Friday, September 18, 2009

Why Sierra Madre Needs A Strong Blight Law Now

There is a remarkable disconnect in town, and it goes something like this. The Sierra Madre Skilled Nursing Facility, that boarded up old nursing home on Sierra Madre Boulevard just across the street from City Hall, has been an eyesore for quite some time now. With boarded up windows and a truly remarkable collection of sun cured weeds, some growing from between cracks in a parking lot girdled with tetanus enriched rusted fencing, it really does make for some kind of hauntingly eerie imagery. Views you might enjoy if you're into presentations that evoke the apocalyptic.

Now this place is something a lot of people talk about when they want to get their grievance on about Sierra Madre. Next to our litigation happy Police Department, the SNF is perhaps the most griped about subject in our sunny little burgh. It has become a metaphor and rallying point for many who feel the need for something basic to show concern about. And as such it has become our very own widely misunderstood symbol of things gone wrong.

Now where the disconnect comes in is with the need to identify exactly who bears the responsibility for this rambling reverse eye candy. Many seem to feel that the reason the Skilled Nursing Facility has degenerated into the mess it is today is because "the City refuses to do something about it." Others believe that it remains a most visible reminder of the refusal of some in this town to allow the building of "profitably sized" mixed used facilities, and that it is the stubborn backwards mentality of a few which has caused our town to suffer from such ruinous blight.

But what you never hear is anybody blaming the building's actual owner. And that is very odd. Now if you or I allowed our homes to crumble into disrepair, infecting the lawns of others with both gophers and jimsonweeds, people wouldn't blame Measure V or the Green Committee, right? No, they'd blame you, the owner. And you'd be cited for it. But here we have some sort of corporation sitting on one of the most visible properties in Sierra Madre, and it is just allowing the place to rot. The Skilled Nursing Facility hasn't seen a drop of new paint in years.

So why is this owner getting a pass? And why don't people recognize that the reason this building sits in its current neglected state is because the owner refuses to do anything about it? Seems pretty obvious to me who the blame should fall upon here.

But there is now a solution in the works, and it looks like our City Council is about to make it happen. As we recounted a few months back, the City of Glendale adopted something called a Blight Law. Passed by their City Council, it takes a hard-nosed approach to dealing with indifferent absentee owners who neglect their properties. Here is how the Glendale News Press laid it out on May 3rd of this year:

City targets untidy homes - Council will mull proposal to fine banks $1,000 per day for blighted foreclosed homes: Banks and housing speculators could face fines of up to $1,000 per day for failing to keep vacant properties up to code under a proposal scheduled to go to the City Council on Tuesday ... The proposed law would authorize the city to exercise its authority granted under state law to hold new owners of foreclosed properties accountable for maintaining their parcels ... The $1,000 daily fine - the maximum permitted under state law - is intended to financially compel lenders and speculators to invest in the properties that they acquire and to quickly turn them around, either by maintenance or sale so as to not further deteriorate a neighborhood, city officials said.

And the good news is Glendale has a City Council that was willing to overcome the shrill opposition of both real estate investors and realty concerns and pass this Blight Law.

Now obviously whoever it is that owns the Skilled Nursing Facility is sitting on the place waiting for something special to occur. Be it a rise in real estate prices, somebody making him an attractive offer, you know it has to be something with profit in mind. And while there is nothing wrong with making a buck in America, you do need to play by the rules. And allowing your property to rot in the middle of what is otherwise quite an attractive little boulevard is just not responsible citizenship. Which is why this fellow needs to feel the sting of a no nonsense Sierra Madre Blight Law.

The theory many have is that the place was bought when the prospect of massive downtown redevelopment was real and financially compelling. But like many of our downtown investors, the current owner was disappointed when Measure V was passed. And, as the theory goes, the owner has been sitting on the SNF ever since in hopes that someone like Sacramento Joe would take over City Hall and allow him to build 6 story condos with attached nicknack shops and pay-to-park underground car storage. Just like he could have had Measure V failed.

Listen, it's time we passed a Blight Law. One with teeth and fines that will get this guy and his rotting building out of our collective face. Whatever the reasons for the owner allowing the SNF to become the disgrace it is, we have endured this insult to Sierra Madre long enough. We need to take some control.


  1. So why has the Skilled Nursing Facility been allowed to get away with it? Don't we have ordinances that deal with sort of thing already? Where has city staff been on this one? Sierra Madre can hand out a couple thousand traffic tickets, but one of the biggest messes in town just gets to sit there? I take it they must have connections.

  2. The current owner(s) are in a holding pattern until after the election. They over paid for the property based on promises of what they were told they would be able to build. The BLIGHT LAW which Councilman Zimmerman proposed needs to be supported by Mayor McGillvary and Councilman Watts passed and NOW.

