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Going after property owners
New Manteca law takes at chronic problems
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An abandoned swimming pool at a vacated residence in the 600 block of South Main Street is the type of problem new ordinance adopted by the City Council will give Manteca the ability to address. - photo by GLENN KAHL
Denise Pacheco lives in the 1970s Magna Terra  neighborhood behind Doctors Hospital that was once the most stylish area to buy a new home in Manteca.

John Flinn resides in Curran Grove, a neighborhood barely a decade old that was built on land were the Spreckels Sugar almond orchard once stood.

They share a common thread - irresponsible property owners that are severely eroding the quality of life of their families and neighbors.

Both have invested time and energy trying to improve their neighborhoods but despite criminal justice avenues that are open to them they have gotten nowhere fast.

Now Manteca’s city leaders are about to give them a hand in ridding their neighborhoods of habitual nuisances.

A new municipal ordinance dubbed “Responsible Property Ownership” was adopted Tuesday night by the Manteca City Council. It gives Manteca Police a new weapon to address habitual problems in neighborhoods by giving the city the authority to go after property owners for safety violations that would subject them to criminal and civil penalties. The ordinance, if adopted for a second time at the next council meeting on May 4, would go into effect June 27.

Unlike criminal proceeding against individuals who may commit particular crimes, the courts have upheld the process that allows property maintenance laws to more effectively address health, safety and quality of life issues in neighborhoods. The ordinance not only has a mechanism for financial penalties whether it is through the administrative or judicial process but it also allows the city to recoup all of the costs it invests to try and get property owners to correct a problem.

The ordinance applies to all private property whether it is owner occupied, owned by a landlord or whether it is residential, industrial or retail.

Pacheco shared how her neighbors for years have had problems with one house that has been a hotbed of criminal activity including a major drug raid six years ago where police had to kill pit bulls guarding the home before they could safely enter.

She noted that those people were convicted and sent to prison but the landlord then rented to others who were just as problematic. A group effort by neighbors to try and get the absentee landlord to pay more attention to people the home was rented to got no response.

“This is not the way for any neighborhood to live,” Pacheco said.

 Flinn noted that irresponsible owner occupants can cause the same type of neighborhood issues. Police Chief Dave Bricker pointed out that the ordinance address anyone who owns problematic property whether they are the landlord and rent it out or own it and live there.

Richard Hansen said that while he wasn’t wild about the idea of more city regulations he added, “I don’t think there’s a choice.”

Councilman Vince Hernandez called the ordinance drafted by Bricker based on a similar law in Grass Valley “long overdue.”

Bricker pointed out in 2009 that there was one Manteca residence that generated 58 calls for police services and one small apartment complex that generated 117 calls for servcie. Both are owned by out-of-town landlords.

“Most property owners are responsible in how they manage their properties,” Bricker noted in a memo to the council. “Responsible property owners monitor their property and take appropriate and reasonable action to prevent or address behaviors or activities occurring on their property that contribute to crime or create public nuisances. A property owner that fails to take this action threatens the health, safety, and welfare of the neighborhood and the city as a whole, and it is necessary for the city to be able to undertake administrative or judicial action.”

What qualifies as a safety violation
The ordinance creates a mechanism for going after safety violations.

Safety violations in the ordinance are defined as:

•evidence of illegal manufacturer, cultivation, sale, use, or possession of controlled substances or illegal drugs using the bench mark of the arrest of one or more persons at a specific address.

•any drug-related nuisance occurring within a year of an arrest of the premises for a safety violation defined in the first point.

•any act of prostitution.

•any gang-related crime.

•the unlawful possession, discharging or brandishing of a firearm or a weapon by any person.

•violent crime acts, whether or not a criminal case has been filed, including but not limited to rape, attempted rape, robbery, battery, homicide, shootings, kidnapping, or arson.

•disturbances occurring at parties where alcohol and drugs are consumed and/or crimes have occurred.

•allowing the occupancy load to exceed state allowable levels when alcohol and/or drugs are being consumed or are accessible to the gathering.

Each violation will be treated as a separate incident and subject to a separate fine of up to $1,000 if it is pursued as a misdemeanor or up to $500 if it is pursued as a safety violation. If it is a safety violation, then the party will be held liable for any municipal administrative costs incurred by the enforcement of the ordinance.