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A Message From Councilman Chris Roberts

Here is a report that Our Code Enforcement Director presented to the Parish Council at the September 19, 2007 council meeting. It is rather long, but I wanted to share it with you so you could see the volume of work and the different ways in which Jefferson Parish is addressing Quality of Life issues.

Blighted Property Enforcement Update
Presented to the Jefferson Parish Council
Sept. 19, 2007
By Louis Savoye, Director
Jefferson Parish Department of Inspection and Code Enforcement

Today we want to give you a brief report on our efforts in the fight against blight. We understand that the issue of blighted property is important to you and to our citizens both for the value of our neighborhoods and in the fight against crime. We are doing a number of things and will continue to look at ways to be proactive while still complying with the requirements for due process to property owners.

  • More Inspectors on the Street:

    Our Inspection and Code Enforcement Department now has 18 inspectors on the street each day dealing with blighted property cases, as opposed to 12 before Katrina. Since Katrina, our inspectors have issued 5,063 blighted property violations and closed 4,362 of those cases; 856 have gone to Administrative Adjudication hearings. Since Katrina, 7,367 abandoned vehicles have been tagged for removal; 2,956 were towed away by the parish after the owner did not comply with the notice to remove the vehicle.

  • Inspectors Can do More:

    The Inspection and Code Enforcement Department has reorganized and streamlined itself by empowering its various inspectors to deal with a multitude of violations. The inspectors are now called Property Maintenance Inspectors and are all cross-trained to handle any type of "eyesore" complaints including abandoned vehicles, high grass and weeds, trash and debris, illegal signs, vehicles such as boats and RV's parked improperly, and zoning violations such as a business being improperly operated out of a residence.

  • Technology Improves Efficiency:

    These Quality of Life inspectors are being trained and starting to use the hand-held computers that you may have heard about. These hand-held devices will allow for information to be entered in the field and downloaded quickly into the Code Enforcement data base, eliminating some clerical work back at the office that slowed down the process.

  • On-Line Information More Accessible:

    This will also allow Code Enforcement to update the On-Line Code Violation Complaint Status system faster. This is the feature on www.jeffparish.net that allows citizens to track each step taken to address a complaint, from when the complaint was received, to when it was inspected, cited, resolved or sent to court.

  • Grant Brings in Professional Help at No Cost to Parish:

    We are still being assisted by the Institute for Building Technology and Safety, which sent us 10 inspectors and clerical help to assist with permits and inspections for homes and businesses being repaired and rebuilt after Katrina. This provides support to the building section of the department in handling blighted property enforcement.

  • Environmental Court Targets Violators:

    The parish created the Environmental Court and Judge Windhorst is now hearing cases against chronic slumlords. The court handles quality of life issues such as imminent health and safety issues, repeat offenders, and properties boarded-up for over a year. It deals with the more egregious building violations that affect public welfare, safety and health. Over the past year, the Parish Attorney's Office has opened cases against 44 property owners. Some of these cases involve more than one blighted property. Hearings have been taking place once a month. New state legislation enacted this past session allows summary proceedings. Six suits have been filed using this method.

  • Parish Hearings Continue:

    Other blight cases and zoning violations are being handled by the Bureau of Administrative Adjudication or the parish courts. As a result of our new Crime Prevention Task Force, the parish court judges have agreed to assess the stiffest fines possible against owners of blighted properties.

  • Council Consultants are Weapons in the War on Blight:

    In February the Parish Council selected four consulting firms to help process blighted property cases. Two firms are working with the Parish Attorney's Office on the backlog of cases in litigation. The other two consulting firms have been working on new cases. In addition to assignments from Inspection and Code, they have taken complaints about blighted property from Council offices and proactively patrolled the streets looking for blighted properties. These companies handle each case from inspecting the property, to citing the owner, all the way through prosecution in court. In total, the four consulting companies hired by the Council have cited 777 blighted properties in unincorporated areas.

    • 385 violations cleared

    • 192 pending a re-inspection to determine if the violations have been corrected

    • 79 granted extensions to clear the violations

    • 38 tried in court and are waiting on a court ruling

    • 8 scheduled for trial

    • 42 pending a court date

    • 6 waiting for owners to comply with a court ruling

    Parish Attorney Focuses More Resources on Blight Cases:

    In addition, each part-time assistant parish attorney has been assigned cases to keep them moving through the court system; and a new assistant parish attorney is helping prosecute cases in Environmental Court.

