By Doug Porter
It’s a horrifying account, replete with tales of mold, asthma, raw sewage and armies of vermin. And a city government seemingly incapable of doing anything about it.
Landlord Bankim Shah owns nearly 90 properties in the San Diego area along with managing apartments owned by others. One-third of the 62 formal complaints filed against him since 2001 are, according to the story, “for conditions so bad state law says no one should be forced to live in them.”
We learn that Shah has been to court exactly once–in “2011 for renting a building to a medical marijuana dispensary.”
While Mayor Kevin Faulconer dispatches daily press releases touting his accomplishments, the city’s code enforcement team is reduced to playing whack-a-mole, responding when they can to individual complaints, but unable to make the case against repeat offenders.
From the Voice of San Diego:
The California Health and Safety Code lays out a long list of hazards that make a rental unfit for tenants — big things like lacking electricity or water down to seemingly innocuous things like dampness in rooms that lead to problems over time. And it gives local code enforcement units the power to do anything from press civil and criminal charges to seize property to remediate those hazards.
But San Diego isn’t doing that when it comes to Shah. Tours of five of his buildings and a review of city inspection forms reveal conditions that violate the state housing code. In some cases, they’re still present after a code inspector has closed his or her case on the property.
As recently as December, Shah’s apartments, which he rents through his company, All Property Management, had broken windows, lacked hot water and heating, had water leaks and dampness, were infested with insects and rodents, had holes in exterior walls and between units, and lacked smoke detectors. All are prohibited by state law.
City employees said (incorrectly, as it turns out) problems like vermin and mold are supposed by handled by the county according to state law. (But tenants have to make a second complaint)
The county says it has no agreement with the city to handle these types of violation. And the City Attorney’s office says their hands are tied unless code enforcement identifies a “pattern of abuses.”
If a reporter working with two non-profit news entities could suss out a pattern, you’d think our taxpayer funded legal beagles could take a day or two off from cracking down on pot dispensaries or prosecuting people for chalking protest slogans on sidewalks to look into the problem.
It’s obvious to me the problem here is that the “victims” of these violations aren’t wealthy or connected. There’s also no violation the mores of social conservatives taking place.
And then there’s the reality of most city agencies being chronically understaffed. This is, after all, the age of austerity in local government. The unconnected get to bear the costs of the 1996 GOP Convention and PETCO Park.
SDFP writer and City Heights activist Anna Daniels wrote about the legacy of the Jerry Sanders administration back in 2012.
Sanders assumed office in late 2005 after a special election. He spoke immediately about reducing the city workforce. By 2006, it was apparent that he had taken a neutron bomb approach to city services– keep the buildings open while wiping out the workforce that did anything more than keep the lights on and the doors open. In City Heights, that had an immediate impact. We lost our Community Service Center, the only center south of Rte 8. This was the most heavily used Community Service Center in the city, where City Heights residents paid their utility bills and found a consolidated service point for accessing city services. These Community Service Centers continued to exist north of Rte 8 as “boutique” services for more affluent communities until they too finally succumbed to the budget ax.
We lost Park and Recreation staff who supported the soccer fields and other programs. The cost of swimming in the municipal pool increased. Library hours were decreased, and kids had no place to go to complete homework assignments on a computer, as required by their schools. Then our police storefront community service centers, with their multilingual staff were left out of subsequent budgets. Code compliance positions were cut. The City Heights Weingart Library Performance Annex- our cultural gem- was threatened with dissolution.
When we turned out to protest these cuts– and we did, our mayor revealed how deeply he was both annoyed and threatened by our challenges. In a KPBS interview in 2008 , he described the citizens who waited hours to address the city council budget hearings, standing there with babies in their arms and detailing the impact of the loss of library hours or threatened branch closures as if they were special interest groups.
I guess they just weren’t the right kind of “special”.
In the comments section of the VOSD story, attorney Felix Tinkov points out that the legal tools are in place to address this situation, all the way from fines to criminal prosecutions:
…Most recently, marijuana dispensaries and AirBnB rentals have caught the attention of the Code Enforcement division. Yet, hundreds, if not thousands, of substandard dwellings continue to exist in this city. Prioritizing the truly bad actors could make a real difference in how this city runs and how its entire population lives.
To that end, my suggestion would be that the City Council create a policy which delineates the order of priority for enforcement. With the vote of five Councilmembers and the stroke of several pens, poor folks in this town can get a leg up and slumlords can be forced to fly right. So who wants to be the hero?
The KPBS/VOSD account does say that Councilman David “Alvarez has asked the mayor to boost code compliance funding this year so the department can proactively address substandard housing. He also asked the Council’s land use committee to explore a program that would put liens on properties until the owners clean them up.”
