This is the city. Manteca, California. 87,000 people live here.
It’s a growing city. Most of the time people mind their own business. They keep their yards tidy and garbage carts hidden, and lawns watered. But there are those who don’t. When they get out of control, that’s where I come in. I’m Friday, Sgt. Joe Friday. And I carry a code enforcement pad.
It was a hot, September morning, the kind where the Manteca pavement will sizzle a snail in less than a minute when young thugs in training flick them on to the asphalt. I was working the central Manteca division with my partner Bill Gannon when we got our first call of the shift. It seemed a young couple had bought a house in a tidy neighborhood two months area but had neglected to water the lawn, shrubs or trees. The neighbors were complaining that their neighborhood had a cancerous blight.
We arrived at the residence at 9:15 a.m.
SGT FRIDAY: “Look at that, Joe.”
JOE: “Look at what?”
FRIDAY: “There in the driveway. They’ve got a brand new car. They don’t have their priorities straight.”
JOE: “Or they'll probably say they can’t afford the water.”
FRIDAY: “We’ll, let’s go knock on the door and see what they have to say this time.”
We knocked on the door and a young lady by the name of Bayflee answered.
FRIDAY: “Ma’am, we're Manteca Selective Code Enforcement officers. I’m Sgt. Friday and this is my partner Bill Gannon.
BAYFLEE: “What can I do for you gentlemen?”
JOE: “We’re going to get straight to the point. Why aren’t you watering your lawn?
BAYLEE: “What business is it of yours anyway? It’s my property. Why don’t you go after those people who litter the town and spray paint graffiti? Besides, this town never enforces property maintenance ordinances anyway.”
FRIDAY: “We know your type, lady. You move into a neighborhood and at first you don’t water your yard so the lawn dies. Next the trees and shrubs go. Pretty soon you've got used appliances in your driveway and six cars parked on your yellow lawn. Then one day your kid is picked up for tagging. We'll come by to tell you and you’ll whine about how you don’t know where you went wrong. Your type makes me sick. You always think there is a disconnection between blight, crime and lower standards.”
BAYFLEE: “Go ahead, write me a citation and see what doesn't happen.’
FRIDAY: “Sure, you know how to play the game, lady. But did you ever stop to think how much this is costing you?”
BAYFLEE: “What do you mean?”
FRIDAY: “You paid $500,000 or so for the home. You probably lost about $25,000 already because it looks like a pigsty.”
BAYFLEE: “That’s not fair!
JOE: “Go tell that to the neighbors.”
At 9:30 a.m., we head back to the car. There’s not much we can do here since the folks who run the show downtown haven’t told us we should start enforcing any ordinances aimed at stopping blight so they don’t have to spend massive tax dollars 20 years from now getting rid of it. Then we got our next call. The south side division needed assistance. It seems someone appeared to be opening a transfer station for trash on their front porch and in their front yard.
We pulled up to the address. Bill and I looked at the mess and just shook our heads. That’s when the owner by the name of I.M. Entitled appeared.
ENTITLED: “You must be code enforcement cops. I can smell you guys a mile away with your fancy title and your neat freak ways. I’ll tell you what I told other code enforcement officers who've been here before you. It’s my property and if I want to stack tires in the front yard and put a couple of spare sofas under the tree and boxes of junk on my porch, you aren’t going to tell me otherwise. I’ve got friends in high places.”
JOE: “You know the law, Entitled . So why do you keep doing it?”
ENTITLED: “Why not? No one ever enforces property maintenance laws in this town. It’s a big joke. They all get up there and pontificate on that fangled cable TV two Tuesdays a month as they’ve been doing for years passing new laws and requiring folks to do this and that to get a building permit and then before you know it, the city folks are on to something else and they've completely forgotten about the laws they made. Heck, they go to the point a few years back when they only acted on complaints. Now that doesn't even work. They are only going to enforce apparently what they are asked to enforce and then it’s done begrudgingly.”
JOE: “The law is the law.”
ENTITLED: “And spineless is spineless. You guys are fools and just a waste of our tax money. The politicians talk out of both sides of their mouths. They talk about fighting blight and improving the quality of life and then when someone objects they say property rights are more important. And when those who are fed up with the mess folks like me bring to their neighborhood, the elected folks hire guys like you but then don’t have them take a proactive stance at cleaning up the worst neighborhoods. I'm golden. The people around here gave up along ago about complaining to City Hall. In fact, some of them have already started duplicating my early classic blight landscaping.”
FRIDAY: “We’re keeping our eye on you, Entitled.”
As we turn to leave, the punk had to get one last shot in.
ENTITLED: “Those poor bid-ness folks. They put out just one A-frame out and you guys will threaten to haul them off to jail because somebody complained.”
JOE: “Punk, you try to do that here and see what happens.”
ENTITLED: “I’m too smart to do that.”
Back in the car Joe and I just shook our heads.
JOE: “Sometimes it doesn't seem to be worth it, does it?”
FRIDAY: “Stop talking like that Bill.”
That’s when the officer needs assistance call came in. It seemed someone who was well connected with the powers that be called in a neighbor for leaving a garbage cart in front of their house.
FRIDAY: “Let’s roll, Joe.”
When we arrived at the scene, back-up from the police as well as the Manteca-Ripon SWAT team was already there. The sheriff’s helicopter was flying overhead just in case the owner of the renegade garbage carts tried to make a run for it.
FRIDAY: “What do we have, officer?”
OFFICER: “There’s a lady inside who hasn't taken in her carts to the back yard even though collection day was three days ago."
FRIDAY: “We’ll take it from here. Give me that bull horn, son.”
I walked closer to the front of the home.
FRIDAY: “This is the Manteca Selective Code Enforcement Unit. You have 30 seconds to remove your carts or we're coming in.”
Suddenly, a lady appeared at the front door. A dozen cops rushed her, handcuffed her and put here in the back of a squad car. Joe and I walked over to the vehicle where she was sitting.
FRIDAY: “Why lady?”
SUSPECT: “Why what? You guys pick on us constantly because some busy buddy makes a complaint about having to look at our garbage carts. There are places in town where the filth is ridiculous. I get nailed for having a cart out front. Look at the people down the street. They have four cars on the front lawn and two of them are on blocks.”
FRIDAY: “People, like you make me sick, lady. No one should have to look out their front window and have to look at your three, blue and brown carts.”
SUSPECT: “But why not arrest the people that really cause blight?”
FRIDAY: “Beauty is in the eye of a beholder, ma’am.”
With that, the cops hauled her down to the city jail.
FRIDAY: ”We’ll, Joe, we’ve made Manteca’s streets safe once again from the proliferation of carts in plain view on non-collection days so the homeless and irresponsible can thrash the town without eyesore distractions to take away from their art. This job definitely has its rewards. By the way, watch out for those tumbleweeds blowing out of that yard over there. We wouldn't want to get a homeowner’s landscaping caught under the car.“
Da-da-da-da! Da-da-da-da! Dum!
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at email@example.com