  3. 6:44 To answer your question. The only thing on the books I could find deals with junk cars. The city manager is "dead set" against a blight law dealing with property.

  4. Really. And the city manager, is she an elected official in this town? Does she even live here? What do the grass trimmers and meter readers have to say?

  5. The owners of the property do not care about the town. They let the SNF run down to the point it is now. Because of total neglect on the part of the owners, the building is in total disrepair and should be leveled.

    They are waiting for a new city council

    Pass a blight law and enforce it.

  6. What is also unfortunate is that a significant portion of our City
    Staff doesn't seem to care about this town, either. Their
    sympathies are more with the regional organizations that influence
    their career paths than anything the people of Sierra Madre want.
    And if you need proof of that, you don't have to look any farther
    than the Skilled Nursing Facility. That should have been dealt
    with a long time ago. We need a blight law, and any "Staff" that
    doesn't like it should look elsewhere for work.

  7. Not only do you need it, all you have to do is copy San Marino's:

    Ever since 1913, the year this city was founded, the City has built a reputation for well-kept properties and strict enforcement of zoning restrictions and building regulations. The values and general welfare of this community are founded upon the appearance and maintenance of properties and property values.
    The City has declared it a public nuisance to:
    Have building or structures which are unsafe or constitute a fire hazard, or which are otherwise dangerous to human life by reason of inadequate maintenance or dilapidation.
    Have or maintain any building or structure in violation of the Uniform Building Code of this City.
    Cause drainage problems which become injurious to public health, safety and welfare, or to adjacent properties.
    Maintain premises so as to constitute a fire hazard by reason of wood-like areas, rank overgrowth or accumulation of debris.
    Maintain buildings which are abandoned, boarded up, partially destroyed, or permitted to remain unreasonable periods of time in a state of partial construction. Maintain unpainted buildings causing dry rot, warping, and termite infestation.
    Maintain structures with broken windows constituting hazardous conditions and inviting trespassers and malicious mischief.
    Allow overgrown vegetation - likely to harbor rats, vermin and other nuisances; causing a detriment to neighboring properties and property values.
    Allow dead, decayed, diseased or hazardous trees, weeds and other vegetation constituting unsightly appearance, or a detriment to nearby property.
    Have trailers, campers, boats and other mobile equipment stored for unreasonable periods in front or side yard areas.
    Park motor vehicles for more than 48 hours in driveways or in required yard areas abutting public streets.
    Have any attractive nuisance dangerous to children in the form of abandoned and broken equipment, hazardous pools, ponds and excavations, neglected machinery.
    Have broken or discarded furniture or household equipment in front yard areas.
    Have garage cans stored in front or side yards and visible from public streets.
    To neglect premises to spite neighbors, or to influence zone changes, or to cause detrimental effect upon nearby property values.
    To maintain premises in such a condition as to be a public nuisance.
    To maintain premises in an unsightly condition.
    To emit noise of such loud, unusual and penetrating nature so as to unreasonably disturb, or annoy the neighboring residents.

    The procedures for abatement of premises found to constitute a public nuisance are handled through the City Manager's office and the Planning and Building Department. The Planning Commission declares and conducts a public hearing to ascertain if the known facts surrounding the condition of the property constitute a public nuisance.

  8. Looks like the Hefflin's home is on the market:

    1935 STONEHOUSE ROAD Sierra Madre, 91024 $2,988,000
    Beds: 5
    Baths: 4
    Pt. Baths: 1/2
    Sq. Ft.: 5,700
    Lot Size: 2.7 Acres
    Yr. Built: 1975
    List Date: 09/17/09
    MLS#: A09100937
    Type: SFR

    Not sure what this means but throwing it out there for grist.

  9. Carter used to be a good streetSeptember 18, 2009 at 8:59 AM

    8:54, the Stonehouse property has been in some weird real estate limbo for a while. It has never been off the foreclosure list since???? It is still owned, by default, by Capital Source Finance, the destroyers of One Carter. Who is the realtor for the Heflin house? I guess the Heflin house is not a historic property, so they can sell it.
    Good luck to anyone who would buy a mansion in the middle of what looks to be a decade of environmental destruction.
    That would be an interesting disclosure process.

  10. S P Neighbor. Thanks! Sounds like a no brainer to me. If it's good enough for them, it should work for us. By the way, San Marino has a lot in their codes we should do a cut and paste with.

  11. The issue of code violation and enforcement is far more systemic than most above appreciate. A request for a violation is handled by the City Manager with an "arms length" position. It will be refered to the Code Enforcement Officer within the SMPD, (one Lisa Volpe) who appears to have unlimited liscence to do whatever she feels is appropriate. It may be a benefit if the violator is known to her. Almost any street in SM has code violations obvious and already on the books (volumes of codes are available in the City Office) yet no standards or requirement of Code enforcement is forthcoming. I speak from experience.

