• “Blight ordinance” hits the books

    By Marge Ann Jameson

    The state of California recently enacted a law that allows cities to impose fines of up to $1000 per day on the owners of abandoned properties that are left to deteriorate, and, further, allows local jurisdictions to pass their own ordinances if they so choose. The state law is aimed primarily at the owners, commonly banks and mortgage lenders, of properties which have gone into foreclosure. The borrowers on the foreclosed loans abandon the property, usually having been forced to move by the lender, and the property is left unattended and vacant for months. These properties, without maintenance, can “discourage potential buyers of nearby properties” and eventually devalue and destabilize entire neighborhoods, in the opinion of a City of Pacific Grove staff report.

    Pacific Grove has certainly seen its share of such properties. While not all foreclosed properties fall into the category of “blight,” there are some 100 homes in the city which are at some stage of the foreclosure process and could easily fall into decay.

    The City Attorney’s office recommended that a first reading of an ordinance which would enable the city to pursue property maintenance and security enforcement by registering and monitoring the properties. It does not contain a sunset provision.

    Under the program, mortgage lenders would be required to inspect properties in default and confirm vacancy. If the property is vacant, the lender will be required to register the property with the city and immediately begin to secure and maintain the property to “neighborhood standard.” The ordinance looks for evidence of occupancy to include locks and security; active utility services; upkeep of landscaping; absence of mail, flyers, newspapers or debris; presence of window coverings and furnishings; and statements of neighbors, passers-by, and others that the property is legally occupied if contact cannot be made with actual occupants.

    The city also seeks to discourage “access by unauthorized  persons,” meaning vandals, campers, drug houses, and party-goers.

    The program should be cost-neutral, according to the City Attorney’s office, as the city would set a registration fee to defray the cost of enforcement. Enforcement would likely be by the Code Compliance Officer of Pacific Grove.

    The City Council approved the first reading and, with a couple of minor clarifications, the second reading will be scheduled.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on March 17, 2011

    Topics: Current Edition, Front PG News, Marge Ann Jameson

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