The Ventura City Council voted in favor, 5-0, on Monday night of extending the amnesty program for granny flats through 2013, which was set to expire Dec. 21. The program is set up to alleviate the financial burden placed on homeowners who have unpermitted second dwelling units that were in use before 2004 by reducing fees from roughly $16,000 to $600, capped at $1,000 with an optional payment plan, to get them up to code via relaxed zoning requirements. Officials estimate there are hundreds of granny flats throughout the city, though only 26 homeowners have come forward to take advantage of the plan.
Code enforcement has been a bone of contention for several outspoken residents in the city. In 2009, when the city decided to ramp up proactive code enforcement, certain residents fought back, claiming the city and, specifically, then-City Manager Rick Cole were using fees and fines from aggressive proactive code enforcement to raise revenue to fill in gaps in the city’s budget. In response, the city enacted an amnesty program in spring 2011 to grandfather second dwelling units built before 2004.
Nevertheless, a group of Ventura residents filed a complaint in the last year with the grand jury about how code enforcement was being conducted. The grand jury followed up on the complaint with a series of interviews and released a report in June that basically verified that code enforcers were aggressive and sometimes intimidating in their tactics, and also pointed out that staff showed favoritism toward certain residents. The city’s response was that it “found that 25 of the Grand Jury’s 44 statements of facts are subject to question as being incorrect, incomplete or based on assumptions, not facts.” The city has since made some adjustments to its program, but not as many as certain residents would like.
Since the rise and fall of proactive code enforcement, and with the extension of the amnesty program for granny flats, one might think the outspoken critics of code enforcement would have less to fear. With Cole’s resignation and the recent appointment of interim City Manager Johnny Johnston, the city is going in a different direction now, though that isn’t to say unsafe or unhealthy granny flats should be allowed without question. Still, there are murmurings of the fear people have about possible continued aggressive code enforcement and the chance that people will be made homeless due to lack of code compliance as others reportedly have been. (Requests by the VCReporter to identify and speak to those who have become homeless have gone unanswered.) Some say that the situation is still dire, citing the fact that only 26 of potentially hundreds of unpermitted granny flat owners have come forward to apply for the amnesty program and that, mostly, everyone else is afraid. There was one local man, however, who brought those claims into question.
“The amount of people I know that don’t know about this is incredible,” said property owner Shaun Oliphant, who just recently found out about the program and spoke in support of the extension at the last council meeting.
We understand the tension and anxiety that comes with owning a home, and even owning a second dwelling unit that a homeowner may believe is out of compliance. For many, that second unit is a source of income or might house a needy family member. For some, paying hundreds of dollars, or upward of $1,000, to come into compliance may be an unaffordable burden. But then there are also those who just didn’t know. It may be a lack of knowledge about their properties, or that there is an affordable program to help property owners get into compliance. Either way, at some point, the fear should surely subside and certainly there must be some recognition that not all code enforcement policies are bad, especially when a situation is unsafe and/or unsanitary and pose risks to the occupants’ lives.
Without concrete evidence of people losing their homes or becoming homeless, it’s time to stop the fear mongering and give the amnesty program a chance. Perhaps government isn’t always out to get us. After all, government is just everyday people.