Alonso Carballido Olegario was taking a shower on a recent morning when he felt something heavy hit his shoulder. A ceiling panel had suddenly collapsed under the weight of several months' worth of dripping water that had collected somewhere above Olegario's ground-level apartment in Anaheim's Jeffrey-Lynne neighborhood, a mostly Spanish-speaking neighborhood near Disneyland.
More than anything, Olegario says he's glad his young daughter wasn't in the tub when the panel broke. But Olegario and his wife, Reyna, say they'll take their landlord to small-claims court, citing his failure to fix a problem they had complained about for eight months. Although the couple pays $475 per month in rent, their walls have dry rot, a bedroom window is broken, and neither the oven nor the garbage disposal works. Olegario offered to paint the apartment himself-if the owner provided paint and brushes-but to no avail.
Across the street, Antonia Mendoza has lived for five months in a one-bedroom apartment. She says she pays $550 per month but has no hot water. Mendoza's building also boasts crumbling staircases and exposed drywall.
Last year, Anaheim officials announced they would clean up Jeffrey-Lynne, transforming the crime- and blight-plagued barrio into a safer, more suburban-seeming community. As a centerpiece of that effort, officials said they would get tough on landlords who violate the city's building codes. But critics charge that hasn't happened. Instead, they say, city officials have opted to crack down on “nuisance” violations. While homes crumble, city officials and police have targeted street vendors, noise and on-street parking.
As Mendoza spoke, a white pickup truck bearing the logo of the Anaheim code-enforcement division pulled up to the curb. The truck wasn't there to investigate Mendoza's water problem or the holes in her walls. The driver had spotted several parked cars that will soon be in violation of the city's new on-street-parking ban. A few minutes later, the truck moved on, having left a row of cars with written warnings.
For the past several weeks, the city has implemented a rolling parking ban on the streets of Jeffrey-Lynne and has urged residents to park their cars in garages. But many in the densely populated community use garages for storage and car repairs-even living space.
“The city's community-development agency and code-enforcement division have never expressed concern about the living conditions in substandard housing in Jeffrey-Lynne,” insisted Duane Roberts, a Green Party activist. “They're more concerned about whether a vendor stays in the same parking space for more than 10 minutes.”
“The city is not enforcing the [building] codes,” complained Francisco Ceja, a Jeffrey-Lynne resident and member of United Neighborhoods, a community-activist group. “Owners don't want to put any more money into the buildings. The only people suffering are the tenants. They still have to pay the same rent.”
The city's official response to such criticism is to point out that it has already begun criminal proceedings against five landlords who own property in Jeffrey-Lynne and that five other cases are in the courts.
The problem, said code-enforcement manager John Poole, is that attacking errant landlords takes “years to accomplish,” while parking-code enforcement “is very immediate.”
“In this country, you have the right to appeal and defend yourself in court,” said Poole. “We've not had cooperation from a number of owners. The tragedy is that what they spend in legal fees could really help out with repairing their property. We're challenging them, but it takes time.”
“It's easier for residents to park on the street,” Poole acknowledged. “But we know that if you take away on-street parking, the drug dealers will disappear. They usually like to drive up, park their cars and stand around. If the whole block is full of cars, then how are you going to be able to tell them apart from everyone else?”
Critics say such drug-war logic betrays the city's real objective in redeveloping the neighborhood. “They say it's to lower crime, but it's really about density,” asserted Roberts. “The city wants to reduce the number of people living in this community. When you ban on-street parking, you make it virtually impossible for these working families -many of whom have more than one car-to stay in the community.”
While Poole denies the parking ban is designed to push residents out of the neighborhood, he admits that reducing population is one of the city's primary goals for Jeffrey-Lynne.
“Certainly, density does need to be reduced,” Poole said. “We can't have people living in garages.” He added that the city has sponsored garage-cleanup campaigns, even going so far as to offer free towing services to people with inoperable vehicles. “We're trying to do everything we can to make things better,” he said.
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).