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Nuisance ordinance draws criticism

Some detractors say the proposal is too broad, and another asks if it violates the 4th Amendment.

June 18, 2013|By Bradley Zint

The Costa Mesa City Council faced a heap of criticism Tuesday evening during a public hearing on a proposed ordinance intended to address derelict buildings and other grievances.

But while critics called the Public Nuisance Abatement Ordinance too broad and open to considerable discretion, city officials contended that it would expand the city's ability to address problem properties like crime-ridden motels, sober-living homes and buildings that are structurally unsafe, fire hazards or sites of excessive noise.

Under the ordinance, so-called "public nuisances" are defined broadly. City officials said the nuisance law would be a cost-saving measure that would better streamline the enforcement process. Furthermore, it would be sparingly used, they said.

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The ordinance received Planning Commission approval in May.

"We're not doing this to have Gestapo-like tactics," said assistant CEO Rick Francis. "But some of our residents are creating real problems, and we want to address these things."

Eleanor Egan, a former planning commissioner and frequent council critic, said the city "can't just declare something a nuisance because you want to … it needs to be a danger to public health or safety."

She also that if the ordinance is really intended to address crime-ridden properties, that would be mean targeting an area with a significant rate of crime: 3333 Bristol St., otherwise known as South Coast Plaza.

"Just because there is a lot of criminal activity at a location doesn't mean the property owner is at fault," Egan said.

Greg Ridge, another frequent council critic, compared the ordinance to "listening to rules from my mom."

Councilwoman Sandy Genis, who said such power could leave the door open to governmental abuse, asked Deputy City Attorney Elena Gerli about any conflict with the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which bans unreasonable searches and seizures.

Gerli said there "are definitely constitutional rights at issue here, but that's what due process is for."

Entry into any suspect properties would be permitted by consent or by court order, the latter of which could be obtained after an appeals process that gives the affected property owners several chances to fix the issue.

"If they just won't comply, that's when we get a court order to abate," Gerli said.

Around 40 minutes into the discussions, Mayor Jim Righeimer asked Genis to speed up the process so the council could continue with its other business.

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