Since the pandemic mandated working from home as much as practically possible, the San Jose Planning, Building and Code Enforcement Department a policy of only responding to requests that it deems urgent.
While the practice lessens Covid-19 spread among staff and prospective clients, it leaves some residents—including longtime local Steve Brachear—incredibly frustrated.
The 14-year Shasta Avenue homeowner says he’s been trying for months now to get the city to stop illegal construction at a next-door property—whose remodeling crew has reportedly been holed up at an adjacent address—for what seems like an eternity now.
Though code enforcement affirmed that work on the property is unauthorized, he says city officials say they can’t follow through with site inspections for the duration of the public health orders requiring people to shelter-in-place.
“I contacted code enforcement, and neither house has a permit,” Brashear claims. “They [code enforcement officials] basically said they’re not going to do anything and won’t inspect these properties until the stay-at-home order is lifted. But by then, all the horses will be out of the barn.”
In Brashear’s view, it wouldn’t take much effort for the city to send one of its employees to do at least a drive-by assessment of the situation. “An inspector wouldn’t even have to get out of his car to file a report,” he says. “He could just look and see the work being done and verify what I told them. But they won’t even do that.”
San Jose Planning Director Rosalynn Hughey says city staff has, in fact, been on the case.
“Our Code Enforcement staff have open, active cases for two properties on Shasta Avenue,” she wrote in an email to San Jose Inside. “Staff has contacted the complaining party. Staff has also contacted the property owners to outline the requirements for compliance; these requirements will be enforced. Regarding drive-by inspections, it is often not possible to determine violations by driving by a property.”
The city sent emails to Brashear notifying him that a case has been opened and an inspector has been notified, but “due to current Covid-19 procedures, code enforcement response may be delayed due to most inspections not being conducted at this time.”
With the exception of emergencies, Hughey said her code enforcement workers are not entering properties at this time to protect not only themselves but the public, too.
Brashear—whose property lies in the Rose Garden, a pricey neighborhood known for its tree-lined streets and architecturally distinct homes dating back to the 1800s—says he worries that the lack of enforcement will make parts of the district an eyesore.
The trouble with the eyesore he’s been complaining about for the better part of 2020 began this past spring, he says, when the previous owner at 1706 Shasta Ave. moved out, leaving behind a couple cars, parked curbside, with expired tags.
“In parts of my neighborhood, they’re hauling away abandoned cars,” he says, “so I don’t know why on my street they don’t want to tow them away.”
The abandoned cars, Brashear says, are parked in front of the house that’s undergoing un-permitted construction. That means the contractors working on the property are parking elsewhere in the neighborhood, taking up spots normally used by residents.
“Which means they’re parking their four vehicles in front of my house and some of my neighbor’s houses,” Brashear says. “When I back out of the driveway now, my view of the street is blocked, so it’s dangerous. Again, the city won’t do anything about this even though I’ve reported it. How hard would it be for city enforcement to tag the vehicles?”
Attempts to reach the owners of the property in question were unsuccessful.
But the city maintains that it has been doing what it can do address code violators.
As for abandoned vehicles? Those should be reported to the San Jose Department of Transportation, officials said.
In her email to San Jose Inside, Hughey said: “The public can report abandoned vehicles to the Vehicle Abatement Unit using the service request form [on sanjose.custhelp.com] or downloading the San Jose 311 mobile app.”
Code enforcement, however, will only respond to emergency service requests, which include imminent hazards to health and safety in housing or buildings, a sewage leak in a yard, in-progress removal of ordinance-sized trees, swimming pools without secure fencing, unsecured refrigerators left outside and vacant unsecured buildings.
To Brashear, that isn’t enough.
“It’s not just my case,” he says, “because this is widespread throughout the city, where code enforcement and other enforcement is not being done under the guidance of the stay-in-place order. I see police and firemen, but I don’t see other basic civic city duties being taken care of. … Calling the City Council used to work, but they’re not responding like they used to. Politicians tend to respond only when they get negative publicity. This is the only way to get something done, unfortunately.”