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Results of our code enforcement experiment

Readers may recall that last March we said we would attempt to look into the County's enforcement of its rules governing commercial signs. We asked for help making calls to the County's 311 Connect system because, as we said, "according to the County, the rules aren't enforced unless someone - one of us citizens - reports the violations".  That project subsequently grew to also involve calling about "problem houses" - the kind where owners let the weeds grow tall and let their houses fall into significant disrepair to the point where real estate agents cringe when trying to get good sales prices for their nearby residential clients.

Here's what we found out:

  • The people in charge of commercial sign enforcement said they were not enforcing the regulations because of Covid. Huh? That's silly because of the way commercial sign enforcement is supposed to be done: 1) drive by the site, observe and take photos, 2) send a letter to the property owner advising of the regulations and violations, giving time to comply, 3) repeat the process - a) if problems are fixed, send "thank you" email, b) if not, keep sending letters and checking until problems are fixed or c) If problems are never fixed, refer issue to County Council's Office. None of those steps require exposure to the Covid virus.
  • More than 1 or 2 reports to 311 from the same individual resulted in that person being branded a troublemaker by the County. Ooh, that's improper behavior on the part of our civil servants.
  • Numerous complaints to 311 from an array of people resulted in no support from the County. Would you believe the County stopped caring about a problem house after the Sheriff towed away two spiderwebby, flat tire cars from a residential driveway where the owner had left the cars backed up to the garage door to make it impossible to see if the license registration was current? Or after the USPS stopped delivering mail because it had became impossible to do so? Duh. This is no surprise to anyone, is it?

What we are talking about here are nuisance laws, a concept as old as the hills in England. Nuisance laws seek to balance the rights of property ownership with the rights of adjoining neighbors and the community at large. Such laws tend to prohibit activity that unnecessarily damages or devalues the life or property of others. Because everyone is entitled to the "quiet enjoyment" of their property, no one gets to mis-use their property in a way that deprives other people of the "quiet enjoyment" of their own (or rented) property or that degrades their investment in their residences or places of business. You are not supposed to play your drum set in your garage with the door open at 2 a.m. while your neighbors are asleep. You can't let your property become a haven for rats, cockroaches or other vermin to the point that that practice threatens the health and safety of tenants or nearby properties. Your property rights are not "more equal" than the other guy's equivalent property rights. Still, laws/rules/regulations are only as good as their enforcement. And, here in our County, such enforcement is spotty at best or just plain non-existent.

May contain: tarmac, asphalt, road, and intersection
These boarded-up buildings on Kent at El Camino have been shabby, problem buildings for years. Why has that been allowed to continue? Why should the nearby businesses and residences have to put up with it?

And that has led us to conclude that the County just isn't capable of doing the job. We don't like saying things like that, but in this case, it's an accurate statement. Our experiment reinforced things we already knew: The 311 system is a failure. County code enforcement is not working. Don't take our word for it, though. It's pretty much what our Supervisor, Rich Desmond, has confirmed. He has agreed with us that counties were never intended to run a complex modern municipality like Arden Arcade or other aging, developed parts of the UnCity. Sacramento County, with its astoundingly-high population of urbanized unincorporated area residents - 606,000 people according to the 2020 census - and its 2nd-most populated Census-Designated-Place in California - Arden Arcade's 100,000 people - is an anomaly. Sacramento County would benefit from having new cities that can relieve the County of it's impractical burden of taking care of day-to-day municipal responsibilities. It remains to be seen, though, whether Sacramento County will change it's attitude about that. Sometimes being hell-bent on doing something means you will never, ever, change what you do, even when it is clearly not smart to keep doing it.

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