code enforcement is required to investigate since the purported infraction could pose dangers to the community.
“I’m not seeing a huge spike in citation activity in Anza,” said Black. Of the 106 current open cases in the valley, most fall into three categories — construction without permits, excessive outside storage and accumulated rubbish.
Residents quickly began to disagree, noting the frequency of citations and rudeness of the officer assigned to their area. They asked how many of the complaints called in to code enforcement were anonymous. Black responded that his agency had been receiving a “large amount of anonymous complaints, usually about construction without permits.” Resident Mike Machado, a construction supervisor, pleaded for county understanding for this rural area, given that few of the mostly large acreage parcels are fully compliant and that the way of life is very different in Anza than in other parts of the county. One resident shouted, “You guys [CE and county officials] are a bunch of thugs, just tax collectors.”
Within a short period of time, the meeting grew so raucous that Verne Lauritzen, 3rd District Supervisor Jeff Stone’s chief of staff, felt compelled to step in to defuse the situation and explain the county’s role in following the rule of law and in overseeing code enforcement.
Lauritzen spent more than an hour trying to calm the audience. He assured residents that both code enforcement and the board of supervisors would look into charges of strong-arm tactics used by any code enforcement officers. “They are not sworn officers, they do not carry a weapon and they have no right to enter onto your property without your permission,” said Lauritzen. “If they’re doing that, we want to know about it,” he said. Machado alleged that code enforcement trespass is a way of life in the Anza Valley.
Councilman Gordon Lanik suggested an amnesty program to give Anza’s mostly rural and lower income residents some consideration in fees to bring their properties into compliance. Lauritzen stated that would probably create a legal vulnerability for the county to offer the program to one jurisdiction and not to another.
The meeting ended with Lauritzen promising to have the complaints about code enforcement tactics investigated and remedied. He said he would return to review the situation with residents.