Nobody wants their neighborhood to look like a junkyard. Well, there’s that guy down the street whose yard and driveway look like the set of “Sanford & Son.”
For problems on private property, Chula Vista residents may complain to the code enforcement department. Good luck with that. Code enforcement will have a look and send you a form letter saying the issue is out of their hands because it isn’t a safety hazard.
I don’t blame the code folks. Ten years driving a patrol car taught me that people can be pigs and jerks, making life miserable for those around them, and still stay within the law. This means that good, right-thinking citizens have to put up with the neighborhood eyesore and slob.
Abandoned vehicles on the public street are a different matter. Something can be done. Operating out of the Chula Vista police traffic division, the vehicle abatement program is a busy, active concern. Headed up by community service officer Johnny Jackson, the unit handles 20 to 40 complaints a week.
Officer Jackson has been with the police over 11 years and has headed up vehicle abatement for four years. Of the complaints, five to 10 vehicles are usually towed during a given week. Jackson is assisted by community service officer Monica Medina.
It works like this: A citizen, police officer, or business owner will see a vehicle that’s been sitting on the street and not moved for a while. The vehicle looks abandoned. The citizen or business owner will call the hotline and give information on the vehicle. A “Notice to Remove” form will be filled out and put on the windshield, giving the owner 72 hours to move it.
The person putting the notice on the vehicle will chalk mark one or more of the tires. They will note spider webs going from the street to the vehicle. On older vehicles, the officer will note the mileage on the odometer.
Although the notice mandates removal within 72 hours, the reality is that the vehicle isn’t usually checked again for five days. This gives the owner ample time to take care of the matter, either repairing it or towing it to be repaired or junked.
The vehicle abatement program is not without its drama. Jackson has heard every excuse there is why a given vehicle should not be towed. Someone will come charging out of the house when they hear the tow truck hooking up a vehicle. “I just drove that car to the store.”
Jackson will say, “Well, did you put that chalk mark on the tire and the street when you got home? By the way, you have the fastest spiders in town because they’ve spun a nice web in the hour you’ve been back. Besides, the odometer hasn’t changed since last week when we marked it.” Some people threaten to sue the city to recover towing and storage costs, but no one has ever followed through and sued.
Once a vehicle is towed, the owner must go to the police department and pay an administrative fee, then go to the tow yard to pay an impound and storage fee. The simple solution is to maintain your vehicle. If it’s broken and not repairable, sell it to an auto recycling place or call one of the many charitable organizations that accept vehicles. Chula Vistans don’t want their neighborhoods looking like a war zone.
While downtown and wearing my trademark fedora, I heard someone yell my name. As I turned, an apparently homeless guy approached and said, “You’re Tom from the Star-News, aren’t you?” We shook hands and he said he loves my column, and produced a paper from his belongings. He said he hoped I felt better too. I have received writing awards before, but this man’s statement was the highest praise ever. Thank you, Dan.
Basinski is a retired police officer.