Santa Fe County's code-enforcement efforts seem doomed. There are only three people to enforce the rules on everything from illegal trash dumping to unpermitted structures and black-market businesses over an area three times the size of Houston, Phoenix or Los Angeles.
With such puny resources devoted to the area, surprise inspections are out of the question. "We go out and enforce problems only if a neighbor complained," County Development Review Division Director Shelley Cobau says.
Although the county has a new email address for code complaints firstname.lastname@example.org—most are still taken down in longhand. A few years ago, Cobau requested money for a fourth inspector. "That's not going to be feasible, with this economy," she says While the county's citation for code violations of the politically connected Advantage Asphalt has made headlines of late, the most routine complaints regard junk cars, litter and unpermitted development, according to Cobau. And while those may sound like petty nuisances, they can have serious consequences—and not just for neighbors' property values. The following are among the dozens of complaints to the Santa Fe County Land Use Department from the beginning of 2010 through mid-May:
• In Glorieta, a woman complained of junk cars and trash "sitting in [the] same spot for about 20 years" next door. Their pigs smell so bad, her complaint says, that she can't open any windows.
• In Santa Fe, a man complained that besides looking "tacky" and "low income," the neighbor's lot full of
junk cars was "attracting vermin" to his property.
In April, a neighbor complained about these unused vehicles on La Luna Road, which remain despite the county's 30-day cleanup policy.
• In Edgewood, a man said he's grown tired of debris, including "rats and rat parts" littering the neighbor's driveway.
• In Stanley, a woman complained of an unlicensed massage parlor and sweat lodge that produced "non-stop drumming." She fears people could die from exhaustion during a sweat, as happened recently in Sedona, Ariz., in a case that made national headlines.
With only three officers, the enforcers obviously can’t find every violation. But SFR’s review suggests the county fails to address some of the problems it already knows about.
A neighbor complained about alleged squatters using an outhouse at this Calle Nopalitos address.
Julianna Petrissans, who has lived on Calle Nopalitos near Buckman Road for about five years, says she’s been trying since last fall to get the county to address her neighbors’ “ridiculous, unsightly mess.” In April, records show she filed another complaint about “squatters” across the street. A month later, she tells SFR, nothing has been done—even though the county says it responds to most complaints within 48 hours.
“I just paid $4,000 in property taxes, and they’re twiddling their thumbs,” Petrissans tells SFR. “It looks like the county doesn’t want to do their job.”
Petrissans lives an area that is scheduled for annexation—but not until 2013.
She says the county has refused to send an inspector to the suspect property, citing ongoing negotiations with the City of Santa Fe.
In the meantime, she's trying to sell her house and says her neighbors' code problems aren't helping.
"Nobody's going to give me a half-million dollars for my house because of these people across the street," she says.
She says the people living in a small camper have installed an outdoor shower and outhouse, and frequently litter the lot with garbage.
The trailer's listed address is 3 Calle Nopalitos, a number that doesn't appear in the county's property records database. "It's made up," Petrissans says. "It's not a legal address."
An undated, anonymous complaint to the county and the New Mexico Environment Department cited multiple unpermitted trailers with no septic systems and a common cesspool on a lot on Camino San Jose, across from the county-owned La Cienega Community Center.
"The area looks third-world, with much trash and debris and old appliances and old vehicles strewn all over," the complaint says. "At times [there are] even dead dogs along the creek that people irrigate crops from."
SFR couldn’t find phone numbers for the registered property owners.
The neighborhood should be familiar to the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office.
Deputies arrested three people, including a violent repeat offender, in a brawl there last September, and responded to a home burglary in February.
Some cities and counties around the country have had some success organizing “neighborhood enforcement teams,” combining the efforts of police, fire marshals and code-enforcement officers. That level of coordination is lacking here. Solano tells SFR his officers aren’t trained to identify code complaints, but carry a list of numbers should they encounter one. None of the code complaints reviewed by SFR contain obvious referrals from law enforcement officers.
An anonymous neighbor complained about dead dogs in a de facto mobile home park on Camino San Jose.