  12. Sounds like we do need a blight law!

  13. Lets just not cut and paste the "No Liquor" part of San Marino's code. Please? I fear it will only make for more crankiness in this little town.

  14. Crankiness? I think we're talking citywide panic.

  15. Great discussion today. Two things: we need to make sure who gets the blame for this mess. The other that we can solve it. A little bit of decisive action will go a long ways!

  16. The city council hires the city manager. The council/mayor must demand that the manager do her job and see the city codes are enforced. The manager, who hired the Chief of Police needs to tell the Chief to enforce the codes. If these top people can't or won't do their jobs the Council needs to replace them. The council has the power. They should use it. I am sick and tired of this crapola.

  17. There is a shipping container in a front yard on the south side of West Bonita, between Baldwin and Hermosa. Been there for months. They must be friends of Lisa.....

  18. Don't think so, Lisa does not have any friends.....

  19. 11:26 AMEN!! It's like they don't consider what we want, but do think hard and long about how to get what they want past us. And for some odd reason what they want usually segues nicely with Joe and John's shenanigans. We need a culture change at City Hall. We need to reestablish taxpayer control.

  20. City Hall uses the same tactics as my kids. Appear to agree, and then stall stall stall.

  21. the Nursing Facility is a open invitation for kids to be kids and sneak in and have the SMPD pull guns on them...oh wait that already happened

    all this is a handful of people (city staff and a couple councilmen) going ga-ga and fawning over over a couple developers, I could care less how much the SNF owners overpaid and why they can't develop, if they were stupid enough to buy the place, they deserve to lose their money

    maybe I'll board up my windows and see how long it takes for Code Enforcement to cite me? probably within hours

    it's not just who you know, but how big of a self induced ego of the person you know is and in this town staff and council, there's some mighty big ego's

  22. 12:00, that open invitation is an interesting point. Why should our police force have to be private security guards? The SNF should be protected on the owner's dime, not the city's.

  23. Well, I don't know what the City is thinking now, but about 4 or 5 years ago, they prosecuted a family for the "condition" of their home. Seems the city thought the house had to be painted, fence had to be put up, "junk" removed, lawn mowed, trees trimmed. Hey the City prescribed a regular make-over for these folks but it wasn't done in a kindly way. These people had the City Prosecutor (yes we have a city prosecutor and it isn't Colantuono & Levin) and they were threatening these folks with penalties on the order of $30,000 which is outrageous. There were threats of injunctions and other court action, menacing deadlines. And there was a lot of overreaching--the City wanted to come into their backyard and see the stuff they had in there and they sent the building inspector, code enforcement, planning department, and God knows who else to see if they could find any kind of infraction. And these people weren't even posters on this blog!! They weren't political action types, or anything like that. They were just the kind of people who didn't keep their yard up to the standards of the neighborhood. I'm not saying that a blight law is bad, I'm saying that something in the City Codes (how about public nuisance) was used to hammer down on regular homeowner citizens without regard for their privacy, economic condition, etc. So if they can be targeted, who are we kidding about SNF? The owner is simply in a stand-off with the city. He won't do anything until the City lets him do what he wants to do. The City has all the cards and should play them. To allow that kind of ruin to take place on one of the main stems into town is ridiculous. And if the City Manager can't bring herself to do something about it, time for a new one. Ridiculous.

  24. Great info, Dr. S., as always.
    So city council, apply that code that was used before.
    And that stand off is deja vu all over again. Carter & Stonehouse.

  25. Been there, done thatSeptember 18, 2009 at 2:01 PM

    There must be a developers' handbook, like the infamous California Association of Realtors "How to Defeat Local Slow Growth Movements" handbook.
    The developers' handbook "How to Dominate a City to Get Whatever You Want" has got to have a chapter, Tell them you will do x,y,z as soon as they..........

  26. They all work for SCAG and the BIA. Slow growth is a City employee's worst nightmare. Unless they rack up a big chunk of new development on their watch nobody will ever offer them that next employment rung up. Face it, for them we're the enemy.

  27. Bill Tice once suggested that we have city hall be a school for training municipal employees. They would come and learn how to work for cities in a two year program or something, and we would cut our operating costs by 80%
    I for one am shocked at the salaries some people in city hall make, and the benefits they get.

  28. Good point. And we have to pay those salaries so we can compete with other cities. And what we get are people whose interests and priorities might not be the same as the taxpayers. I wonder how many of those jobs require bringing people in from other places? Is there the possibility that city hall openings can be made available first to SM residents? I suspect we'd get much more motivated and locally oriented people in City Hall if they actually lived here.