Meanwhile, Getting Back to the Mayor’s Priorities…
UT-San Diego is telling us this morning about a Big Dog pow wow soon to take place on the stadium issue:
Chargers President Dean Spanos will accept Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s request that the two men meet one on one to discuss how the mayor can help keep the Chargers in San Diego, team special counsel Mark Fabiani said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a mayoral task force exploring where and how to build a new Chargers stadium announced it will host a public forum from 6 to 9 p.m. March 2 in one of Qualcomm Stadium’s large club lounges.
The mayor requested a private meeting with Spanos on Tuesday after characterizing recent criticism of the task force by Fabiani as “divisive” and something that could undermine the work of the volunteer panel of civic leaders.
The Times of San Diego has more on the public forum:
“We want to hear about (the public’s) good ideas and we want to know what their concerns are as we work toward selecting a site for a new stadium and developing a financing plan for public consideration,” said Adam Day, who chairs the task force.
“The advisory group is in the information-gathering phase, so we appreciate the information the Chargers shared with us this week,” Day said. “We had a good first meeting with the team, and we expect to meet with representatives from San Diego County and San Diego State University next.”
Petition Asks Charter Charges Reforming Civilian Review Board
Activists with Women Occupy San Diego have started a petition campaign asking for the City Council’s Charter Review Committee to reform the Citizens Review Board on Police Practices(CRB).
Here’s is what they are asking for:
City Charter reforms essential to the effective functioning of civilian and community oversight of the SDPD include:
- Independent investigators and subpoena power, as provided to the San Diego County Law Enforcement Review Board by the voters in 1990 (Proposition A).
- Intake, tracking and review of all complaints filed is done by the CRB rather than by SDPD Internal Affairs, also as modeled by the San Diego County Law Enforcement Review Board approved by the voters in 1990.
The only thing about the San Diego County Law Enforcement Review Board that the City of San Diego would do well NOT to emulate is not consistently providing adequate funding and staffing to carry out the voters’ will and to provide cost-effective, independent review of San Diego’s police.
Additionally the Charter Review Committee should make two further revisions to the City Charter to reinforce the community-based nature of independent police oversight:
- Change the name from “Citizens Review Board” to “COMMUNITY Review Board”.
- Have the Members of this Community Review Board on Police Practices appointed by the representatives elected by the 9 City Council Districts – 2 per District. Plus 1 appointee by the Mayor.
Vigil for Children Killed by Police Set for Sunday
The November 22nd shooting of 12 year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio continues to reverberate with activists.
From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Tamir’s story isn’t one that should be reduced to a testimonial of race and police brutality. At its core, Tamir’s death is a tale of stunning systemic police incompetence and indifference – a fatal betrayal for which someone must be held accountable.
Rookie patrolman Timothy Loehmann fired the shot that killed Tamir. But he had an accomplice in the death of the 6th grader. The city of Cleveland is also directly responsible for the death of the boy.
The city of Cleveland sealed Tamir’s fate the moment it failed to do a serious background check on Loehmann’s prior experience as a police officer. This research would have raised disturbing red flags on whether he had the temperament and ability to be an effective law enforcement officer in a challenging environment like Cleveland.
…Except that Tamir’s death is one of too many instances.
Groups around country, responding to #4MileMarch’s call of action will be hosting candlelight vigils on February 22, as a nonviolent way to raise awareness of a cause and to motivate change.
Here in San Diego, United Against Police Terror – San Diego and Coalition Against Police Violence are hosting a vigil on Sunday starting at 6pm at the City Heights/Weingart Library and Performance Annex (3795 Fairmount Ave, San Diego).
From their Facebook event page:
We ask for the nation to come together – white, black, latino, whatever race you are, and take a stand that says it is not acceptable for police to to kill a 12 year old child. Tell the world that an officer who is deemed emotionally unfit to serve should not be allowed on our streets. Unite as one to light a candle for Tamir and the many children, men and women wrongfully killed by police in America.
Tell the world that Tamir could be your son, your brother, your friend.
On This Day: 1910 – A few weeks after workers ask for a 25¢ hourly wage, the Philadelphia Rapid Transit (streetcar) Co. fired 173 union members “for the good of the service” and brought in replacements from New York City. Striker-scab battles and a general strike ensued. 1942 – President Roosevelt signed an executive order giving the military the authority to relocate and intern Japanese-Americans. 1991 – Public Enemy boycotted the 1991 Grammy Awards because the rap award was not going to be presented during the live TV ceremony. Sinead O’Connor also boycotted the event.
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