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Council Votes To End Surprise Code Inspections PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia & Diana Martinez   
Thursday, 21 June 2012 04:58

It was a gentler more subdued city council meeting. While members of the council have previously given strong directives to code enforcement to go after residents for everything from uncut lawns to illegal garage conversations, in contrast on Monday, the San Fernando City Council proposed giving residents advance notice before conducting code enforcement inspections.

"I don't want residents to be taken by surprise again. That's not fair," said council woman Maribel De La Torre, who proposed the change.

"We don't want abuse of power as to what transpired on Griswold," De La Torre added in reference to an incident that occurred last month when several residents along the 900 block of Griswold Avenue complained they received tickets for code violation after police got entry into their homes unscrupulously.

Suspicious enforcement

Early Sunday May 6th, several San Fernando Police Department officers and Code Enforcement officer Fernando Miranda arrived in the 900 block of Griswold and approached several homes there.

People on the block said officers told them they were executing a search warrant for a person none of the residents knew. This was apparently a ruse to get inside the homes, where officers never looked for the person they were supposedly looking for.

Instead, residents said the code enforcement inspector began inquiring as to the number of rooms in the house, who lived there and other particulars.

Several residents ended up receiving tickets for code violations in their homes. Noelia Prado faces a $1,100 violation for a converted garage.

Martin Herrera got a got a $110 fine for having an illegal tenant in the house. Alicia Gonzalez was hit with five citations totaling $3,300 for a garage conversion and occupancy, having an illegal tenant, and even a small chicken she had just received as a gift from a relative.

And Isabel Rodriguez, another neighbor also faces $2,300 in fines for garage conversion and occupancy violations, as well as having too many dogs.

Prado and Gonzalez attended a City Council meeting after the incident to ask for a review of the tickets and answer to their questions.

Council woman De La Torre said in the past, people were given notifications ahead of code enforcement operations and he asked San Fernando City Planner Fred Ramirez to put a similar plan in effect for the future.

This, as the Council considered the Fiscal Year 2012-2013 Action Plan for the Community Preservation Division, where the code enforcement officers, who have been under the jurisdiction of the San Fernando Police Department since 2009 will change over to the Community Development Department.

The change, said Ramirez, will help with processing code violations, incorporate new technology to help in the code enforcement and building and safety regulations and increase capture of code violations.

"What's been happening is that there have been different interpretations of code violations," said Ramirez of the code enforcement officers being under the jurisdiction of the police department.

Last year, the City collected $108,000 in revenue from code violation citations. For the coming 2012-2013 fiscal year, they hope to generate $180,000.

Council member Mario Hernandez said city businesses are notified seven days in advance when the City is going to conduct weed abatement inspections and residents should get a similar advance notice.

"It's about being respectful to residents," said De La Torre.

When questioned by council member Sylvia Ballin about what's happened with the residents' complaints, City Manager Al Hernandez said he met with the cited residents last week.

"More than anything, the issues (they have) were about procedure," said Al Hernandez.

"How they (police) went about getting access to the property."

Residents said that the police gave them the impression that they had to let them into their home and they didn't know there was a difference between a warrant for a suspect and a search warrant for a home.

Al Hernandez added more meetings are planned with the residents and code inspector Miranda to address some of the issues raised.

However, he said if there is actually a code violation in the home, residents would likely have to pay for the tickets.

Residents said that they have come to the city council for help and because the police entered their homes under false pretenses, they didn't believe they should have to pay for the tickets. The council didn't address the concern residents had with police conduct.