City code enforcement officers are about to get some new tools to go after vacant buildings in Santa Monica. On Tuesday, the City Council approved new measures that would force buildings owners to either get to work or tear down a building or pay a fine.

The ordinance also allows code enforcement to go after deteriorating properties, hazardous trees and overgrown vegetation.

A November report found 29 vacant properties in the 8-square-mile city. Half of them are single family homes, ten are apartment buildings and three are commercial properties.  Only ten of those structures have no active project in the works or no Ellis withdrawal in process.

“I want to let you know how much I appreciate this report because I think there was a lot of resistance to doing anything about this because there was a feeling there weren’t very many such buildings,” Councilmember Sue Himmelrich told code enforcement staff.  “So I’m happy that you have been sensitive to people’s complaints and the general concern about it.”

The Council unanimously passed the ordinance with an eye toward 3004 Broadway, a particular eyesore that has bee in various stages of construction since 1996. Over the years there have been 25 Code Enforcement cases opened for violations like overgrown vegetation, trash and debris. However, since the building is property secured, there has been little the City can do to force the owner to move forward on the property.

Once the ordinance becomes law, and building left vacant for six months will receive a citation and penalty from Code Enforcement. The punishment would start with a $1,000 fine but staff did not elaborate on how penalties would escalate from there if there is still no movement on the project.

“I hope the fines are sufficient. A lot of these people have very deep pockets,” said Andrew Hoyer, president of Mid City Neighbors.

Code enforcement would not be able to cite buildings that have a valid building or construction permit, even if there is little work being done. However, if the time frame of the permit expires without finishing the project, the building would then become subject to the new ordinance.

Now that the ordinance has passed on first reading, it will return to the Council one more time for final review and passage.