City Code Enforcers The TRUE Gestapo? : LUSENET : Unk's Troll-free Private Saloon : One Thread

Costa Mesa code chafes While some praise strict rules that have cleaned up areas, others say high standards have gone overboard.

November 7, 2001


The Orange County Register

COSTA MESA -- For 10 years, Noise Noise Noise independent record store owner David James has plastered the windows of his East Mesa Verde Drive business with punk and hip-hop music posters.

Not anymore.

One year ago the city embarked on a mission to clean up the city's image by enforcing business and residential codes, with officers walking every street in the city. They wrote up residents for everything from peeling paint and junk cars to not maintaining landscaping and roofs. In James' case, the law prohibits advertising on more than 10 percent of business windows.

By December three more code-enforcement officers were hired, increasing staff time 40 percent, and a tough property-maintenance law was enacted. Within six months officers had walked every neighborhood block.

In September there were 1,562 code investigations and 38 citations. By comparison, Fullerton -- a city of similar size -- averaged 697 investigations and five citations per month in 2000. Mission Viejo averages only 150 to 200 investigations a month, said Community Development Director Chuck Wilson.

In Fullerton the property- maintenance law is not as tough, and in Mission Viejo most homeowners are required to belong to associations that deal with many of the same issues as code enforcement, relieving the city's role.

Many Costa Mesa residents are pleased, especially on the Westside.

"I have absolutely noticed a huge difference. There are people who are putting in sprinkler systems who haven't watered their lawns in the 12 years I've been here," said activist Mary Fewel, a Westside resident.

Before the crackdown, 13-year 19th Street resident Corrine Zartler said trash was left in front of homes. "Many people on my block didn't even have garage doors," she said. "It's getting a quainter look. When you see a Dumpster out in front of someone's house, you're hopeful -- because it's good for the whole neighborhood."

But for some, enforcement has gone too far.

Dale Parker and Colleen Hanson's front-yard Halloween display has entertained thousands - 2,500 came Wednesday - for 11 years. They bought their East Wilson Street home five years ago in part because it had storage sheds where they could put the 75 life-size monster figures used to decorate their lawn. In January city officials told them to tear down the sheds because they lacked permits. Parker said the sheds have been there for 35 years.

Officials backed off after Hanson got more than 800 supporters to sign a petition, and the case was closed two weeks ago. Officials said the case was closed because the sheds were ruled safe.

Two months ago Carlton Place resident Don Edwards covered his boat on a trailer with a blue plastic tarp. He was told the tarp violated code. He replaced it with a silver tarp and was left alone.

"We're turning into a socialist state," Edwards said. "I know people who are moving out."

Code Enforcement Chief Sandra Benson said the difference wasn't in the color of the tarp but whether the cover looked professional. A silver tarp, tied down tightly, according to Benson, might look like a custom boat cover and pass muster.

Unless the City Council directs, there won't be another block-by-block sweep, Benson said. Instead officers are focusing on maintaining high standards.

"As long as there are violations, we will be out there," she said.

Doug Scribner, Costa Mesa resident and vice chairman of the Libertarian Party of Orange County, said homeowners associations and neighbors should resolve these problems. The Libertarian Party is providing record-store owner James an attorney.

"I would rather have the city focusing on violent crimes, not on crimes where no one complains or there are no victims," Scribner said.

Councilman Gary Monahan said the new philosophy in code enforcement was driven by problems on the Westside.

"There's a balance with anything, and where the code is too stringent and ridiculous, that's where exceptions need to be made," he said. "And the council needs to step in and change the code."

James' case has been referred to the city attorney's office and is still under investigation.

He said the city hasn't bothered him since Sept. 11. Where punk posters once hung is a poster of the World Trade Center, anti-war and Libertarian stickers, and letters to and from the city, all political free speech, he said.

"Any (letters) I get I just put in the windows. It's just fodder for the customers. They love it," James said.

Recent code incidents include:

*Aresident is cited for having bare spots in the front yard.

*An officer observed, in public view, illegal storage of a tabletop game, patio furniture, and car battery. A letter was sent ordering the items be removed.

* An officer responded to a complaint and observed overgrown eucalyptus trees, missing window screens, discolored stucco, peeling exterior paint, and wood and engine parts stored in public view.

* An officer observed an unknown substance entering a storm drain, determined it to be nonhazardous and advised it be hosed down.

* An officer observed bare spots on the font lawn of a residence. Owner's daughter told the officer she has been working on the yard since July and it would be tilled and replanted.


Okay I don't know about you but I found the above article unbelievable. I would expect this nonsense from a homeowners association, but not when you own your own private residence, abide by laws and pay taxes. These "officers" walk around like wanna-be cops, with badges and clipboards...and attitudes!

I'm all for beautifying the neighborhood, but not at the expense of my liberties and my privacy. And perhaps they should start by cleaning up the gangbangers, druggies, prostitutes, and other REAL criminals.

What are your thoughts?

-- (, November 07, 2001


Maybe the gangbangers, druggies and prostitutes at least mowed their lawns, didn't clutter up their lawns with tacky lawn ornaments and used asthetically pleasing tarps.

-- Jack Booted Thug (, November 07, 2001.

Um...SO owns this house, pays taxes, obeys the law, etc., but there's still a Homeowner's Association that makes rules. One of those rules is that no car may be parked on the street. Once or twice, SO has left his second car on the street and has frantically E-mailed me to move it onto the driveway. To be honest, I've never seen any enforcement of the Homeowner's Association rules, in that I never see Homeowner "cops" come around. We both question whether these rules are enforceable in the long run [and one states that folks must have WHITE blinds at the front of the house], but I also think that both of us realize that the purpose is to not lower property values in the neighborhood by a few folks "weirding out."

-- Anita (, November 07, 2001.

When you decide to move into a home that has an HOA, then yes you can expect all sorts of restrictions, and the CCNR's etc.

Otherwise, I want to be the one to decide when I will paint my house, whether it be often or never. I want to decide when my screens need to be replaced, and what friggin color tarp I put over my boat.

-- (, November 07, 2001.

HO ho ho! We lived in one of those ...

Cops showed up for something stupid in the yard. I asked them did they see the three pimps, ten hookers, and four drug dealers doing business in front of the house on their way in?

No ticket.

-- helen (, November 07, 2001.

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