The Oakland City Council says it wants reforms at the city agency that handles building permits and enforces blight laws. At a meeting Tuesday night, the council listened for hours as residents vented frustrations with the Building Services Division, a part of the city's Community and Economic Development Agency (CEDA).
Over the summer the Alameda County Grand Jury released a report (which you can read at Oakland Local) accusing the division of inconsistent and aggressive blight enforcement, going so far as to say it's "appalled" by the division.The grand jury investigated dozens of homeowner complaints ranging from the imposition of outrageous fines to the threatening behavior of inspectors.
The report is rife with examples of abuses by building inspectors in their dealings with homeowners. For example, one inspector reportedly gave at least one person seven days to fix a code violation that required a city-issued permit, even though it takes 14 days to process. A homeowner was fined more than $18,000 for blight and debris that turned out to be children's toys in the yard. And the report says the computer system used to track records is almost 30 years old. According to the city, the system is unable to track appeals and cannot provide information on them.
The Grand Jury report cited “an atmosphere of hostility and intimidation" in the department's dealings with owners.
Tuesday night, the city council discussed the report for the first time. Councilman Ignacio de la Fuente called for an independent investigation into the department; Councilwoman Libby Schaaf publicly apologized to her constituents; and Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan said, "I believe that our system is completely broken and that we have not sufficiently publicly acknowledged the magnitude of the problem."