Building owners hit with 'compliance permit'

Non-conforming structures may cost landlords a bundle under new council rules

Under requirements approved Tuesday by the City Council, property owners caught with buildings that seriously run afoul of city building codes will now have to pay for the time officials spend getting them to comply.

The City Council approved the new "compliance permit" and fees in a 6-1 vote, with council member John Inks and a dozen property owners sharply opposed.

City attorney Michael Martello made the case for the permit, showing pictures of homes, motels and industrial buildings that he said are a danger to tenants and neighborhoods "powder kegs" that, under the right conditions, could burn down a city block or fall down in an earthquake, he said. Possibly the city's most puzzling case ever, Martello said, is a 100-year-old house at 313 Higdon Ave. that was reconfigured into an eight-unit apartment building.

Martello said the permit would recover the staffing cost for hours worked by the fire marshal, zoning administrator, planning director and building official in "situations where staff have to figure out if (the building owner) can have what they already built."

In his opposition, Inks said the permit would "incentivize" code enforcement officers to go out and find major violations to bring in revenue. He added that city officials already get paid a salary.

"To be clear ... this is about raising money," he said, adding that similar permits and fees in other cities have led to "further noncompliance" and the "collapse" of code enforcement efforts, which led to the necessity of giving property owners an "amnesty" period.

Member Ronit Bryant said that she was "shocked" by opposition from Inks.

"I don't think we're incentivizing code enforcement officers," she said. "I have much deeper trust in our staff."

Inks pointed out that small businesses were already being hit with fines for "petty" violations, such as a $500 fine on the Milk Pail Market for selling pumpkins in the parking lot.

Speaking for a dozen property owners, Charles Gardyn, owner of the La Costena building at Rengstorff Avenue and Old Middlefield Way, said that by requiring the compliance permit, there is an "automatic presumption a violation exists" which makes the code enforcement officer the "accuser, prosecutor, judge and jury all rolled into one. For all practical purposes there is no due process."

He added that there is no limit on the fees, and that the building owner can be "denied use of his property and his livelihood."

Martello said businesses could still choose to fight violations in court, and that the new permit was directed at those who wanted to comply voluntarily but needed to be "shepherded" through existing processes.

The ordinance was clearly "a positive thing" to member Jac Siegel and most of the council.

"This is meant to help, not be a penalty," Siegel said. If permits had been pulled in the first place, "you would have paid for it anyway. Now we're saying we're not going to penalize you for coming in; let's do it right."

The issue was less clear to council member Mike Kasperzak.

"You can't look at this picture and say, OK, this makes eminent sense," Kasperzak said, adding that "part of me is saying, 'Question authority.'"

Member Tom Means said the council had not had a philosophical discussion about what services should be paid for with fees, though the council recently supported more "cost recovery" to deal with an ongoing deficit. "If a reference librarian does extra work for somebody, should we charge them?" Means said.

Steve Rasmussen, owner of the Milk Pail Market for 35 years, said that it would be helpful if there was some way to "mediate" the tension between property owners and the code enforcement department. After the meeting he said it is easy to believe that "You can't fight City Hall."

In response to Rasmussen's concerns, Council member Laura Macias suggested that the city have "a general ombudsman that (property owners) can always call," an idea which was not included in the final vote. "We can't expect residents to know the process as well as we do, that's just unfair," she said.

Addressing Macias' concerns, senior assistant city attorney Jannie Quinn suggested there be a project manager for each compliance case. The city manager was given the power to lay out the administrative guidelines for the permit.

The council also decided to review the new practice in a year.


Like this comment
Posted by Special Agent CERT
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 10, 2009 at 11:22 am

When does the next election cycle begin?

ahh yep "automatic presumption a violation exists" is correct. This is why I have a dislike for the Judical in general.

Let see if corruption creeps in as it always does. The idea is good however using funds as a carrot and stick approach is good for creating mistrust.

I think it is fair to make the "compliance permit" activity public to keep people honest. I would expect a report be generated monthly. If the city wil not release the data the community should.

