It is obvious a city doesn’t adopt rules just to adopt rules.
At the same, one doesn’t want a city to enforce every rule on its books to the maximum disregarding intent and specific situations that could justify deviating from the rule.
It is why code enforcement issues always raise the hackles of everyone involved whether it is over signs, Toter placement, yards being turned into mini-dumps, RVs parked in specific locations and setbacks of structures from property lines.
Such is the case of the City of Manteca’s issuance of three warnings on Pete Court just east of Sierra High involving – among other items – shade structures attached to homes that violate setback rules from the property line.
The rule in its basic form makes sense. The California fire code – which the city uses for the foundation for much of its property code rules – is based on actual instances of structures such as those cited spreading fire often via electrical wiring to an adjoining fence or home.
But if it is extremely rare, why have a rule at all? That answer is simple. It is because of the uniform building and fire code that there isn’t a proliferation of structures that could pose serious health and safety issues. But what about instances where such a structure is far from nearby homes while near a fence? Is that the same level of a problem as being within striking distance for a typical residential fire to spread to an adjoining house?
As for city employees – especially building inspectors – one could assume the city would be held liable if they didn’t report and cite structures that pose health and safety concerns addressed in ordinances adopted by the municipality.
Then there is the issue of the cows already being out of the barn. The city lacks manpower to probably go after all property code violations that pose health and safety concerns. If you doubt that, live in a neighborhood where there has been a drug house or a house where the tenants – and sometimes owners – believe they have the constitutional right to pile debris six feet high in their back yards and repair vehicles day in and day out in their driveways. That includes leaving cars on tire jacks for days at a time. These are legitimate health and safety issues as they can breed rodents, spread fire, create odors, and - in the case of vehicles on jacks – slip and potentially hurt others.
Yet when neighbors team up with the city to get concerns addressed it is a slow and torturous process assuming it moves forward at all.
Taking the city at its word – and there is no reason to doubt it – if structures placed within three feet of a fence line are potential fire hazards, then they should be treated as such.
City fire crews doing their annual weed and debris inspections when they drive through neighborhoods should include structures that violate setbacks on their list.
That list should then be turned over to the code enforcement division with advisory letters being sent out to impacted property owners.
They should be given a grace period – perhaps six weeks – to remedy the situation. If it is a shed that can be moved, then that is the solution. If it can’t be resolved in that manner, then they need to either remove the structure or ask for an on-site inspection.
Such inspections could be done with discretion. If there is plenty of room from the closest structure besides a fence then the inspector should have the ability to give it a pass assuming there is no other issue such as electrical work associated the structure that was done without a permit.
Unless it is an extreme hazard, the city could have the option of recording the fact there is an illegal structure on the property and require it to be removed whenever a loan is sought on the property.
In other words, the existing owner would get amnesty but once they go to sell it, the non-complying structure needs to be torn down
The city, of course, can continue it on a limited tunnel vision approach and continue to open itself to justified criticism that they engage in selective enforcement and therefore are ignoring on a wholesale scale something that the city itself has identified as a valid health and safety issue.
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209-249-3519.