America the Messy Yard Police State
Mesa Messy Yard Cops need SnitchesSource
January 20, 2008 - 10:10PM
Compliance office seeks help from Mesa residents
Lindsay Butler, Tribune
Be observant, but be inconspicuous. And don’t look over the fence. Volunteers from four Mesa neighborhoods attended code compliance training this week to learn how to spot common violations as part of a new city program.
The volunteers were warned repeatedly not to cause conflicts with their neighbors over code violations. They also were assured that the city would protect their identities in complaints.
“We’re trying to minimize the possibility that they will get themselves in a position to cause bad feelings or worse,” said code compliance director Mike Renshaw.
The residents are part of the Mesa Volunteer Code Team pilot program, designed to get neighbors involved with code compliance and capitalize on the fact that about 90 percent of violators clean up their properties after one notice.
“By providing extra eyes and attention to these neighborhoods, code officers can invest their time working on the 10 percent of folks who don’t voluntarily remove their violations,” Renshaw said.
At the training, some volunteers seemed very concerned about keeping their identities secret, though residents of the four neighborhoods will soon receive a notice that the program has begun.
Renshaw said anonymity of the code team members was one of the crucial requirements of the City Council when it approved the program last year.
Research of other cities’ programs showed confrontations between neighbors such as shouting matches.
“We have to demonstrate we can avoid these types of conflicts,” Renshaw said.
The four Mesa neighborhoods are Pepper Place, Community Asset and Resource Enterprise Partnership (CARE), Marlborough Mesa and Golden Hills.
Pepper Place is near University Drive and Main Street.
CARE is close to Gilbert Road and Main Street.
Golden Hills comprises 550 homes between Broadway Road and Southern Avenue near Power Road.
Marlborough Mesa is close to Guadalupe and Alma School Road.
Soon, residents in those areas found with violations will receive a courtesy violation notice and 10 days to get rid of the problem.
If the problems persist, the case will be turned over to the city for enforcement.
The volunteers will be looking for common problems such as tall weeds, vehicle parts in the yard, broken-down vehicles and boats parked on driveways.
They are not allowed to enter the property, carry a weapon while on patrol, peer over walls or make direct contact with property owners.
The violations must be witnessed from the street, and anyone found to be reporting false incidents or targeting residents unfairly will be dropped from the team.
The code teams evolved from a grass-roots effort by Mesa residents wanting to do something about neighborhood blight. They originally suggested the idea to the city, which studied similar programs in other cities before finally granting approval.
The city is hoping the program will help a department that has seen cuts in the past two years, with staff reduced from 19 to 14 full-time employees.
Since word has spread, the city has heard from residents eager to participate but unable to be on the team. They’ll work in the code compliance office stuffing envelopes with courtesy notices.
It is crucial the volunteer program not add more work for code officers, other than violation investigations, Renshaw said.
“We’re anticipating that if the program becomes as strong as I think it can, the number of compliance cases we receive will go up as officers are asked to investigate,” he said. “We’ll see a spike in the four neighborhoods but over the long term those will flatten out as people get more comfortable.”
The city also is hoping the personal connection between neighbors will help spread the word about programs that can help, such as the tool-lending program and Boy Scout community service projects.
Code Compliance will report to the city in six months on the program’s progress.
How it will work
1. Volunteer notes violation in the neighborhood, sends information to group leader.
2. Group leader drops off all violations in area to Mesa Code Compliance weekly.
3. Code Compliance checks information and sends courtesy letters to owners.
4. If after 10 days neighbors notice the problem still exists, case is sent to Code Compliance for enforcement.
What they’ll look for
Vegetation: Dead or dried plants. Weeds or grass above 9 inches.
Vehicles: Inoperable vehicles within view. Car covers, tarps or shades don’t count as screens.
Junk: Auto parts, appliances, furniture, building materials, tires, paper, cardboard, aluminum or steel cans, tree trimmings or fallen tree limbs in yard.
Storage: Equipment, building materials, auto parts, appliances, mattresses, boxes not screened by a fence or stored within enclosed building or garage.
Watercraft and trailers: Boats and trailers must be stored in backyard or side yard. If more than 6 feet tall, must be screened with 6-foot opaque fence. If more than 30 feet long, must be stored in backyard.