Resolution to allow new remedies through abatement process approved
By Gary Walker
A resolution to amend the county’s code that governs the manner in which properties can legally become a public hazard has been updated by the Board of Supervisors.
At their Jan. 29 meeting, the supervisors voted unanimously to approve a resolution by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas that will give county attorneys additional legal means to prosecute landlords and property owners who violated county building codes.
Ridley-Thomas, whose Second District encompasses Westchester east of Lincoln Boulevard and Del Rey, submitted the motion because there are properties in unincorporated areas of the county, including illegal boarding houses and run-down residences, that can “endanger public health, safety and welfare, invite crime, interfere with enjoyment of property and reduce property values.”
The motion additionally states, “(the county code) does not contain provisions authorizing recovery of the county’s nuisance abatement costs and attorney’s fees or imposition of civil penalties in cases where the county enforces violation of its laws in court. The absence of these aforementioned legal remedies undermines the county’s ability to ensure compliance with its laws, rules, regulations and permits in an efficient and timely manner.”
Ridley-Thomas’ resolution directs the county counsel to draft a nuisance abatement ordinance that would amend the Los Angeles County Code in order to equip county authorities with additional legal tools “for more effective prosecution of cases involving public nuisance properties in our unincorporated communities, including, but not limited to, provisions authorizing recovery of the county’s nuisance abatement costs and attorney’s fees or imposition of civil penalties in cases where the county enforces violation of its laws in court.”
Nuisance abatement is one of the components involved in a controversial proposed ordinance that came before the Los Angeles City Council at its Jan. 30 meeting.
City Councilman Mitchell Englander, who represents a large constituency in the San Fernando Valley, is the author of a proposed ordinance that would create new regulations that would govern lease agreements for those residing in community care homes. If the ordinance is approved, these residences and sober living facilities, which often include veterans and recovering addicts, would be prohibited in low density or residential neighborhoods.
“The community care ordinance is common-sense legislation that has been developed to address the proliferation of unlicensed nuisance group homes and boarding facilities, which have had a huge negative impact on single family neighborhoods in my district in the Northwest San Fernando Valley and in neighborhoods all across the city of Los Angeles,” Englander wrote last year in a letter to his constituents.
“There are a great number of these unlicensed, unregulated facilities, most of which are for-profit businesses operating in residential areas.”
Opponents of the ordinance say facilities and residences that are in violation of the law should be cited, fined and even closed if the violators continue to break the law through abatement.
They also argue that the proposed law would disenfranchise residences in the supervisor’s district such as Chris’ Place in Del Rey, a facility for veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars run by New Directions, a nonprofit organization that provides housing and rehabilitation to homeless veterans.
The community care facilities ordinance, which was revised late last year, has been changed to include three leases for each household. It also exempts domestic violence transition and shelters, a severability clause so that if one part of the ordinance is sued, the rest of the ordinance will stay in place, and calls for a one-year review with a public hearing to see if there were any unintended consequences.
On May 4, 2011 The Argonaut reported on a building in Ridley-Thomas’ district in Del Rey that was the subject of a legal action by City Attorney Carmen Trutanich. The building, located at 11881 Jefferson Blvd., is one of 166 properties owned by Deutsche Bank, which Trutanich alleges allowed to fall into shabby conditions and facilitated the illegal evictions of hundreds of tenants.
His office is seeking immediate injunctive relief through nuisance abatement, including a complete inventory, registration and inspection of foreclosed properties, compliance with all applicable state and municipal code requirements and a stop to all illegal evictions.
The tactic has been used in cities and counties where government entities believe there is blight or illegal activity in a particular area. Ridley-Thomas’ colleague, Fifth District Supervisor Michael Antonovich, called for the creation of abatement teams due to drug labs and illegal animal breeding in portions of the Antelope Valley.
“Enactment of a comprehensive nuisance abatement ordinance is necessary to create an additional deterrent for owners and occupants who maintain their properties in violation of the county’s laws, and would allow the county to recover its costs associated with enforcement of those laws,” states Ridley-Thomas’ resolution.
Liquor stores, dilapidated abandoned warehouses and buildings used for the drug trade are frequent targets of nuisance abatement teams.
Ridley-Thomas could not be reached for comment on his resolution.