What happens when you live in suburban Fresno County and your neighbor creates a car junkyard (along with lots of other stuff) covering over a former horse pasture? Your new view. You file a complaint with code enforcement and discover the consequence for such a violation is so nominal that the offender not only doesn’t move the junk out, but moves more and more in. And other neighbors follow suit with their own loud, junk vehicle/salvage-related businesses, in front yards, changing the character of your neighborhood from suburban to an overlay of commercial/industrial and visual blight.
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What happens when you live in a quiet, suburban neighborhood that then becomes regularly taken over by multiple neighbors with loud music and thumping, rumbling bass? From parties, outdoor sound systems, boom cars coming and going and other excess noise. As with the junk businesses, you discover Fresno County ordinances, as they are currently written and enforced, are maddeningly ineffective, excessively burdensome on the neighbors who are disturbed and whose properties are adversely affected. Existing codes aren’t fair, consequential or common sense. The violators often end up with much better outcomes than those upon whom the disturbance is inflicted.
Fresno County is in the process of a long-needed update in codes. It is imperative that the codes give more consideration to those they are intended and purported to protect. And, are consequential enough for violators to effect correction. The present, usually anemic or token, minimal actions don’t work satisfactorily. They are often ineffectual, nonconsequences for those who choose not to comply.
Except for the most high profile, egregious situations, code violations frequently get scant attention other than from those whose peaceful enjoyment of their homes is upended by them. For those citizens, it can change the quality of their lives considerably for the worse. It seems no one cares and they have no acceptable and effective way of advocating for correction. They suffer in misery for lack of meaningful, useful codes and enforcement
Fresno County needs an easily accessible website for all such issues; with ordinances for frequent citizen issues/complaints in plain, understandable, common-sense language. Not just governmentese and disconnected Muni Code access, which is often not at all in line with actual enforcement actions. The suggested website should provide answers to questions and statistics on the number and types of complaints received in what neighborhoods. An online tracking system for formal complaints and their outcomes is needed for consistency and accessibility of information as well as effectiveness of codes and enforcement actions. Trained community interventionists are needed to deal with difficult or unresolved issues in neighborhoods. An appeal/hearing process and panel, including citizen participants, is needed to insure unsatisfied complainants have an avenue to more fairly be heard.
San Luis Obispo and other areas have listened to their citizens, and have updated some codes and procedures, like their loud music/noise ordinance. They’ve reportedly gained much improved citizen satisfaction, reduced calls for law enforcement response and enjoyed a resultant decrease in related expenditure of public funds. A win-win.
Violators need to be held accountable instead of repeatedly and deeply aggravating many disturbed neighbors. Our present codes and enforcements are an unnecessary frustration, a Catch-22 that often generates only a token response that winks or blinks at the actual problem. Without meaningful consequences, the problem grows and violators are emboldened. It takes away peace of mind, diminishes property values, changes the character of neighborhoods and drives wedges between neighbors. It should be the fully functional and useful ordinance vs. the violator rather than long-suffering neighbor vs. offending neighbor.
Those entrusted to enforce codes need to be given the tools and means of enforcement to do so in a way that is more efficient and effective for them and more satisfactory for those who must resort to using those codes and consequences to restore the peaceful enjoyment of their homes and neighborhoods.
Linda Piearcy is a retired civil service employee who lives in Fresno.