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City Tackles Vacant Homes/Squatter Issue


By Jim Davis

3/19/13

In a textbook example of good city management, the city council on March 15 approved a resolution called “The Foreclosed Residential Property Registration Program.”  The program consists of rules to keep track of vacant homes by requiring registration of such homes.  Everyone with a legal interest in the property—including the banks—is required to register the property with code enforcement.  This allows the city to know who the involved parties are; previously the inability to identify ownership interests was an impediment to enforcement.  In addition, the parties will have to name someone responsible for maintaining the property.

A similar ordinance in Chicago is under challenge in federal court; the Chicago ordinance imposes a $500 registration fee ($368 for Vallejo) and a $1,000 per day fine for noncompliance ($200 for Vallejo).  However the Chicago case turns out, we are in a good position because our staff hired a consultant to calculate the cost of administering and implementing our program, rendering our fee at least rationally set.  Good work.  Particular credit goes to Craig Whittom, Assistant City Manager; Ursula Luna-Reynosa, Code Enforcement Manager; and Claudia Quintara, City Attorney.  Chief Kreins of the Vallejo Police Department also deserves credit for backing up the program with enforcement.  And of course we can’t forget the council members who worked on and approved this program.

This program is only one of several initiatives created by the city to address problem properties.  These initiatives include the following:

Neighborhood Law Project (NLP)—Created under the guidance of city attorney Quintara, the NLP employs two attorneys to work with neighborhood groups and citizens, to identify and remedy neighborhood problems, like blight and nuisance.  The NPL attorneys work with the police and code enforcement.  All parties working together—NPL attorneys, police, and code enforcement—were successful in February in ridding a nuisance house of squatters, no easy task under the old law, and the vacant property (on Kentucky St.) was closed up.

Nextdoor”—“Nextdoor” is a private social network for neighborhoods that allows neighbors to share information.  The city has begun using Nextdoor to communicate with neighbors to address problem properties.

Overall, this reflects a city government aware of its blight problem and determined to do something about it.  There is nothing more detrimental to downtown owners and businesses than surrounding blight.  Downtown is nice because we have paid attention to it.  Now the city is stepping up on the neighborhoods.  The new registration program is effective April 12 and should start May 1.  If you know of a problem property, notify code enforcement.

 

Note: All opinions expressed in the "Primal Scream" column are those of the writer and not necessarily those of the Vallejo Independent Bulletin