Like this comment
Posted by Dr. Collateral
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 10, 2009 at 2:58 pm

Dr. Collateral is a registered user.

I'm not quite sure I see how the corruption comes in directly. It's not as if the staff get paid a bonus for bringing a compliance permit application. I suppose the risk is that a staffer might solicit a bribe in exchange for looking the other way on compliance permit, but I'd need to see some proof that bribery is rampant in the planning office.

Like this comment
Posted by Special Agent CERT
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 10, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Well DR

Your not a criminal it appears. There are many way corruption will take its place. It is very common across American and the World, pay-off and or directed work for political favor is the initial thoughs. Want a Job at the fish market ?

1 person likes this
Posted by New York, New York
a resident of another community
on Dec 10, 2009 at 4:18 pm

East Side nonprofit tied to political campaign work
Web Link

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Patric
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 10, 2009 at 4:55 pm

Case in point. Seascapes Fish and Pets 298 Castro. The city, the attorneys for the neighbor and others assumed the structure on the back of the building was illegal. 75 hours of painstaking research showed the structure to be made in the late 40's to early 50's. Considering most city records were destroyed in the City hall fire in the 60's who is to say it didn't meet code in its time frame or if were built with a permit. Todays city leaders need a better guide to how they will decide were the line is drawn also who would bear the cost should the city charge and then be found in error. I see more lawsuits against the City over this: costing the taxpayer money. Thankful to the City and the cooperation with the landlord the Lee's building was restored. Seascapes continues to operate providing the community with a great pet store. Pretty good if you consider the city asked Seascapes to vacate the building multiple times.

Like this comment
Posted by k
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 10, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Ah, Socialism at it's finest, were the government comes in and tells you what's best for you.

Yes, when will the next elections be? My vote will go against all, except for John Inks, the man has common sense.

This sounds to me like another way to get rid of current owners so they can plan more high rise apartments.

Fined for selling pumpkins in the wrong place. Unbelievable.

Times are tough and the counsel wants to make it tougher.

Like this comment
Posted by Bitter
a resident of Waverly Park
on Dec 10, 2009 at 8:53 pm

They get you coming and going...

I purchased a remodelled house with proper permits that passed city inspection. Later, I found out that many areas did not meet building codes. Some were so obvious - to an expert - which seems to me that the city inspector either did not do the job that he/she was paid to do or got paid to look the other way.

Of course, with this new law, I could now be cited for not meeting building codes and costing me extra to pay city hall again for not doing their job in the first place.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve Rasmussen
a resident of The Crossings
on Dec 10, 2009 at 10:41 pm

As owner of the Milk Pail since 1974, I would like to correct an error in today's newspaper article. The Milk Pail was not fined for our yearly holiday display of pumpkins. We were given a warning by the City Attorney's office to remove our very small display and we complied with this request. I should mention that 300 yards from our market there was a "Pumpkin Patch" in the middle of the Sears parking lot with thousands of pumpkins for sale. The Milk Pail did not know at the time about the city policy which requires obtaining a special permit from the City to have a holiday display like pumpkins.

Last year, the Milk Pail gave 12,000 mini pumpkins free to school children in the Mountain View, Los Altos, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Palo
Alto and Menlo Park schools. We did this to celebrate our 35 years in
the community along with the successful completion of a very expensive renovation of our small store which brought us into compliance with various current City Code requirements.

This year we again reached out to school children and the elderly by
supplying mini pumpkins to our customers who were teachers, senior
citizen centers, hospitals, preschools and day care centers.

Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2009 at 7:24 am

Unsafe buildings, fines, and why should we allow people to have unsafe stuff, it a fire or somthing dangerous would happy, would it be better if the owner or owners fix it, if not fines are in orders, we don't live in a third world country, i think the idea is the city is willing to work with the owners

Like this comment
Posted by dang
a resident of another community
on Dec 15, 2009 at 7:27 pm

Help Save Mtn. View
Stop Abusive Code Inspections!
Dishonest Politicians Should Be Recalled
Affordable Housing IS an Issue.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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