By Jim Tortolano
Was the last time your watered your lawn back in Barack Obama’s first term?
Are the stripes on the parking lot you own so faint they look they were done with a very small piece of chalk?
Your house in the northeast corner of town: have you turned it into some kind of secret hotel?
Your untidy ways may soon be numbered as – in the area of code enforcement in Garden Grove – there’s a new sheriff in town.
David Dent is the chief building official for the city, and he’s bringing a new energy to the enforcement of city regulations about a wide variety of issues, ranging from getting rid of illegal marijuana dispensaries to rebooting efforts to get homeowners to clean up their act.
He’s already won a fan in Maureen Blackmun, the president of the Garden Grove Neighborhood Association organization.
“Nothing affects people’s quality of life in the community more than than code enforcement. Pride in our neighborhoods and neighbors can’t happen when lawns are brown, junk is piled up in yards, or cars are parked on lawns,” said Blackmun.
“The code enforcement department has needed modernization and a fresh vision for a while. I think David Dent is just the man to do it. I’m impressed and anxious to hear and see the changes and expertise he will bring to the team.”
Dent, 38, a resident of Long Beach, is moving the city’s code enforcement efforts into overdrive, after years of relative inactivity. He’s prepared to set a new bar for residents and property owners for a better-maintained community.
“If you want to live in Garden Grove, you’re going to have to follow the rules,” he said. “That’s why code enforcement is going to shock a lot of people.” Dent said that he expects the City Hall will get a lot of calls when the program rolls out, but he has the backing of the city council, planning commission and top city management.
Dent comes to the city from service in San Diego and Compton. His first major initiative was to tackle the marijuana dispensaries that dotted the community.
“The big issue isn’t so much the marijuana itself, it’s the improvements that were made to the building to accommodate either the dispensary or the growth facility,” according to Dent. “Chances are, since they are illegal businesses, they tend not to get permits, so they fall under substandard dangerous building standards.”
As a chief building official, Dent has the power to “red-tag” (declare unfit for occupancy) a building on the spot. Backed by a half-dozen or so Garden Grove police officers and perhaps another code enforcement officer, Dent politely shut down “50-plus” such “pot shops.” The remaining green signs visible around town are vestiges of the original problem.
Another major issue in the city is front lawns – dead grass, paved-over surfaces and even debris. That will bring a new approach to code enforcement.
“Normally, we have been reactive in the sense that when a complaint comes in,” a code enforcement officer would go out, but might bypass other problems seen “because we weren’t built on being proactive,” said Dent.
“That’s going to be the biggest thing. There’s going to be a shift in their work assignments. There’s going to be a priority list,” he said. The next step is to “get the public ready.”
Top items include short-term rentals (STR), dead lawns and landscaping. “We’re going to be a little bit more aggressive in those areas,” said Dent, “We’re going to start citing. That’s something that hasn’t been practiced here that much. Before they would just tell them to do something and hope they did it. Or just send them a letter and hope that they did it.”
Under the policy, someone in violation of the code would be cited, giving them 30 days to fix the problem. Then a seven-day warning and then fines starting at $100 and ranging all the way up to $1000.
According to Dent, the city code – for example – requires that a front lawn be at least 50 percent vegetation, typically grass. But some people have covered their lawn area with concrete, or rock.
“It’s got to be something green or growing,” he said. “If you can park on it, it doesn’t meet the standard.” Paved-over lawn areas will have to be de-paved, but the city will work with residents and property owners about how to best restore their front yards.
Before that crackdown occurs, an extensive outreach program is planned, using information in the water bill mailings, meetings with community groups and more. A problem area would be targeted with doorknob hangers, written in different languages.
“Basically, they’ll say you’d better water your lawn. If you have any questions about what you need, please come down to the planning department and we can give you pamphlets about that,” said Dent.
But after 30 days, enforcement will kick in. “We’re going to treat everyone the same way. We can’t customize it. It’s going to hurt some people in some cases, and that’s why there’s going to be the outreach.”
The top priority right now is the STR problem, in which single-family homes are rented – illegally – to tourists for a few days. Most of those are located in the northeast area of the city near the Anaheim Resort. Dent is looking at ways to approach the problem. He noted that in some cities, utilities are simply shut off to violators.
Dent and the code enforcement staff of four – one supervisor and three officers – are ramping up for a strong effort in that field. “There’s going to be enforcement which will exceed and bypass the times we normally operate to deal with them.”
“I’m excited about the direction code enforcement is headed. The officers are adjusting and I’m going out with them,” he said. “I’m never going to ask them to do anything I haven’t tried out myself.”
Categories: Garden Grove