The City Different may not always please its constituents, but it doesn’t completely ignore them, either.
There are myriad ways city residents can register their complaints—walk-in bitch sessions, phone calls, emails, letters and an electronic “Request Tracker” system.
And complain they do. There are 300 or so complaints on file for this year alone in just the Inspections and Enforcement Division (the city divides complaints by city departments and violation types). While the city was unable to quickly provide all code complaints to SFR for review, it did make available the 15 considered the most egregious—relatively speaking.
Constituent Services Manager Sevastian Gurulé says most complaints inside city limits tend toward the mundane—“weeds, trash, litter” and, especially during election season, leftover campaign signs. “I have not seen one [complaint] that is outrageous,” Gurulé says. With five enforcement officers, he says, the city can usually have an inspector visit a complaint site within 24 hours. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job keeping up,” Gurulé tells SFR.
Yet, like the county’s, it’s a system that depends on constituents to alert enforcement officers.
108 Candelario St. Filed: Dec. 8, 2009 Alleged violation: building without a proper permit Status: pending a hearing later this month with a city appeals officer Complaint: Before Janet Lowe began remodeling her historic home last summer, she says she jumped through every city hoop: building permits, inspections, public notice and the approval of the city’s Historic Design Review Board.
Janet Lowe’s second-floor portal at 108 Candelario St. has led to complaints and neighborhood controversy.
But four months after construction started, Lowe’s next-door neighbor, Patricia Conoway, wrote a letter to the city in protest. Though Conoway worried that a second-floor deck Lowe was building would “set a precedent” for outsize houses in historic districts, her chief concern wasn’t the deck itself—rather that the city allowed it without properly notifying the public.
“They didn’t follow their own rules,” Conoway says. City officials ultimately conceded that the public hearing announcement posted on Lowe’s fence didn’t have a date or contact phone number and made Lowe reapply. The deck was reapproved in March, but Conoway has appealed it.
Lowe says the process shows that city building permits are meaningless.
“I don’t understand how you can issue a building permit and put people through all those steps—the Historic [Design] Review Board, building inspections and everything—and then turn around and say, ‘Oh, wait a minute, maybe you can’t do this after all,’” Lowe says. “It’s not like I’m trying to build a Victorian home in the middle of the barrio.”
515 Lolita St. Filed: March 19 Alleged violation: landscaping business being operated out of a residence Status: The city is monitoring the property to see if there’s a noise violation.
Commercial meets residential at 515 Lolita St.
Complaint: The complainant, whose name and address were redacted by city officials, alleges that trucks from his/her neighbor’s illegal landscaping business create noise and exhaust and take up limited parking.
“Once the trucks start up we’re forced to close all our doors and windows,” the complaint reads. “My biggest worry if [redacted] knows about me complaining that he may retaliate,” the complainant writes (in all-caps).
James Gonzales, the owner of the landscaping business, says he applied for and got a home occupancy business permit 10 years ago. “I’m legal,” Gonzales tells SFR. “This certain neighbor is just making it very difficult for me.”
639 Old Santa Fe Trail Filed: Feb. 15 Alleged violation: residence “looks like a junk yard,” the original complaint reads Status: Following a May 21 hearing, Municipal Court Judge Ann Yalman gave the property owners until June 30 to bring their property into compliance. Complaint: The complainant, whose name was also redacted, reported through City Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger that his/her neighbor had trash and a collection of “junk cars” in plain view.
At 639 Old Santa Fe Trail, city offi cials and neighbors differ on whether these cars are junk or antiques.
Ordinance Enforcement Specialist Tomas Herrera closed the case just days after it was filed, stating that the cars were antiques being restored. Wurzburger requested in May that the case be reopened.
“A lot of progress in cleaning up the property has been made,” the subsequent complaint reads, “but a lot remains to be done.”
A complainant says the too-tall wall on the corner of Calle Corazon inhibits drivers’ visibility.
118 Calle Corazon Filed: May 17 Alleged violation: building without a permit Status: Gurulé says the wall was built before the property was annexed into the city, and that the city is still reviewing whether it interferes with traffic.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that a newly built, 6-foot wall was built without a permit and is high enough to obscure drivers’ view of the road.