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Owner of shuttered parking lot claims harassment by city
The parking lot directly across from the local post office has gotten a lot of attention from the city of Porterville since it closed in June.
At the Porterville City Council’s regular meeting Tuesday night, the lot’s owner, Ken Lansford, called it “intimidation” and “harassment.”
Lansford purchased the property in 1975, and for the past 25 years had leased it to the post office. When the lease on the property expired in June of 2012, the post office gave Lansford a 120-day notice saying it would no longer be leasing the parking lot.
Lansford said that for security and public safety purposes, he had a local fence company install a chain link fence around the property. He also removed the landscaping.
“A few days later I got the letter from the planning department that the fence was in a code violation and would have to be removed,” Lansford said during an interview Friday.
The letter, dated June 22 and signed by associate planner Jose Ortiz, states that under the city’s development ordinance a chain link fence is not allowed in front- and street-facing side yards.
“Unfortunately, the fence was constructed without consultation with city staff for development requirements in the downtown area. Based on review of the downtown fence requirements, the fence should be removed from these areas along Mill Avenue and D Street,” the letter states.
The letter goes on to say whether the property is used by the owner or leased, Lansford is ultimately responsible for maintaining the landscape and irrigation system that used to exist.
“Although the previously existing landscape did not meet current city standards, it needs to be replaced to the extent that it was removed,” the letter reads.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, Lansford also said in meeting with Ortiz to discuss the violation, he was told he had to remove the fence and the hardware, but could leave the posts.
He removed the fence.
“I thought everything was OK until I received that letter from code enforcement that I had until March 1 to take all the stuff I had down,” including the posts and a single strand of rebar that he installed around the property.
Lansford said he received a call from the city’s code enforcement officer, Clayton Dignam, requesting he sit down with the city’s fire chief and fire marshal and discuss the violations.
Lansford said he met with city Fire Marshal David LaPere and investigator Mitch Sandoval.
“I had taken a small recorder with me and before we got started with the meeting I asked them if it was OK and they agreed it was OK,” Lansford said. “I think it ticked them off so they canceled the meeting before it got started.”
The last notice he received was on Feb. 8 and states, “Your property ... has been identified as an area in the city of Porterville that has become a nuisance.”
It also requires Lansford to correct the violations by March 1 and states failure to correct them may result in an administrative citations and referral to the city attorney.
“They felt the need to warn me to keep the property in good repair at all times, free of any debris or accumulated trash or I would be in violation of another code,” Lansford said. “Why would they send me a letter warning me to keep my property in good repair? Free of any debris if it wasn’t just an attempt to intimidate me?”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Lansford told the council that there were many properties in town the city could send such a letter to.
“Hundreds of them, I’m sure,” he said Friday. “There’s lots of properties that could be cited under that ordinance that they don’t get around to citing.”
Lansford posed the question, “Why the intimidation?” and asked if it was because he opposed the city when it wanted to close Kessing Street in 2010 to allow for Sierra View District Hospital’s expansion.
Lansford got a majority of property owners in that area to sign a petition against that project.
“Or, was it just to let me know not to get any big ideas about my property rights?” he said.
Attempts to contact Porterville Community Development Director Brad Dunlap to speak on the matter were unsuccessful.
Contact Denise Madrid at 784-5000, ext. 1047. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseMadrid_.