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‘A systemic failure’: La Jolla Community Planning Association seeks remedy for code enforcement issues

The La Jolla Community Planning Association discusses issues with code enforcement during its Aug. 5 meeting.
The La Jolla Community Planning Association discusses issues with Code Enforcement during its Aug. 5 meeting.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

One way or another, the La Jolla Community Planning Association wants to hold the San Diego department of Code Enforcement (sometimes referred to as Code Compliance) responsible for what it sees as “a systemic failure” and years of inaction following complaints, letters and reports of housing projects being constructed outside of what is allowed by local code.

Without deciding on a specific avenue, LJCPA discussed the idea at its Aug. 5 meeting, where LJCPA President Diane Kane said there are “a number of [development] projects that have gone awry in the last year or so … for a number of different reasons,” but those reasons largely originated with the city’s Development Services Department, which oversees the department of Code Enforcement.

“Appropriate permits haven’t been issued, permits have been exceeded, code violations have been reported and then have continued on, it’s all over the map,” she said as examples. Kane showed photos of houses for which Coastal Development Permits should have been required, but were never filed; houses whose redevelopment violated the so-called “50-percent rule,” through which a CDP can be bypassed if 50 percent of the original walls remain during remodel; houses that exceed the 30-foot height limit; houses that should have undergone community review but didn’t; and more.

“There is clearly a systemic failure here ... that is many years in the making,” Kane said.

Speaking for the department, city spokesman Scott Robinson said after the meeting, “Projects are thoroughly reviewed for compliance with the Land Development Code and the building code. Any changes to an approved building permit must be reviewed and resubmitted as a construction change. DSD’s Building Construction and Safety Division notifies contractors when required, and issues correction notices when work does not match the approved plans.”

In the past, the LJCPA would write letters alerting Code Enforcement of properties believed to be in violation but received little if any response.

As to perception that Code Enforcement was not responding to La Jolla’s concerns, Robinson added, “Code Enforcement equally responds to all requests for investigations throughout the city, regardless of the location or community where the violation exists. As soon as a request for an investigation is received, Code Enforcement immediately assigns a priority to each request with cases posing imminent health and safety hazards or having significant code violations given the highest priority. Community members are more likely to perceive issues within their community than other locations throughout the city, generally because their community is where they most frequent.”

Because the department — from the inspectors to the chief operating officer — reports to the mayor, some LJCPA meeting attendees suggested starting at the top.

La Jollan Jim Fitzgerald suggested giving a list of complaints and violations to the mayor’s office. “DSD needs to be held accountable, and no one is holding them accountable,” he said. “That has to start with the mayor. We raise the issues and they get ignored, because DSD doesn’t answer to us.”

Another option being considered is presenting before a board known as the San Diego County Grand Jury, which is independent of a grand jury found in the legal process.

In San Diego County, the Grand Jury reviews the methods and operations within the county and its 18 incorporated areas to determine whether they can be made more efficient, effective and responsive to the needs of the community. From there, the Grand Jury can make a recommendation for the city to consider.

Noting that no one from the mayor’s office or the department of Code Enforcement was in attendance, LJCPA trustee Jodi Rudick asked that someone from the department be invited to speak at an upcoming meeting and address these issues before proceeding with any specific action. “I’m hearing us speak on behalf of code compliance and I would like to hear from them … to speak on their own behalf in the public record at a meeting.”

The issue will be revisited at a future meeting.

Other code enforcement issues

As a complement to the discussion of Code Enforcement, the LJCPA’s coastal overlooks committee presented findings during the Aug. 5 meeting that centered specifically on violations of required coastal views.

Committee member Meredith Baratz said “the foundation of the committee’s work is the clear direction provided by the La Jolla Community Plan and the Coastal Act that the California coast is to be preserved and made accessible for public enjoyment.”

She said that can be done in four ways: physical beach access, scenic overlooks, views over private property and view corridors between houses to the ocean from the first public roadway. The committee spent most of its time discussing the latter.

The committee looked at 133 properties that showcased whether La Jolla developments were honoring that requirement in Bird Rock and La Jolla Hermosa, with other samples in La Jolla Shores and La Jolla Farms. Finding that many did not, the committee identified “several obstacles” to compliance.

Based on its research, the committee crafted a list of 10 recommendations to submit to the city, which ranged from creating informational bulletins that explain the La Jolla Community Plan and San Diego’s Land Development Code, to a checklist for developers to adhere to and “stiff” penalties for non-compliance.

A motion to send the findings to the city passed 13-0-1.

La Jolla Community Planning Association next meets 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 2. It is not yet know whether the meeting will be online, in person or a hybrid. Learn more: lajollacpa.org. ◆