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Code Enforcement stepping up efforts

A car in a driveway that is undergoing major repairs in violation of city codes.
A car in a driveway that is undergoing major repairs in violation of city codes.

Everyone has a sense of pride in their neighborhood. Whether it’s the one where they grew up, or the one where they just moved to, it is home, and people want it clean, safe and livable.

Most of the time that comes with the territory — when it doesn’t, Merced’s Code Enforcement can help.

Code Enforcement Officers can assist people in becoming good neighbors when a car parked on the front lawn, mattresses are abandoned in an alley or basketball hoops are blocking the sidewalks.

Last year the Merced Police Department’s Code Enforcement Division had 2,521 cases, and closed 80 percent of them within 30 days.

“Voluntary compliance is the goal,” said Code Enforcement Officer Jackie Hicks. “When people get the notice that usually takes care of it. It’s rare that we have people fight it.”

The three Code Enforcement officers are usually out in the field talking with residents, explaining what the City’s codes are, along with other laws that apply.

“A lot of it is educating people,” said Code Enforcement Officer Ken Bogle. “Half the people are unaware of the law. If someone does it, everyone thinks it’s normal.”

“Cars and trash cans are our biggest issues,” Hicks said. Cars on lawns, parked for long periods of time, or undergoing massive repairs on the driveway are some of the vehicle issues. Trash cans left on the street for days or weeks, or even used to reserve parking spots, are some of the other kinds of issues the Code Enforcement Officers face daily.

The Code Enforcement Officers do have some unusual calls to break up the day, like the one they got about the koi pond flooded by a neighbor’s broken water line. Then there was the call about the hen laying eggs on the neighbor’s front porch.

Some of the other issues they deal with are:
  • Abandoned appliances
  • Illegal dumping
  • Lack of regular landscape maintenance
  • Dilapidated fences or buildings
  • Overgrown vegetation
  • Unsecured abandoned buildings
  • Major repairs of vehicles in residential areas without a permit
  • Illegal businesses in a residential area
  • Parking on lawns
  • Property conditions that could depreciate the value of neighboring properties

Landlord-tenant issues are a regular issue, and Hicks can tell stories about bad property owners. However, she can also match them with stories about renters who create problems, too.

There does seem to be a common element to many of the calls they get.

“It starts with the residents wanting to make it a better place to live,” Bogle said. Once that starts on a block or neighborhood, it can catch on. “Community pride, community involvement, it works,” he said. “Neighborhood Watch is also great. Every neighborhood should have it.”

Residents can help to improve their neighborhoods, keeping them safe and good looking:
  • Make improvements to your own property. Sometimes just one person making improvements is enough to encourage an entire neighborhood to make changes.
  • Look around. Become familiar with your neighborhood and its needs.
  • Work with your neighbors. Seek a solution together.
  • Get involved. Meet your neighbors. Become part of your local Neighborhood Watch program. If there isn’t one, get together with your neighbors and start one.

Code Enforcement also is part of the City’s Substandard Building Joint Task Force created to deal with blighted properties and unresponsive property owners. The group includes members from Police, Fire, Building and the City Attorney’s Office that has abated properties after a lengthy process. Even then, voluntary compliance is still the goal, and owners usually decide the clean up their property rather than go to court.

Reach Code Enforcement by calling 209-385-6912, or by using the Merced Connect app. However, expect to leave a message. They will call you back, but they spend most of their time out in the field responding to the calls they get.

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