For many years, 3004 Broadway was the poster property for vacant sites, but now it’ finally being developed. Credit: Scott Snowden

Vacant properties must be kept to minimal safety and cleanliness standards according to new rules passed by the City Council last week.

On Aug. 22, Council heard an introduction and first reading of ordinance that amends the Santa Monica Municipal Code with regards to property maintenance, vacant properties and reduction of nuisances. Moreover, City staff will return at an unspecified date to create a vacant property registration program that includes fees that serve to recover costs associated with the inspection and ongoing monitoring of vacant properties in the City of Santa Monica. This is irrespective of zoning and includes both residential and business properties.

Over the past few years, concern has risen regarding the number of properties that are vacant. Consequently, this has led to decrease in the perceived safety of residents and an unquestionable aesthetic blight in Santa Monica. The new legislation creates new property maintenance requirements and establishes maintenance and security standards for vacant properties.

These requirements would be located in a new Article 13, which would also include the public nuisance standards, currently found in Chapter 8.96. These new tools will enable Code Enforcement staff to better respond to the needs of the community and improve the look and safety of the community.

In an extremely insightful and concise presentation, Daniel Mick, Code Enforcement Manager at City of Santa Monica, showed how the concentration of calls for service to the Police Department from January to November of 2022 related to the location of vacant properties. At which point there were audible gasps from Councilmembers as the evidence of a connection was clear.

“You see, there seems to be a really strong correlation between calls for service and the location of vacant properties,” Mick said.

Going forward, all vacant properties will be required to adhere to certain maintenance standards including, clean and weed free, proper groundcover, all hedges no higher than 42 inches or 3½ feet, pest/rodent free, window coverings removed and personal items removed from interior. A new fine and citation structure will also be introduced.

In addition, all vacant properties may be required to meet certain security standards including, installation of fencing (no temporary chain-link fences), polycarbonate boarding, combination lock on gates, “no trespassing” signs, trespass arrest authorization, motion-activated video and lighting and documentation of security measures.

There was some attempt at clarification of “nuisance” and Douglas Sloan, City Attorney, offered, “There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of types of nuisances. This is just a portion of those. So a nuisance is basically the use of property that unreasonably interferes with the use and enjoyment of another’s property, like playing your stereo too loud can be a nuisance.”

“Back in 2016, council did give staff direction to come back with a vacant property ordinance. Something was provided it wasn’t super strong. But it did provide minimum security and protection requirements for properties,” Mick said.

According to the staff report, approximately 130 known or suspected vacant properties in the city have been informally observed. For purposes of surveying the city, properties were considered substantially vacant if it is believed that fewer than half of the units in the building were occupied. The volume of complaints concerning vacant properties has also consistently increased, with 11 received in 2021, 31 received in 2022 and 37 received in the first half of 2023.

“It does sound like we have identified it at least potentially, the vacant properties within the city,” remarked Mayor Gleam Davis, “Do you intend to be proactive with those particular properties?”

To which Mick answered, “Absolutely.”

The item was moved by Mayor Pro Tempore Lana Negrete and seconded by Councilmember Phil Brock with no amendments and passed unanimously 6-0 as Councilmember Jesse Zwick was absent due to catching Covid.

Scott fell in love with Santa Monica when he was much younger and now, after living and working in five different countries, he has returned. He's written for the likes of the FT, NBC, the BBC and CNN.