The long fight between Imperial Beach's Code Compliance Division and the owners of a residence on Hickory Court seems to be over. The house has been the subject of energetic code enforcement since 2010, and on Wednesday (October 7th) the city council seemed poised to waive all fines.
Since 2010, the city has filed notices of liens being placed on the house six times, the result of complaints over the vehicles in the driveway and front yard, a failing roof, the lack of garbage containers and collection, and a raggedly overgrown front yard. Three of those lien notices were filed by the city since April 2014, according to county recorder records.
The latest round of enforcement is about to be resolved by the city council, which has in hand a recommendation to release the required payment of the remaining $14,000 balance for all code-violation liens. The owners will be asked to pay administrative fees of $100, according to city documents.
"We are very pleased with how reasonable the city attorney was and that the city worked with us," lawyer Jason Eliaser said. He represents the owners. "They are people of limited means who can't afford to pay both the fines and to fix the roof."
On Wednesday, the property had a markedly different appearance from the Google Maps image. There were no cars in the driveway and the green EDCO containers were full of trash and yard waste, waiting to be picked up.
Among the bigger issues was what Code Compliance Division staff deemed inoperable vehicles. Eliaser disputed that they were broken — except for a red 1965 Corvair — and said the others were non-operational because they were not currently registered.
"My client is having them stored at her own cost," he said. "None of them are rusty or taken apart."
Neighbors across the street — who were adamant that they did not make the complaints that triggered the code investigation — said the yard did look bad before the cleanup and that they'd seen a cat going in and out of the hole in the garage roof. But, they noted, they'd also acquired their own complaining neighbor who'd used code enforcement to force them to get a temporary two-week permit to be able to have their travel trailer inside their fenced yard, even as they pointed out three other houses that had trailers on the property without permits.
The responsive nature of the Code Compliance Division — where those who complain remain anonymous but trigger actions against others — troubles Eliaser.
"It puts a lot of power into the hands of people you don't necessarily want to have a lot of power," he said. "In my opinion, these were relatively minor issues that were selectively enforced."
The caller who triggered enforcement against the Hickory Court homeowners is said to have made 264 complaining phone calls about the house, Eliaser confirmed.
"Code enforcement responds not to the pressing issues but to complaints," he explained. "Fortunately, the city council felt abatement was the most important part and to their credit, they were sympathetic to the plight of people with limited means."