A plan to require regular inspections of nearly 350 housing units was put on hold after an apartment owners' group proposed a compromise they say will guard against overzealous code enforcement officers.
Last month, the City Council gave preliminary approval to an ordinance that authorized annual inspections of the apartments for the next three years. Council members agreed to put off final approval of the plan until March 17.
The inspections were part of the city's Operation Cleanup Program, which has targeted the 300 and 400 blocks of West Valencia Drive and the 2300 block of West Baker Avenue in an attempt to rid them of crime, drug activity and substandard housing.
But apartment owners are upset with the plan, saying it opens the way for inspectors to find problems with their buildings even though no tenant has complained to the city.
"If (an inspector) really wants to be a stickler and conduct a witch hunt, he can find something," said Richard Lambros, a spokesman for the Apartment Assn. of Orange County. " . . . We support what the city is trying to do, but we're concerned that in the process, they don't capture the responsible owner in that broad net."
When Operation Cleanup began in October, 1990, city officials made initial inspections of the units, issued citations and required improvements. Although the efforts were successful, city officials said some of the units have deteriorated.
The association has called on the city not to reinspect properties that had no violations when the Operation Cleanup program was launched. In other words, if no violations were found and the city hasn't had any complaints, "there would be no reason to reinspect the unit," Lambros said.
The group also has asked the city to include a list of "priority items" for inspectors to check on. For example, a collapsing roof would be ranked higher in importance than chipped paint. On those grounds, decisions on whether to require repairs and follow-up inspections would be based on the importance of the violations, Lambros said.
"It's a safety valve so the responsible guys aren't caught up in this too," Lambros said. "It's going to benefit the responsible owners and target the irresponsible ones."
City officials and apartment owners are expected to meet this month or next to talk about a compromise.
Mayor Don Bankhead, who supported the city inspection plan, said meeting with the apartment owners could clear up misunderstandings. Still, he said there is a need for reinspections to keep the program viable.
"I want to make sure that our work (in the Project Cleanup areas) is not in vain," he said.