August 12, 2008
If Only We Didn’t Get So Nervous Every Time We Heard “Blight”
"Owners of blighted properties in [San Francisco] could be punished for allowing their buildings to fall into disrepair, according to new legislation to be introduced today.
The Department of Public Works would be empowered to go after owners of blighted properties and even perform the repair work and stick owners with the bill afterward.”
“Under the proposal, owners would be given 30 days to fix what is asked of them. If they fail, the department could perform the needed repairs itself and charge the owner. Failing to address the identified blight could also result in fines of up to $1,000 per day.
Under the law, a property could be considered blighted for a number of different reasons — dead trees, rank growth, garbage, litter, debris, flyers or if the paint on a building’s exterior is worn off. Other examples include deterioration of the building’s exterior stairs, roofs, or the property’s driveways or walkways; or defaced or broken windows.”
∙ Proposal targets delinquent owners [Examiner]
First Published: August 12, 2008 8:45 AM
Comments from "Plugged In" Readers
This legislation needs to be two parts.
The owner pays for the upkeep of blighted properties s/he owns.
The city pays for the upkeep of blighted properties that are privately owned, but unoccupied and have been deemed "historic".
Exhibit A: 15th and Dolores
Posted by: Espumoso at August 12, 2008 9:15 AM
There is another one of these at Pierce and Waller. It has been empty since 2005 or before and is a waste of prime real estate.
Posted by: Tweety at August 12, 2008 9:24 AM
So this will not apply to the North Beach Pagoda? Isn't that blighted?
Posted by: jessep at August 12, 2008 9:27 AM
"Exhibit A: 15th and Dolores"
Absolutely! Even if someone imagines the fire-damaged house is worth saving, I can't fathom why the vacant lot stays that way (vacant, of course, except for the trash blowing through it and the graffiti on the walls of the adjoining building). This site literally cries out to be put to productive use.
Posted by: zzzzzzzz at August 12, 2008 9:33 AM
They could go crazy in the Mission if all those examples qualify. I think this is good for the community - I'm tired of seeing homes that look like they haven't had maintenance in over 50 years.
Posted by: Jim at August 12, 2008 9:35 AM
I actually think this is fantastic. Does anyone know where the sups stand on this? I think this would be great for neighborhood groups that want to improve the quality of life in their communities.
Posted by: anon at August 12, 2008 9:40 AM
I agree with the general gist of the idea, but implementation may be sticky
"Under the proposal, owners would be given 30 days to fix what is asked of them. If they fail, the department could perform the needed repairs itself and charge the owner. Failing to address the identified blight could also result in fines of up to $1,000 per day."
I might change this to owners being given 30 day to RESPOND to the allegations of blight. for instance what if my house burns down, and I'm waiting for insurance money and also waiting for a contractor etc to come fix the blight?
30 days isn't a lot of time. Especially for a lot of the absentee owners in SF.
I'd also like to see who defines blight.
Posted by: ex SF-er at August 12, 2008 9:49 AM
Another piece of pie-in-the-sky idealogical legislation that sounds great when dreamy liberals concoct it, then proves impossible or economically unfeasible to implement.
Let's say somebody's property is declared blighted, and they're ordered to fix it. But they can't afford to or refuse. What then? How long will the $1,000/day fines mount? Or will the city use our tax dollars to send people to fix it? And what next? Mechanics' liens on the properties? Will the city foreclose on these homes if the owners don't pay?
This law either A) does nothing, or B) creates a free landscaping program for homeowners, paid for by city taxes. Given the jobs program that our city government has become, B is more likely.
So on that note, I'd like to suggest we add a rider to the legislation which would create a Director of Blight Prevention position in City Hall. Said Director would need a base salary of at least $200K a year, and a department of 10 people. And of course, since it's San Francisco, ZERO accountability. Perfect.
Posted by: Dude at August 12, 2008 9:59 AM
Interesting proposal. Maybe it'll help SF look less like an Argentinian shanty town.
Posted by: sidney W. at August 12, 2008 10:25 AM
Does the consistent presence of aggressive pan-handlers constitute blight.....
