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Bias Claim Aimed at Santa Ana Housing Action : Group Asks Court Ruling on Code Enforcement

April 23, 1986|ROXANA KOPETMAN | Times Staff Writer

One day after Santa Ana officials pledged to support the city's strict building code enforcement "right to the hilt," an immigrants' rights group that opposes the program Tuesday asked a Superior Court judge to rule whether the city is acting legally.

Saying that Santa Ana's interpretation of the Uniform Building Code is the stiffest in California and discriminates against large families, the Hermandad Mexicana Nacional on Tuesday filed a motion for a summary judgment--or immediate decision--in its effort to have the policy declared unlawful.

Superior Court Judge Judith M. Ryan is expected to hold a June 24 hearing on the request. Earlier the group unsuccessfully asked Ryan to issue a temporary restraining order blocking the eviction of two families under the city's code enforcement program.

Council Backs Policy

At Monday night's City Council meeting, about 400 adults and 100 children protested Santa Ana's code enforcement, charging that it is forcing the eviction of larger families from their homes. But the council unanimously backed the policy during the heated meeting, where the discussion often turned from code enforcement to the nationality of the tenants.

"They are not citizens of this country, why don't we just say it; they are not citizens of this country," resident David Fraunfelder told the council, to the fervent applause of some in the audience.

One man said he noticed that few of the Latinos in the room appeared to know the Pledge of Allegiance--which was recited at the beginning of the meeting--and another said that Santa Ana is "not a sanctuary for illegal aliens."

Harold Retzlaff, 57, complained that he spends his Sundays picking up beer cans from his lawn and blamed the Latino residents of overcrowded apartments for the litter.

"I don't have any place to move to either," Retzlaff said, referring to the Latinos' contention that their families would be displaced by the city's interpretation of the building code. "(But) I can't live like I am anymore."

William Chavez, who noted that he is of Mexican descent, said: "Because after all, this is my country, not theirs. If they're not satisfied with it, I-5 is down the street."

Meanwhile, Nativo Lopez, head of the Hermandad group, said many of the comments were racist in nature.

"Our fight is just. Our fight is correct. And the future is ours," Lopez told the tired, yet enthusiastic crowd.

Lopez said the city is forcing the eviction of about 150 families that have too many members living together, according to the city's interpretation of a state code.

According to the code, there must be 70 square feet of "habitable room" for the first two people and 50 square feet for each additional person. The code defines the space as any that can be used for "living, sleeping, eating or cooking."

Applies to Bedrooms

City officials say the code's definition of livable space applies to the bedroom--not the rest of the dwelling. That means a typical one-bedroom apartment with 120 square feet for the bedroom could house a maximum of three people, said Phil Freeland, executive director of community development and housing.

Lopez said the city's interpretation is too narrow and hurts lower-income Latino families, many of which have more than one or two children. The Hermandad group said county and state public health officials, as well as the engineers who wrote the uniform codes, agree with their interpretation of the code.

During Monday night's meeting, several council members said they were concerned about families that might face eviction. The council said it would try to offer relocation assistance and asked Lopez for a list of names.

In the final minutes of the City Council meeting, as Lopez led his group out the door, one man yelled out, "Go home."

Another said, "Go back to Mexico."

Santa Ana resident Jennie Casamina answered: "There are no wetbacks here. I want you to know we're all citizens."

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