My turn: City should enforce land use code

Posted: Monday, December 24, 2007

Thank you for your recent editorial on lack of enforcement of Juneau's land use code. Someone at the Juneau Empire has been doing their homework.

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When people in Juneau see a violation, they commonly remark, "It's easier for the contractors to do it and ask forgiveness, than to meet the codes." I have tried twice to report violations in my neighborhood. First, I called one in and left a message. I did not receive a return call. So next time, I wrote a letter outlining three violations and asking for investigation. I didn't even receive an acknowledgment that my letter had been received. I haven't tried to report again.

Dixie Hood had no avenue to appeal the city's lack of enforcement other than appealing the city decision to grant a variance to Secon Construction. I attended Hood's hearing appealing the variance granted to Secon for its Lemon Creek truck scale. As I listened to the Secon representative, it was clear that Secon blatantly ignored the requirement for a building permit. Hood pointed out that even the most ignorant of us recognize that you need a permit to put up a building and install a truck scale, especially near a salmon stream. Secon didn't even bother to contact the city before building. And when the city caught them, there was no fine! Instead they were rewarded with an "after the violation" variance to make them legal. Regardless of how the Juneau Assembly rules on her appeal, Hood's action shined a light on enforcement deficiencies. Juneau citizens are indebted to her.

Citizens also are indebted to the Juneau Empire for the investigation and follow through.

In June, the Empire exposed City Manager Rod Swope describing city policy as working with those in violation, instead of enforcing the code.

Following the recent appeal hearing, the Empire published two first-rate follow-up editorials.

Empire editorial suggestions for "beefing up enforcement" of our land use code are right on: Seek a change in the state law limiting fines to $300; issue monetary fines retroactively and per day; issue heavier fines to professional contractors than to home owners; issue time-limited stop work orders; and continue to work with violators when infractions are small. I would add that the city seek the advice of national organizations or other cities to gain from their collective experience. The city needs a clear written policy to provide a decision-making framework for handling land use violations and then training on implementing that policy.

As a citizen, I am encouraged. Changing the culture to one of compliance is only fair to those contractors who regularly meet the code and to Juneau citizens who count on the vision and protections of the land use code.

• Patricia O'Brien is a Juneau resident.



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