Posted by: Dede at August 12, 2008 10:38 AM
This will never in a million years be enforced. Too bad.
Posted by: anon at August 12, 2008 10:43 AM
Before going this direction, SF should take a lesson from San Jose (no, really). Back in the days of Hizronner Gonzalez there was the infamous redevelopment-motivated "blight", where laughable definitions of blight were applied to healthy properties. IIRC, this included the Tropicana mall, where the owner successfully fought back against a city attempt to transfer ownership (costing the city millions), and the attempt to declare entire neighborhood "blighted", such that it could become eligible for eminent domain takings by the San Jose Redevelopment Agency. To do this, a certain percentage of properties in that neighborhood had to meet the blight definition, so city inspectors came up with inventive forms of blight such as "excessive leaves on tennis court".
Be very careful where you go with a "blight" tool that can result in property takings ($1000/day fines will result in a taking)--SF land politics are already very convoluted.
Posted by: Delancey at August 12, 2008 10:44 AM
I don't see how this is that different from the ordinances that require property owners to clean-up graffiti on their property or risk fines.
Posted by: urban dweller at August 12, 2008 10:50 AM
I smell a budget deficit and the need for revenue generation coming out of City Hall. I can almost guarantee that there is an existing law that allows the City to go after negligent property owners when the lack of upkeep on their property becomes dangerous to the public. A law like this overkill as it gives the City too broad of a reach to come after property owners that some political hack has a grudge against... (speak out against a supe at a public meeting and get fined for cracks in the sidewalk in front of your house?). Worse, what about properties where previous City policies cause the nuisanace (Pagododa Theatre in North Beach, or deferred maintenance caused brought about by rent control)? I can see the line of politically connected folks down at City Hall now, ready to accuse other property owners of "blight" to score property at firesale prices from folks who won't/aren't able to afford the fix or the fines. Not to mention the fact that the City already does a horrifc job a maintaining it's own property...do I get a piece of the fine against the City for the giant potholes in fron of my house?
Posted by: Ricardo at August 12, 2008 10:59 AM
The difference, as the above comments allude to, is the ambiguity and potential breadth in the term "blight." This legislation would give somebody in this city a whole lot of power. Don't like it.
Posted by: sanfrantim at August 12, 2008 11:00 AM
"I smell a budget deficit and the need for revenue generation coming out of City Hall."
Posted by: anoncensorious at August 12, 2008 11:14 AM
I would second the BINGO comment. Dude nailed the issue with his comment. If you stack a misguided initiative on top of a mismanaged department, pretty soon you have the $6B bloated government of San Francisco. It should be completely zero-based.
Posted by: FSBO at August 12, 2008 11:24 AM
Are they going to give an exemption to owners of property subject to rent control?
Posted by: GM at August 12, 2008 11:39 AM
Dude's definitely on target here.
No surprise really that SF is getting into this sort of issue. The twin - and HUGE - distortions of prop 13 and rent control almost guarantee that property will not be put to its highest and best use, and virtually guarantees an ossifying city.
Add to this backdrop a huge helping of NIMBYism, difficult regulatory/zoning/planning processes, fractured politics in which huge numbers of entrenched interests have no way of resolving their differences except through political influence/pandering, and you almost guarantee stagnation.
What happens when one of these "blighted" properties turns out to be a 5,000 square foot mansion in St. Francis, in which a single old lady of 85 lives - paying $1500 per year in property tax - claims that she is too indigent too clean up the property? Do we add a subsidy program to "help her keep her home", and then add another tax somehwhere to pay for it? (Don't laugh. I've SEEN it. Well, the practically fall-down blight of some old houses on the border of St. Francis...)
Posted by: Satchel at August 12, 2008 11:43 AM
It's either tax revenues, or the city is having problems in district 10 with foreclosed properties and is bracing for more foreclosures.
Posted by: tipster at August 12, 2008 12:54 PM
Here is what bugs me... there are countless lots that are vacant for DECADES, if not longer. People hold on to them in some hope to either develop them or wait until someone comes along. Many of these are great commercial lots. But when the time comes, they finally decide to list the lot for the bare-minimum price the market will bear. Oh well.
