For the last several months, many homeowners in Ventura have been raising their brows at the city’s code enforcement policies. Some feel they have become victims of alleged unnecessary proactive code enforcement regarding illegal dwelling units that the owners feel are perfectly safe. Others believe the city is just trying to increase its revenue by racking up and collecting permit fees to make up for the budget deficit.
But looking back just one month ago, we have come to realize how vital code enforcement is to our community. On April 1, a single-family home caught on fire with 18 people living in it, including a baby who had been sleeping in a crib in the garage. Also, another person had been renting out a metal shack in the backyard of the unit. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but next time, those caught in a similar situation might not be so lucky.
This coming Monday, May 4, at the regularly scheduled City Council meeting at 6 p.m., Building and Safety Manager Andrew Stuffler will present an update on code enforcement in Ventura. Topics will include the results of the city’s new proactive code enforcement program to date and a possible amnesty program for owner-occupied homes to grandfather in renovations and additions that were not permitted.
Stuffler will also be supporting a staff recommendation for public outreach where city staff will hold monthly or quarterly workshops that would help property owners identify obstacles when trying to obtain permits. He will also discuss a funding program that could potentially help mitigate the costs of bringing substandard housing up to code.
Further, he will explore the possibility of expedited variance hearings so homeowners wouldn’t have to raze their illegally constructed additions that don’t comply with zoning ordinances. This could also lead to flexibility for those who have relinquished their covered parking, i.e. garage, which is required due to zoning ordinances, for another bedroom or second dwelling unit.
Despite everything Stuffler will cover, none of it will help what many homeowners are already experiencing. Many people are angry and frustrated that their whole life has been turned upside down, trying to find the extra cash to pull permits and pay for construction for what they consider to be safe and healthy. In addition, many homeowners have been paying taxes on these illegal units for years and are even more confused as to why the city would want to get rid of these tax revenue generators.
To try to clear up the confusion and hopefully the frustration, Stuffler said out that none of it is about money — based on reports from last year, the city spends more on code enforcement than what fees and fines generate. While what happened April 1 was extreme, the city argues that proactive code enforcement is intended to be a preventative measure for such incidences, and we agree. Stuffler also said inspections done by code enforcement on permitted work ensures the homeowner and a potential homebuyer that everything is safe.
Additionally, Ventura is one of the least stringent cities in Ventura County with regards to code enforcement. Oxnard does proactive code enforcement; Port Hueneme and Thousands Oaks do resale inspections; and Moorpark does rental inspections.
The fact that Ventura’s program has been only complaint-driven until a recently instated proactive program, which began a few months ago, shows that if Ventura was about trying to do a major crackdown, it would have followed suit of neighboring cities long ago.
The problem is a lack of understanding on both sides of the issue, from city staff to homeowners. We believe code enforcement is on the right track and encourage public discussions that will lead to an understanding and a possible solution to this wide-spread and potentially harmful situation.