Code inspectors reveal illegal, unsafe side of the city


City code inspectors gave a tour through some of the worst code violations in Mountain View, including storage lockers being used as homes and an apartment complex where trash was dumped in a swimming pool, in a presentation last week to the City Council.

The presentation comes as the council considers various ways to cut the city budget in the long term. One second-tier budget cut proposed would lay off one of the city's two code inspectors, Kelli Casale and Chris Costanzo.

Costanzo and Casale, who took turns making the presentation, said that about 75 percent of their work has to do with illegal dumping, front yard storage, vehicles parked on private property and sign violations. As a wave of foreclosures hit the country, Casale and Costanzo say they began to find large piles of garbage and unwanted furniture on the street outside of foreclosed homes. They've also begun to see more "hoarders," people who can't stop collecting things, filling their hallways with objects that could either catch fire or block an exit.

One of the more troubling cases was the discovery of a 74-year-old woman living in a storage locker at Public Storage on Old Middlefield Way. There were reports from police, confirmed by managers, about as many as five others living in the storage lockers, including one other woman who left before code inspectors arrived.

The elderly woman was last seen loading her things into a U-Haul truck heading for an unknown location, Casale said in a phone interview after the meeting. She had been sleeping on a recliner, which was so tightly packed into the small storage locker with her other possessions it didn't fully recline, Costanzo said. She declined help from the Community Services Agency, Casale said.

City Attorney Jannie Quinn said the company's regional managers were unaware the storage units were being used for housing, which is prohibited by the city's housing code.

Casale and Costanzo say they each have 35 to 50 open code violation cases at any given time, requiring multiple site visits to resolve. That's reasonable for ensuring the legality and safety of the city's 14,566 housing units, 24 hotels and motels and numerous other properties. They receive 75 to 80 complaints a year about code violations.

Costanzo called it an "adversarial" and "confrontational" job. Business owners are often unhappy about having to move a temporary sign off a sidewalk that could be bringing in business, one of the more common complaints. Costanzo said businesses have requested the ability to receive temporary permits for such signs.

Casale presented the case of a Rock Street apartment building where she was "terrified" to find a drained pool being used as a "dumpster and toilet." There was a large pile of garbage in it, including an old mattress. It turned out that the complex had been all but abandoned by a property owner who was set to redevelop the complex as row homes.

An explosion in the popularity of food trucks, which communicate with customers on Facebook and Twitter, has created a new challenge for code inspectors. The city has received half a dozen complaints about food trucks, including one from a restaurant about a truck that regularly parks on Ortega Avenue. "He's taking my business away and doesn't pay any rent," was how Mayor Jac Siegel described that complaint.

Recently a food truck set up a tent for several days in the parking lot of Clyde's Liquors on El Camino Real, spurring Quinn to begin a study of revisions to the city's 1958 "mobile canteen" ordinance this summer.

"At what point does it become a (land) use?" Quinn said.

It turns out that the temporary signs used by real estate agents to advertise open houses on the weekends are also illegal under the city's sign ordinance, when not on private property. Adam Montgomery, government relations director for the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors, said Los Altos and other cities are more lenient and he urged Mountain View officials to follow suit.

Council members were not critical of the code enforcement program in their remarks, though council member John Inks said he has been a critic of it.

"Just the fact that people know we have code enforcement keeps them following the law," Siegel said.

"It does hold the city together," said council member Laura Macias. "Of course you are going to get one or two unsatisfied customers."

Vocal critic Don Letcher, perhaps the most unsatisfied customer of all, called the program "abusive." Letcher has been engaged in a multi-year battle with the city over the fate of his rental property.


Like this comment
Posted by MV
a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 28, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Go and check apartments on Latham and California you will dozens of code violations and you will also see more of the illegal and unsafe side of the city

Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 28, 2011 at 1:53 pm

The inspectors must be blind as well. Go to Castro Elementary school and day of the week and to left you will find the same vendors year after year selling all sorts of unlicensed crap and junk out of a shopping cart and cooler. Continue down Escuela over California and every morning an evening you will find similar scenes. And then there are all those tamale vendors operating out of apartment doorways. Oh but I forget, code enforcement only pertains to property owners, legal resident and white folks in general with money.

Like this comment
Posted by Ron
a resident of Waverly Park
on Apr 28, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Was THAT what moved the truck in front of Clyde's? I sure hope it was some safety violation and not just some sort of complaint about competition! They had great food and I was sad to see them go. I just assumed they did not get enough customers. Nice guys too.