  29. So who would train these folks? You still need a full time staff if your goal is to rotate everybody out in 2 years, and I think, I may be wrong, you can do THE GOOGLE but we already have a pretty good system set up here in America.....IT'S CALLED COLLEGE!


  30. I think the point is that a lot of it isn't rocket science. And besides, there are quite a few skilled people living in town. Pretty large professional contingent here. Go out some time and talk to a few. You might be pleasantly surprised!

  31. I'm sorry 6:54, but it takes a lot of training to hire the
    right consultant.

  32. Anonymous at 6:54. You're right there are plenty of highly qualified professionals in town and the city used to allow them to participate until BIA-ite Bart Doyle got on council and realized that you can't control volunteers the same way you can control actual city employees. So they thanked and excused the zoning committee--just before they finished the canyon zone and funny how nothing has happened since. . . .

  33. If you can't get the City Manager to enforce the laws we have now, what makes you think you'll convince her to enforce another one?

    Especially, with a new City Council?

    ....and....Do you really believe that slow-growthers have "taken back City Hall" when almost every current employee in City Hall was hired under Bart Doyle and his acolytes (Stockly, Torres, Buchanan & Joffe), including Elaine Aguilar?

    Just asking

  34. PS: Why not use all this effort to get the City to enforce the laws it already has?

    Just asking

  35. Why not lean on the City Council to have the City Manager get with the program or party on to her next gig? And take a few acolytes with her.

  36. Historic Canyon ZoneSeptember 19, 2009 at 10:28 AM

    Finally saw a playback of the last council meeting - weirdly airing later Friday night - and it was a classic. Buchanan and Mosca holding for developers to be on the Canyon Zone Comm., as a "fair representation of the canyon." Developer Hustle. The majority of the canyon, and I think of the whole town, is not into development on the scale the Buchanan and Mosca crowd wants. So why doesn't the majority of the city staff reflect the majority of the town. The city manager should be a slow growth champion. It takes guts, but plenty of other cities who do not want to be bulldozed and uberdensified to death would hire her if she puts up a good fight here.

  37. 1:27, great question.
    Sometimes the people who are supposed to know what rules & regulations we already have aren't aware of them
    Let's hire a consultant to explain to the staff what our ordinances are.

  38. 10:28 - The City Manager is a SCAG graduate. They seed local governments with their own. And the govt/developer axis offers an entire career ladder. Taxpayers have no such organizational offerings. That it is our tax money that is being used against our interests only makes it worse.

  39. remind me again, who's in charge of the whole pissing match here, with the majority and all...oh, i remember, it's maryanne mcgillicutty, wow what an effective leader if all you can do is bitch and moan about the people that are underneath her, vote all the bums out....tice in 10...

  40. Have the honors dinner at the nursing facility and use the rent to mitigate the blight. Problem solved. Let's think outside the box people!

  41. Nah, let's just fine the owner of the SNF for letting the place become the nasty eyesore it is, and use that to pay for the dinner! Solves two things at once.

  42. bubba....

    For $150,000.00+ a year, plus huge benefits, Elaine Aguilar has no excuses. If we need to hire a consultant to teach her how to do her job, then she needs to go....NOW!

  43. 2:09

    You got to give it to her. Maryanne turned Zimmerman and Watts into her personal lap dogs within months of getting elected.

    Now, that's one incredible woman.

    Too bad she's not using that influence to get some desperately needed changes made.

  44. Oh I don't know about that. But speaking of desperate, I do know she has reduced Lambdin and Hayden to running jokes up in the canyon. Remember when the opinions of those two birds meant something? And what's up with Joe "Sir Squawk-A-Lot" Mosca's behavior in some of our recent City Council meetings? Red-faced and whining would be the stormy forecast for that one. Joe's lucky to have Buchanan there to change his daiper for him. "What Joe meant was blah blah blah." The "dirts" have become comedy.

  45. L. Sid

    That's not much of a fete considering that Lambdin and Hayden were already running jokes, up in the canyon, for years. Sure would be nice if Maryanne would boast about something she's actually responsible for.

    If reducing Lambdin and Hayden to running jokes is the biggest "accomplishment" you can point to, then it doesn't appear that Maryanne is ever going to accomplish anything significant.

    It would also be nice if you used words, such as "desperate" in context when responding to others comments. The City's desperate need for real change is significantly different than Mosca's state of mind.

    Frankly, I'm more concerned about the City then I am about the Fly. Sure would be nice if you were too.

  46. Nice display of umbrage. So outside of bitching on a blog, whatcha gonna do?September 21, 2009 at 1:31 PM

    You sure seem like you got your dander up!

  47. Does anyone have any negative info on the Heflin House in Sierra Madre. We're thinking about buying it....thanks.


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