  • Popular Code/Crime Sweeps Continue:

    As an initiative of the Jefferson Parish Crime Prevention Task Force, Crime Sweeps to find code violations as well as criminal activity began earlier this year and we have conducted monthly sweeps in each of your districts. The seventh such sweep will be conducted in a few weeks and more are planned. Code Enforcement is working with the Sheriff's Office, other parish departments, state departments, and utility companies to find violations and go after the owners of blighted properties that are havens for criminal activity.

  • Code Enforcement and JPSO May Expand Collaboration:

    The parish is exploring other ways in which Code Enforcement Officers and law enforcement officers can work together. Discussions are focusing on having parish Code Enforcement Officers accompany Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office deputies in crime hot spots to deal with blight and other property maintenance, health, and safety issues at the same time the JPSO is attacking criminal activity.

  • Community Relations:

    The parish Department of Inspection and Code Enforcement will expand its community outreach effort to educate the public about its role in fighting blight and to encourage citizens to report problems.

  • Due Process and the Pace of Prosecution:

    We understand that the pace of prosecution is sometimes frustrating for you and for our citizens. There are 11 separate steps in the process to resolve a blighted property complaint. Please remember that the enforcement process can involve our Building Inspectors as well as our Property Maintenance Inspectors in cases where the building has structural, plumbing and electrical problems. More importantly, when a violation must be pursued in court, title abstracting must be done to find all those with ownership interest in the property followed by qualified notification of each of those owners. We have increased the budget to hire additional outside abstractors to expedite identification of property owners. Even when a legal judgment is finally rendered, there are some property owners who still will not comply, necessitating further legal action to allow the parish to resolve the problem.

  • Sweeping our Main Roads:

    In addition to these large-scale sweeps of targeted neighborhoods, our Public Works Department and Code Enforcement Department are also conducting pro-active sweeps along major thoroughfares. When the Public Works spotters see a problem such as a broken curb, a bent or missing street sign, or a clogged drain, they issue a work order to have it taken care of. When Code Enforcement spots a violation such as an illegal sign, high grass, or other problem, they notify the owner of the property, give them a chance to take care of it, and then cite the owner if it is not cleared.

  • Mowing More Often:

    We are doing proactive grass cutting. We have streamlined from a per-incident notification system to a once-a-year notification to property owners who allow grass and weeds to grow too high. Earlier this year we identified 480 properties that were repeat offenders which are being inspected regularly and if the property has not been cut, we will direct our mowing contractor to cut the property regularly and then place a lien on the property for double the cost of the mowing job. So these properties are being cut more often without waiting for a complaint to be filed. Since Katrina, we have issued 3,869 high grass and weed violations; 2,321 of those properties were cut by the owner; 485 were cut by the parish contractor

  • FEMA trailers, going, going . . .

    Regarding FEMA trailers, we estimated that there were as many as 17,000 FEMA trailers in the entire parish after Katrina, with over 9,000 trailers in unincorporated areas by April of this year when we resumed enforcement of the zoning ordinance except for those who were granted extensions by the Parish. 1,858 violation notices have been issued for trailers remaining in unincorporated residential areas since April. We have formally requested FEMA to close down all group sites by Nov. 1, 2007, and FEMA has sent notification to those trailer occupants that they should prepare for alternative housing after that date. 1,403 addresses remain to be inspected for trailer violations but it is expected that many of those trailers have now been removed. 155 violations are proceeding to an Administrative Adjudication hearing

  • At the end of August, we estimate that there are between 2,000 and 3,000 FEMA trailers left in unincorporated areas. The pace of trailer removal has slowed from a rate of approximately 1,000 per month earlier this year as the total number of trailers has dwindled, but 600 were moved out in August alone. In November, we will revisit all remaining trailers and conduct a thorough evaluation of all remaining trailers

    The final step will be trailers located at commercial properties where employees of those businesses are living. Those trailers will be inspected early next year in anticipation that all such trailers will be removed well before the start of the 2008 hurricane season.

    Chris Roberts
    Councilman, District 1

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