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.