Steve Amster's Oceanside house, bought at auction
  • Steve Amster's Oceanside house, bought at auction
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Last month, Oceanside businessman Steve Amster bought a house at auction. The boarded-up house, in the 1400 block of Dubuque Street in Oceanside, had been gutted by the city before auction.

A few days after the purchase, Amster showed up to get a look inside the 60-year-old home, located in a neighborhood referred to by many as a barrio, on the mesa east of I-5 and north of Mission Road.

While removing the boards over the doorways, a code-enforcement officer from the city showed up and advised Amster that he could not proceed without permits — a permit for demolition or to remodel.

“I was shocked and pissed,” said Amster. “I told the guy, ‘Here I am spending my own money to improve this neighborhood, and you’re already here hassling me.'” Amster says he told the officer that he needed to see what he had bought, start cleaning it up, and estimate the work needed. Once that was done, Amster said he would have his architect draw up plans for permits.

The following week, Amster says the officer was in the alley behind the house, taking pictures of Amster doing what he called minor cleanup. Amster said he asked the officer what he was doing. He was told he was in violation, doing unpermitted work.

Amster says he asked the officer why the city didn’t have better things to do, such as dispose of mattresses, couches, and other debris left in the alleys; or contact the homeowners who have blue tarps covering several roofs in the area; or talk to the resident with a refrigerator in their front yard. Amster says he pointed out the address of a home, two streets over, where the backyard is filled up with old truck bodies, some stacked, one on top of another.

Amster then went to city hall and spoke with a supervisor. The supervisor, according to Amster, said code enforcement only responds when citizens complain.

Days later, Amster got a “violation summons” with a $100 fine. The form letter stated he would be fined more if work continued without permits. After receiving the letter, Amster said, he painted the inside and did some minor repairs of broken walls. Amster says he’s also planning to tear down a non-permitted additional bathroom built by the former owner.

“It’s cheaper for me to pay the fines because I know the city’s going to sit on my application for weeks, which would cost me time and money,” Amster says. He expects his architect to file plans with the city in the upcoming week.

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Comments

Visduh Nov. 30, 2012 @ 9:45 p.m.

It's impossible to tell just which of the city council factions this can be blamed on. Is it the Wood/Sanchez group of "neighborhood" folks, or the opposing "financially responsible/business friendly" block of three? Or is it just a city bureaucracy that has been allowed to go its own way for so long that it is accountable to nobody? But anyone who would buy one of those dumps in the Oceanside barrio is a nutcase. Amster needs to seek psychiatric help before he spends or invests any more of his hard-earned dollars in that out-of-control city by the sea.

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Javajoe25 Nov. 30, 2012 @ 11:16 p.m.

This is bizarre. They should at least give the guy a chance to take stock of what's what and see what really needs to be done. Fixing damaged walls and painting should not require a permit, and what's with this rabid code officer taking pictures of this guy doing minor work. I don't get it. I mean, if it's going to be major reconstruction or some such, I can understand the permit requirement, but just to do some basic repairs, this is just ridiculous.

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Burwell Dec. 1, 2012 @ 1:12 p.m.

Amster was the guy hassling the motorcycle cop in front of his bagel joint. There's probably a connection between Amster's current predicament and his hassling of the cop. The Code Enforcement Officer's actions are probably totally within the law. The city probably would have let things slide had Amster not hassled the cop. If I was Amster I would mail the keys to the bank and walk away from the property. He's going to face $100,000 or more in legal fees if he tries to go ahead with the project. He's going to have to prove compliance with every mickey mouse rule and regulation in the code, and the city's going to claim that he's not complying no matter what he does.

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 1, 2012 @ 3:46 p.m.

Amster was the guy hassling the motorcycle cop in front of his bagel joint.

Same guy?? I think I agree with him, even if it is.

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Javajoe25 Dec. 1, 2012 @ 10 p.m.

$100,000 in legal fees? I would think even if the place is a dump, it still would not be that far out of compliance with code. I mean, how old is this place anyway?

If he is the one who hassled the cop outside the bagel joint, it could come back to haunt him and they may bust his chops with some compliance issues, but I still don't see how it could get that expensive or complicated. Unless this guy Amster is a total looney tune, in which case this thing was doomed from the start, then I still think he ought to be allowed to do what he needs to in order to assess the true condition of the property.

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Ken Harrison Dec. 3, 2012 @ 7:33 a.m.

Amster owns other properties in the neighborhood and they all were old house that he fixed up, and now they are nice homes for someone. Amster has also fought city hall (Encinitas) over his fines for banners at the bagel shop, and he's won. And do you really think Burwell that O'side code enforcement guys really care about an Encinitas moto officer. I've heard it said from real police that code enforcement guys are only one step above security guards, they couldn't be real cops. So they give them a badge (no gun) and a ticket book have them drive around looking for guys like Amster. Code enforcement is the civil side of law, cops are the criminal side. THey usually don't intertwine unless a code guy finds a dead body inside a long abandon vehicle with a Bush 04 sticker on it.

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Ken Harrison Dec. 3, 2012 @ 7:35 a.m.

In short, we need more guys like Amster to show the over-regulated government (on all levels) that we individuals are still in charge of our own lives, businesses, and property.

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Wabbit Dec. 3, 2012 @ 11:14 a.m.

I think The Reader should contact this overactive Code Enforcement guy and find out what the story is. What's his usual rate of finding "issues" like this? Does this guy have a reason to dislike Amster? Personally, if I lived in the area, I would want to know why a civil servant would want to go after someone who was obviously fixing up the neighborhood.

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 3, 2012 @ 1:06 p.m.

I think The Reader should contact this overactive Code Enforcement guy and find out what the story is. What's his usual rate of finding "issues" like this? Does this guy have a reason to dislike Amster?

Great idea, get the SDReader sleuths on this case, I think we all know the true reason...... the code dork is just harrassing the guy.

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