Posted by: SperryVanNess at August 12, 2008 2:12 PM
This will definitely improve our neighborhoods and the architectural integrity of our buildings. It seems like the only people who would be opposed to this are slumlords.
Posted by: DrewSF77 at August 12, 2008 2:13 PM
I honestly don't care much about Joe Q. Public letting his property get run down and I assume there are extant laws that could be used to force compliance with health/safety/fire/etc if an occupied property is in disrepair.
Living near 15th / Dolores, I want the city to take some responsibility when it decides to deem a decrepit property "historic". I'm not particularly pro development, but I do feel for the developer (whom I've met and in person is a d!&k) who had plans all laid out for this location, then had the preservation society chime in and deep-six the whole thing. The guy owes over $24,000 in delinquent property taxes.
Posted by: Espumoso at August 12, 2008 2:22 PM
People are getting the context here wrong. The mayor and his people are tired of seeing the City run down. Existing laws were used to force that one tower in the Tenderloin to fix their exterior. This will apply to a broader range of issues. As always, it is the most serious problems that will be tackled first. That means abandoned lots and properties with seriously damaged exteriors. The idea that this is going to be used for nefarious redevelopment or ousting old ladies is kind of silly.
As for this being difficult on out of town landlords, if they can't address serious problems with their properties in thirty days then they are already running a deficit in their property management structure and are best forced out sooner rather than later.
Posted by: Mole Man at August 12, 2008 4:02 PM
These laws are always adused by Cities. Someone like Daly finds an enemy or a building he doesn't like, pushes the city to deem it "blighted" -- suddenly you have to hire a lawyer to fight. If you don't have a lawyer, the City gets your property and you lose.
NYC deemed a department store "blighted" because the fashions they stocked were a bit our of data.
This sort of power corrupts, very quickly.
Posted by: Mark at August 12, 2008 4:51 PM
This is informative:
Posted by: "Dave" at August 12, 2008 5:22 PM
This is awesome. So many borderline neighborhoods where owners are just sitting on their decrepit homes will finally have to do something. I love it.
Posted by: Cody at August 12, 2008 7:08 PM
I am astonished that The City does not already have the power to do this. Usually, the cost is placed as a lien on the property if the current owner does not pay, that way no one is forced out, but the heir is forced to pay for maintenance.
I think this is a good idea in general, but the devil is always in the details.
Posted by: NoeValleyJim at August 12, 2008 8:54 PM
Kudos to "Dave" for posting the direct link to the proposed legislation. Always a good idea to go to the source. As many surmise, there are already city codes for much of this, but it follows the very successful San Jose model to pull them together.
I'm all for it.
Posted by: BernalDweller at August 12, 2008 10:00 PM
"As for this being difficult on out of town landlords, if they can't address serious problems with their properties in thirty days"
I didn't just bring up the absentee landlords. I also discussed the problem with FIXING a problem within 30 days.
How about this. You own a home in Noe Valley. You bought it as a "fixer". It has very bad exterior. It will of course take a lonnnnggg time to get anything approved through SFs rediculous planning process(perhaps years?)
during the time of the approval process, someone in Noe reports your home as blighted. So you get a notice in the mail to have the place fixed in 30 days or it's a 1k/day fine. are you going to be able to do it? no.
you are somewhat stretched to live in your home, like a lot of SFans. your siding is old. You get a letter to have it fixed. But the property markets are down so you can't get a HELOC/HEL to pay for new siding. You'll have to save up. not gonna happen in 30 days (and let me tell you, walking around SF there are thousands of properties that would fit "blight" standards, partially due to the sea air. outside of the nicest areas, most of SF homes are just not that well kept up IMO)
you are one of the very few people to have grass in your front yard. (it's all concrete for the most part, but there are some areas). You don't believe in wasting water to water your yard, so you put in drought tolerant plants and grass. However, SF goes through a dry spell and half of the front grass dies and turns brown (this can happen in 1 week. I know because it happened to me all the time pre-sprinkler system). So you get a letter for front yard blight. so now you have to go buy sod or something? because you can't grow new grass in 30 days.
or lastly, as I said above: my house burns down and I'm waiting for insurance money and a general contractor. That will also take longer than 30 days.
overall, I like the idea of centralizing things. but as I said, implementation will be very difficult, and this law is RIPE for abuse.
lastly: one of the "blights" is human waste on your property. Looks like SF will have to fine itself 1k/day forever.
