Santa Ana should decide whether to maintain the aggressive stance of its building code enforcement unit and should then re-evaluate staffing requirements, according to a city-sponsored independent report of the program released Wednesday.
The report, the result of a scheduled evaluation of the 2-year-old program, added that the city should consider setting up a court system similar to traffic court to handle all housing code cases and should translate brochures and citations into Spanish and other languages.
Despite those recommendations, the report stressed that the city's aggressive housing code enforcement program has been successful in combatting aging and deteriorating housing: "The Community Preservation Department . . . has successfully provided a high level of service to the community, only two years after the program was expanded."
David Ream, who will take over as city manager Monday, said he thinks the report shows that there are no major flaws in the system. "We've found that, like any new program that grows very quickly, you have to review it periodically," he said.
Code enforcement inspectors began to concentrate on older areas of the city in April, 1984, after the City Council determined that a program was necessary to ensure that Santa Ana's aging housing stock was brought up to livable standards. Inspectors look for overcrowding as well as violations of the various building codes.
Notices and orders to correct violations swelled from 400 in 1983-84--before the new system--to about a thousand in 1985-86, the report shows, while notices of violations for less serious offenses went from 265 to 1,533 in the same period. The Community Preservation Department budget rose from $359,695 in 1981-82 to $601,320 in 1983-84 and $1,959,545 in 1985-86.
Ream said programs similar to Santa Ana's are being used in other older Southern California cities such as Los Angeles, Inglewood and Long Beach that have had a boom in residential building in the last few decades. Because building inspectors had their hands full checking new construction, existing structures hadn't gotten the attention they required and cities are attempting to catch up.
Admittedly, said Ream, "it's a lot easier to do that and much more rewarding--to go out with a contractor who's building new houses instead of going down to slum areas and knocking on doors. You're bringing good news instead of bad."
The program has brought criticism and support from both landlords and tenants. Members of a citywide rent strike movement argue that code enforcement that results in closed housing isn't effective. Although Santa Ana provides up to $1,500 per family for relocation assistance, critics say the families can't find places to go in the crowded city. "It just isn't enough," said tenant spokesman Nativo Lopez, who heads an immigrant rights' group. "Not at all, especially when you consider the housing crunch in Santa Ana."
But upgrading and maintaining that housing stock is vital, said Ream, who doesn't envision any slowing of the process during his tenure as city manager. "I think it's one of those basic governmental functions just like police and fire and tree trimming," he said.
Ream said he expects a plan for implementation of various recommendations to be voted on by the City Council at its final 1986-87 budget hearings in August.