Like this comment
Posted by Bruce
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 28, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Hey, if these two "inspectors" really did their jobs, would there have been the hot dog vendor in front of OSH on Charleston for the last 4 or so years?
Maybe he's got a business license, and maybe his food is good, but what about the "code" which our forefathers, in their wisdom, enacted?

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Posted by Honor Spitz
a resident of another community
on Apr 28, 2011 at 4:35 pm

I think from reading the above comments one can easily conclude that there are not enough code inspectors!! Two for a city the size of Mtn. View is clearly not enough!! Kelli and Chris can only respond to so many calls in a given day, a given week. Do no eliminate one of them; hire more!!

Like this comment
Posted by Carlos Slim
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 28, 2011 at 4:44 pm

What happened to the vender in front of the church on Escuela @ the corner of California St.?

Like this comment
Posted by NeHi
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 28, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Hmmm, I don't think it would be hard to prioritize the list that DeBolt gave us. Public safety should be on top. Signs that are timely removed are near the bottom. I'll bet there is a lot in the middle that is more difficult particularly those that are intrusive.

Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Whisman Station
on Apr 28, 2011 at 7:51 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

[Post removed. Please take your racist comments elsewhere.]

Like this comment
Posted by the man
a resident of Jackson Park
on Apr 28, 2011 at 9:41 pm

[Post removed. Please take your racist comments elsewhere.]

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Posted by Steve
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Apr 29, 2011 at 7:11 am

I needed code enforcement twice, both times got excuses why it wasn't their job. If Mtn View is so blighted, why can't two (basically) cops working full time enforcing infractions generate enough revenue to cover their salaries?

Like this comment
Posted by Jim
a resident of Whisman Station
on Apr 29, 2011 at 11:43 am

I can’t believe there is a potentially skate-able pool behind Crittenden. Stoke!

Like this comment
Posted by Alex M.
a resident of Willowgate
on Apr 29, 2011 at 2:09 pm

The comments above mentioning numerous other code violations, indicates that Mountain View needs a couple more code inspectors. I had no idea that 75% of their time was occupied by dealing with these violations. I though their job was to inspect new construction and remodeling projects.

(By the way, I believe it was Chris Costanzo who inspected my kitchen remodel 3 years ago. I found him quite helpful, giving me lots of good advice that I hadn't thought of, which we applied to our remodeling project. Made me glad that I paid for the construction permit.)

Like this comment
Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 29, 2011 at 4:34 pm

OMG, food trucks and temporary signs are not a serious problem. Why are those violations even being discussed in the same presentation as infractions that could pose serious safety or health problems. Food trucks are a boon to the economy, providing a valuable service to area diners. Temporary signs are harmless.

Like this comment
Posted by member
a resident of Shoreline West
on May 1, 2011 at 1:53 pm

1 residentail lot with 3 homes on it

- owner residence
- rental 1 residence earns $ for owner
- rental 2 residence earns $ for owner

1 tax bill is not fair share, should be taxed like apartment complex?

Like this comment
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on May 1, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Since when did the city ever care about illegal activity within its borders? Just take a walk down California Ave and then visit the Day Worker Center. Seriously. This is just a little too much the way inspectors selectively choose which codes and laws they will enforce. Sounds like, uh, the police department... .

Like this comment
Posted by "Eleudora"
a resident of Cuernavaca
on May 14, 2011 at 9:28 am

City Codes Violations by Business or Residential Owners?
What About City Code Violations By The City Of Mountain View To Residents Of Mountain View?
City has camped out by a window resident who unable to open window annoyed by the strong smell of workers urine and defecation, ignoring all codes: Air Quality, Eye Sore View, Noises Before and After Hours Scheduled...City has placed a portable toilet next to my window.
Email sent to "Email Council" who then resend it to the person who oversees the project to just give me the run around.
This reminds me of a James Brown song "This is a Man's world" and this other song. "No Money No Honey". Here is not your kind of honey but the honey i am talking is more than that, which is to live surrounded by all the beautiful sights that the city can provide. Honey or Sweetness is enjoying some of the most beautiful streets of Mountain View
I am a Mountain View Renter not a Home Owner. Here I ask would have been different?
Woman-Renter on 1300 Dale Ave. Mountain View.

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