Throughout various Oakdale neighborhoods, there are those houses that tend to stand out and detract from the overall splendor and magnificence this quaint town of 20,000 typically has to offer.
These are the properties, despite the type of neighborhood, that have houses that are abandoned or dilapidated, or with overgrown vegetation, or feature the mechanic’s lawn and driveway strewn with “yard cars” in various stages of repair.
Code enforcement is the regulatory side of neighborhood stabilization. What that means is first, getting private property owners to maintain their structures and property appropriately, and second, if they don’t, having, whether the city or someone else, step in and correct the problem.
The City of Oakdale Public Nuisance Code lists 23 separate violations including overgrown weeds, junk, rubbish, and appliances in yards, along with storing junk vehicles on the property.
Residents are fairly clear that this matters to them. Beautification issues and derelict properties have been major concerns that create hazards, blight, as well as detract from property values.
Some have spoken out at city council meetings for the need of stricter enforcement with others making calls to the city. City code enforcement has the authority to go after property owners under the nuisance ordinances. The public works department used to send inspectors to look for violations and fine negligent property owners as part of its abatement and beatification process. The city’s budget struggles now mean that the problem could get worse.
Although the city claims on its website that a “code enforcement officer” will ascertain if a problem exists, no such dedicated position is with the city.
In 2012, Oakdale passed a budget that included deep cuts to virtually all departments, with the code enforcement position eliminated.
At a recent Oakdale City Council meeting, resident Brewster Burns told the council that it was useless to have the ordinances on the books without any enforcement. He cited a list of daily observations including inoperative cars, run-down houses, unkempt yards and multiple families living in single family dwellings.
“At last check with public works, there was the need for a qualified full-time code enforcer,” Burns told the council. “Not one that just responds solely to complaints.”
When contacted this week, City Manager Bryan Whitemyer said the city has been using a part-time volunteer intern for its code enforcement. He added that there was no code enforcement officer when he assumed the city manager post in February 2013.
Whitemyer said the intern will respond to complaints, examine properties, and send out compliance notices to the property owners.
“It’s not a full-time position, but we’re doing the best we can with our resources,” Whitemyer said.
If the owner doesn’t comply, the city can take action with fines or liens on the property.
“It’s really a courteous approach in case they don’t know,” Whitemyer said. “It’s not a punitive approach because we want to give time to clean it up.”
The housing crisis, while improving, has hit Oakdale hard, and foreclosures and high property turnover took a toll on landscapes and structures throughout the city, not to mention those that just don’t care about their property appearance. Racing around to get houses boarded up and keep weeds at bay is a herculean task for just a part-time intern in a six -square mile city of more than 20,000 residents.
While code enforcement is not a panacea for all blight problems, the reality is that most private property owners, in most neighborhoods, can be motivated with legal recourse to keep up their properties. Getting those owners to maintain their properties responsibly is likely in the final analysis to do more for the neighborhood’s stability than all the new development and rehab activity that is likely to take place if the ordinances are enforced regularly.
Oakdale Mayor Pat Paul said she regularly notifies the city of violations she sees when driving in the city.
“We literally could hire a full-time person to do this with all the shabby yards, broken down cars, and trash I see in yards on a daily basis,” Paul said. “It’s great to have all these rules in the book, but what good are they if we have no one to enforce them?”