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Code enforcement called uneven
Some cited, many others ignored in hybrid approach
Does this sheds proximity to the fence and house in a neighborhood south of Sierra High constitute a property code violation in Manteca? - photo by HIME ROMERO

Chris Martinelli contends Manteca’s municipal code enforcement set the stage for his Moffat Boulevard business to be broken into four times.

Debbie Veazey is upset that the city’s code enforcement efforts are zeroing in on her front yard fence while she believes she can document at least 179 various violations of municipal property rules within a 10-block radius of her home.

Ginger Lucas is frustrated that a neighbor has been able to turn his property into a virtual junkyard without repercussions.

 And Bruce Brothers believes the city’s “uneven” enforcement of code violations makes Manteca unfriendly to small business.

The four were among citizens who made it clear Tuesday to the City Council they are not thrilled with Manteca’s code enforcement whether it was how rules are being enforced, how the city responds to them, whether rules make any sense or why there isn’t more aggressive enforcement of certain rules such as vehicles parked on front lawns.

The lid was taken off Pandora’s Box by Karl Zirpel who had his concerns with the city’s code enforcement placed on the council agenda thanks to Mayor Willie Weatherford. Zirpel’s request came after his encounter with the city that forced him to relocate a shed five feet away from a fence line and to tear down a shade structure that had been at the side of his house for close to 20 years.

While Zirpel wasn’t pleased with being forced to take down the shade structure that he questioned whether it was really a fire hazard as the city contends under various municipal and state rules, his biggest gripe was the “uneven’ enforcement of municipal codes regarding property maintenance.

City ignored violations for years despite roof inspections

He noted that the city never questioned his shade structure and shed for years despite a city inspector checking on a re-roofing at his house and two of his neighbors at various times over the past 23 years. But when a city inspector came out to inspect a roof on a foreclosure last fall, Zirpel was cited along with two of his neighbors on the same cul-de-sac east of Sierra High.

Zirpel cited 30 shed violations similar to his that he noted driving around his neighborhood prompting him to characterize the city’s enforcement policy as “selective.”

Brothers - whose was told he had a sign at his business that didn’t have a permit and was required to pay a $262 fee for the approval process to make sure it was installed safely and met various restrictions - said he contacted other businesses that had similar signs and who did not have permits and who were not cited.

“We should all be treated equally,” Brothers said, arguing that everyone should have to comply to the same rules regardless of whether the city received a complaint.

Martinelli told the council after he complied with a code enforcement order to install wooden slats on his fence that his business was broken into four times. He noted that he is the only business on Moffat Boulevard near Powers Avenue with chain link fence that is required to have wooden slats.

Councilman Steve DeBrum noted that while the city’s two code enforcement officers are enforcing rules that had been adopted and were “simply doing their job” he agreed that enforcement had to be “fair and equitable.”

DeBrum fears mass enforcement would turn city into Gestapo

However, DeBrum made it clear that he didn’t support wholesale enforcement of all codes because “we do not want (code enforcement) to become the Gestapo.”

Veazey might disagree with DeBrum on whether the city’s enforcement isn’t already approaching that level but in another way.

She said she called to complain about neighbors parking their vehicles on their lawns and instead of them being cited, she was told to take down a fence that predated her owning the home. She reduced a side fence down to 42 inches but kept a front yard fence in place. That has prompted a warning from the city that they will be fined $600 unless she complies.

Meanwhile, she pointed out code enforcement officers didn’t notice other violations in the neighborhood such as a neighbor who leaves his Toters in plain view of the street seven days a week. She also drove around her neighborhood and shot photos of 179 different homes that she contends have some form of code violation she says the city is simply ignoring while driving to and from her home.

The city’s code enforcement strategy is neither purely complaint driven or done en masse. Instead, Manteca employs a “hybrid” approach.

That means when they do get a complaint, they go out and assess it. And if it is indeed a violation, they then make a look “as far as the eye can see” from that spot to see if there are similar code violations. If they are, they then cite those violators as well. The theory is using such an approach prevents the city from being used as a hammer in a neighborhood feud.

Harris says city should use common sense

Councilman John Harris said he hoped common sense would be applied instead of simply following all of the rules to a “T”.

City Manager Karen McLaughlin noted there were rules in place for health and safety as well as fire concerns and other rules for aesthetics. She noted that a 6-foot fence within a five-foot setback on a side yard of a home on Hyde Park Lane, as an example, was an aesthetic issue since it didn’t pose a sightline problem. She implied issues with aesthetics could be addressed on a case by case basis.

However Hyde Park Lane homeowner John Griffin was told by city staff that his fence was a safety issue due to sight line concerns and therefore they would probably have little luck appealing it since staff would have to follow the rules that are in place.

Mayor Willie Weatherford asked staff to meet with each of the citizens that had issues with due to enforcement and try to work out a solution if possible.

He also suggested that a monthly newsletter of some type sent to homeowners telling them of various code enforcement rules might be helpful.

One that could possibly be in the first edition - should the city follow through - involves parking cars on front lawns.

The mayor - like many at the council meeting - was under the impression it wasn’t illegal in all neighborhoods. But staff said a change in the zoning code last year makes it illegal to park on a front lawn anywhere in Manteca.