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Petaluma police chief proposes tougher rules for eyesore properties

By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Weedy, overgrown front yards. Junked appliances piled outside. Boarded up doors and windows.

All spell “distressed property,” and to some, an opportunity to illegally squat or vandalize a building forsaken by its owners.

Petaluma’s new police chief is hoping to clean up city neighborhoods scarred by these abandoned, run-down houses.

Chief Pat Williams, who took the helm of the department this summer, is proposing an abandoned property registration program similar to one he established in Desert Hot Springs before moving to Petaluma.

He said there are about 335 properties in Petaluma that are in some phase of foreclosure, some of which appear to be forgotten or ignored by the owner. That’s about 1.6 percent of the 20,000 parcels in Petaluma.

Under Williams’ proposal, at the first notice of default, title holders would be required to register a vacant property with the city, pay a $150 fee and agree to keep it in good repair. A notice listing the owner’s contact information would be required so neighbors know who to notify if there are problems.

If the property deteriorated to the point it became a nuisance, the city could fine the owner and put liens on the property. Fines could reach $1,000 in the most egregious cases.

The goal is to assure the properties remain “a safe and a clean environment, so as not to take away from the property value of others and maintain the character and quality of homes that may surround the property in distress,” Williams said.

City leaders seem to be on board with the idea, with Vice Mayor Tiffany Renée wanting to go further and seize abandoned properties through the city’s power of eminent domain.

She said the city could turn the buildings into “transitional housing” for lower-income residents or rentals to ease pressure on those who can’t afford to buy.

Jeff Mayne, who owns two mortgage companies in Petaluma, said the city should slow down and meet with those in the industry to gauge whether such a program is needed.

With foreclosure activity in Sonoma County at a five-year low, he said the city is looking at “the tail end of a problem.”

He said most properties in foreclosure aren’t abandoned and left vacant, or if so, not for long.

“People leave when they’re about to be evicted,” he said. “The issue becomes not so much abandonment, but blight and how we deal with blight.”

More than 10,000 Sonoma County homeowners have lost their properties in foreclosure since 2007, according to DataQuick, a San Diego-based real estate information service. The annual total peaked in 2008 at 2,820 homes and has declined over the past three years to 1,898 in 2011.

Councilman Mike Harris said at first glance, Williams’ proposal seems reasonable. But he questioned if the registration should begin at the first notice of default, since the foreclosure process can be lengthy and complex and residents often live there throughout.

“The biggest challenge becomes when there’s nobody in there and it’s in this betwixt and between stage,” Williams said.

The goal is “voluntary compliance” and keeping on top of blight, he said, not to pressure folks already having financial troubles. Nor is it a revenue-producing scheme for the city, he said.

A proposed ordinance may come to the City Council in a few months.





13 Responses to “Petaluma police chief proposes tougher rules for eyesore properties”

  1. Wilson says:

    I wish that the new police chief would work on cleaning up the mess in his own “house” before looking at any other eyesores.

  2. Corn Maze says:

    What an embarrassment for the new Chief!

    I thought we did an extensive search with costly consultants? The Mayor and Council should demand a refund.

    He will be gone within a year after this election, probably moving on to a “career enhancing” next step onto another town to seed his agenda.

    I feel for the PD rank and file who have had such poor leadership for so long. Thank you for hanging in there!

  3. Snarky says:

    David Spencer:

    PRIVATE PROPERTY.. David. PRIVATE PROPERTY.

    If the windows are broken because the owners don’t have the money to fix those windows, its still none of your fricken business.

    If the bank which is trying to un-load the property suffers vandalism and windows are broken on the house, its STILL none of your business.

    I’d bet you were one of those sniveling whiners who thought, wrongly, that you a have a say in whether or not the local mall could charge a fee for parking on their PRIVATE PROPERTY.

    But, David, I’d bet $1,000 that if someone were to break into YOUR private property, you’d be the first to scream and hold a temper tantrum if we said…. too bad… you gotta share YOUR private property.

  4. Skippy says:

    Broken windows is a social theory.
    Private property is not a theory; it is an unalienable right.
    It is the very foundation of our nation.
    The endless fascination the minions of Big Govt have with every aspect of our lives is clearly on display here.
    Is there any question that the first priority we have as citizens of our cities, counties, states and nation is to dramatically shrink the size and scope of Big Govt?

  5. BigDogatPlay says:

    It’s not the role or the mission of a law enforcement agency to be a property manager. If the city has that much of a problem, and it’s not yet a huge issue in the neighborhoods I frequent, use the power of code enforcement which lives at city hall, not the police station.

    As to Ms. Renee’s suggestion of emminent domain seizure; foreclosed homes are private property owned by the lender. The lender’s goal is to re-sell the home into the market to recoup some of their exposure. Seizing properties and making them “transitional homes” at taxpayer expense in effect puts the people who made foolish choices back into the homes they lost, only I get to pay for it this time.

    No thanks, comrade.

  6. David J. Spencer says:

    Snarky: I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll look up PRIVATE PROPERTY if you look up “Broken windows theory.”

    Deal?

  7. Snarky says:

    David Spencer:

    Look up the term PRIVATE PROPERTY.

    This country was based upon the concept of PRIVATE PROPERTY.

    Nobody cares what some guy with a badge says about private property. Got that, bonehead ?

  8. Over easy says:

    CHIEF focus on Police work please. There is plenty to do in P-town, so get after it.

    As for Renee, it is hard to tell if it is poor impulse control or something much more serious. Either way show her the door.

  9. David J. Spencer says:

    An article from the L.A. Times on this very subject of the blight caused by foreclosed homes that have been abandoned:

    http://www.latimes.com/business/realestate/la-fi-lew-20121021,0,7006588.story

    Good for Chief Williams for taking a proactive stand on this issue.

  10. 20/20 Vision says:

    Dear Chief Williams. Why don’t you clean up the mess in your own department before you worry about the mess in some people’s yards.

  11. Jack says:

    We can thank David Glass for Tiffany Renee getting elected to the city council – but even Glass realized he made a mistake as he has not endorsed her re-election bid.

  12. Jim says:

    I’m with the chief on this one. Man, imagine if the government can decide what is an eyesore. What a wonderful world we’d have. Bribe the right politician and you can force your neighbor to repaint that shade of brown you don’t like. Imagine the possibilities!

    Someone please explain how Tiffany Renee gets elected. She thinks the city should seize the houses and make them “transitional homes”?!?! Anyone who believes the government seizure of private property is a legitimate idea should never be elected in this country. What are Petaluma voters thinking???

  13. Snarky says:

    Nobody likes an eyesore.

    But its none of governments business nor legal duty to tell people how to maintain their private property.

    This is not Nazi Germany, Mr. Police Chief.
    Pack your bags and go home. Get out.