Progress is Made on Vacancy Ordinance

San Marino property owners who allow their house to stand unoccupied for a period of two months or more will soon have to register with the San Marino Police Department, as the City Council moved forward on an uninhabited residential property ordinance last week.
The bones of the ordinance were accepted by the council, with the stipulation that city staff also look into the inclusion of a fee for registration. In the original draft, the city sought to recoup operational costs through fines. Although the hope was to have the ordinance before the council for a first reading next week, City Manager Cindy Collins reported Monday that staff needs time to research what the appropriate fee would be, and that the matter will likely return to the City Council agenda in November.
Other municipalities have such ordinances on the books — 164 of 482 cities in California, according to an agenda report — but most drew them up to deal with the issue of foreclosed properties that have been abandoned and are eyesores. That certainly isn’t a concern in San Marino, but another issue is: houses that stand unoccupied for extended periods of time, as owners, many based in China, purchase them as investments or second homes.
Earlier this year, a transient was found squatting in an empty house on Avondale Road, and some criminals broke into a vacant home on San Gabriel Boulevard to use it as a base of operations.
San Marino is drawing up its uninhabited residential property ordinance based on public safety and a desire to be able to reach the owner or a local representative in the event of a fire, criminal activity, the disruption of utilities or a catastrophe.
Since the beginning of the year, the Police Department has been systematically logging vacant properties it encounters. Commander Richard Ward said last week that it has a list of 47 such residences. That works out to about 1% of the 4,477 residential properties in the city.
Under the proposed ordinance, a homeowner would be required to register the property with the SMPD if it stood uninhabited on a day-to-day basis for 60 days or longer. The owner would also have to provide phone numbers for three local contacts, any of whom could get to the property within an hour.
Ward said if the SMPD encountered a home it believed to be unoccupied, it would send a letter to the property owner requesting a conversation within 30 days. If there was no response, a second letter would be sent. And if it was unanswered after 30 days, a fine would be assessed.
City Attorney Steve Dorsey has said that the amount of the fines cannot exceed the cost of administering the program.
Median Grass
The grass on the medians of Huntington Drive and Sierra Madre Boulevard will continue to be allowed to die in response to Southern California’s prolonged drought.
The council decided against spending money to convert the two northern-most medians of Sierra Madre Boulevard to drought-tolerant landscapes, and sprinkling reclaimed water on the medians proved not to be an option.
As winter approaches, the council will simply let nature take its course. “Stay the course we’re on,” Councilman Steve Talt said. “If it browns, it browns. If it rains, it greens.”

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