Code en­forcers to po­lice smaller re­gions

Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - By ri­cardo Gán­dara rgan­dara@states­man.com Con­tact Ri­cardo Gán­dara at 445-3632. Con­tact Juan Castillo at 445-3635.

Austin’s code com­pli­ance di­rec­tor said his de­part­ment is pro­gress­ing in its new ap­proach of iden­ti­fy­ing and en­forc­ing city build­ing codes as a batch of new in­spec­tors will work in smaller re­gions with po­lice and fire of­fi­cials and neigh­bor­hood as­so­ci­a­tions.

The more “proac­tive” ap­proach will par­tially fo­cus on ag­ing apart­ment com­plexes, Carl Smart told mem­bers of the Pub­lic Safety Com­mis­sion on Mon­day.

Though Smart did not men­tion the Wood Ridge Apart­ments, where a sec­ond-story bal­cony col­lapsed and oth­ers were found un­safe this year, the South Austin com­plex is a per­fect ex­am­ple of an ag­ing com­plex where vi­o­la­tions per­sisted.

Smart, who for­merly was in charge of code com­pli­ance for the city of Fort Worth, has been on the job in Austin about 15 months. His mis­sion has been to change the work­ing model of the city’s code com­pli­ance de­part­ment, which has re­lied on cit­i­zen com­plaints. Smart told the com­mis­sion that the City Coun­cil ap­proved 22 new code in­spec­tor po­si­tions to add to his staff of 69. “We will have an em­pha­sis on ed­u­ca­tion of city codes,” he said.

He’s still in­ter­view­ing for the new po­si­tions but once they are hired in early 2013, he said, four will be as­signed to ag­ing apart­ment com­plexes.

“Our ba­sic strat­egy is neigh­bor­hood code en­force­ment where in­spec­tors will be as­signed to ar­eas where they will work with Austin Po­lice De­part­ment district rep­re­sen­ta­tives,” he said. “The in­spec­tors will be­come part­ners in those neigh­bor­hoods and also work with neigh­bor­hood as­so­ci­a­tions.”

He ex­pects the added in­spec­tors will cut down on the re­sponse time when res­i­dents call in to com­plain about vi­o­la­tions of city codes, such as over­grown weeds on a lot or a neigh­bor adding a struc­ture in the back­yard with­out get­ting a city build­ing per­mit. “Right now our re­sponse time is eight to nine days, and our goal is two work­ing days,” he said.

In re­sponse to two com­mis­sion mem­bers ask­ing if his de­part­ment is hir­ing re­tired po­lice of­fi­cers, Smart con­firmed the strat­egy be­cause “they hit the ground run­ning.” He said in­spec­tors with a law en­force­ment back­ground have ex­pe­ri­ence in writ­ing ci­ta­tions and tes­ti­fy­ing in mu­nic­i­pal court, where build­ing code ci­ta­tions are heard by a judge.

“All of the court­house busi­ness is open,” Sparks said, lead­ing the Amer­i­can-States­man on a tour of the fa­cil­ity late Mon­day as con­trac­tors, ubiq­ui­tous in their hard hats, tended to fin­ish­ing touches.

Sparks said judges and their staffs be­gan mov­ing Fri­day and con­tin­ued through the week­end. He joked that the high-tech phone sys­tem will re­quire some learn­ing, and said com­put­ers op­er­ate light­ing and cli­mate con­trols.

“I think it’s the court­house of the fu­ture,” Austin said. “It’s state of the art in ev­ery re­spect ... and very at­trac­tive. We’ve been really lucky with how it came out.”

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