Posted by: ex SF-er at August 13, 2008 4:30 AM
My quick reading of the proposed ordinance would indicate that simply having a permit for repairs would protect you against enforcement and that you have 21 days to apply. I don't know how long it takes for these things to turn around, so I don't know if this is reasonable or not.
There were 50 complaints of human waste last year, compared to 400 of animal waste, which buttresses my claim that most of the waste people are seeing is of animal origin. There is a section on contamination with urine though, which seems practically unenforceable.
Posted by: NoeValleyJim at August 13, 2008 9:26 AM
Geez, I think we all might want to consider changing our voter registration to "Choose not to declare" just to avoid subjective enforcement based on political party .... among other subjective reasons .... the bullies are in control of the Board of Supervisors, fo sho.
Posted by: jamie at August 13, 2008 10:13 AM
I agree wholeheartedly with this proposal. For 25 years I lived next to a building owned by an absentee landlord who did absolutely nothing to the building in those 25 years. Even the weeds in his backyard were only removed after I repeatedly complained about a fire hazard.
And while this is somewhat self centered, it obviously had a negative impact on the prices of my building and buildings on the block.
Posted by: Greg Scanlon at August 13, 2008 11:01 AM
I wonder how many of those "decrepit" lots are also delinquent in back property taxes? SF doesn't really seem to be on the ball about those. And I don't like the idea of "blight" seizures (Japantown and the Western Addition know all about "blight").
Unless they're applied to commercial property, of course. Funny how everyone is talking about residential plots here, when the first thing that comes to my mind is a couple of developer-owned big holes in the ground like the I-Hotel site.
Posted by: wheelchairgirl at August 17, 2008 11:38 PM
Every city, no matter how well cared for has a few buildings and lots that are in bad shape and addressing this is a good thing. What every city doesn't have that San Francisco does have is a maze of power lines. What happened to undergrounding our utilities? It is a shocking blight on this beautiful city and the sign of a city that is not progressive.
Posted by: Eugene Day at October 29, 2008 9:58 PM
SF = Shabbytown
Please put these signs up on Market Street between Westfield Center and The Castro. This huge area is shameful.
Posted by: MH at October 30, 2008 8:30 AM
I am afraid one of the unintended consequences of this legislation will be the escalation of neighborly cockfights.
I have followed the protracted fight between 2 neighbors on my street. One made decent money in his business and did a lot of work on his house. Let's call him cock#1. Then comes a new family next door who want to add a deck, expand their own house, and so on. let's call the father Joe#2.
One time, some of the work from Joe#2 was executed without permit. It would have resulted in less privacy for cock#1's deck, therefore he filed a complaint against Joe#2 who had to undo his changes.
And they've been going on and on and on over smallish things. But no really big financial impact from both parts.
For instance, Joe#1's curb is crooked from tree roots. Joe#2 calls the city and before you know it there are these pesky little paint dots everywhere telling what should be fixed and who you should contact (water, power, sewage, gas). When you look at the street, there's nothing special about #1's curb compared to other houses, but he's the only one with the order to fix it.
Now, just imagine where this legislation will bring this fight. Joe#1's house paint job is 2 years old. Joe#2's is 10 years old and starts to crack from the southern exposure. Joe#1 will be entitled to use this law to have his neighbor's house fixed ASAP and this will cost Joe#2 $1000/day.
This is like throwing loaded guns into a road-rage incident.
Posted by: San FronziScheme at October 30, 2008 9:51 AM
SF is one of the least progressive cities in the United States. All SF seems to be good for these days is fighting change, and then making up useless, costly legislation, like this weed patrol campaign. Why doesn't SF police the debris that is collecting on what seems like every sidewalk in this city (except those located in district 7).
Posted by: SF is declining at October 30, 2008 10:02 AM