The county code enforcement department is making slow but steady progress cleaning up dilapidated and dangerous properties around Valencia County.
Valencia County Community Services Director Nancy Gonzales, who oversees the code enforcement department, said officers are working 66 active cases right now, with 23 closed and seven pending.
“I think the abatement program is going a little slower than we’d hoped, but we’re taking our time to make sure we’re doing everything correctly according to our ordinances,” Gonzales.
The director said the department has taken the effort to send out three notices to property owners who need to clean up their lot, instead of the two notices required by county ordinance.
“We send them by certified mail, then the owners have two weeks to appeal the notice in writing,” she said. “If there’s no written objection within 30 days of the last notice, then we can move forward and clean the property.”
Photos courtesy of Valencia County Code Enforcement
Used tires and remnants of a burnt building littered a property on Van Camp Boulevard in El Cerro Mission, above, last spring. The owners cleaned up the property within a couple months, avoiding a lien by the county. County code administrators expect abatement resolutions for several properties to go before the Valencia County Commission on March 2, which, if approved, could result in liens being placed on properties to recover the costs of abatement.
Sometimes that’s as straight forward of cleaning up debris, old furniture and trash but, in other cases, structures are demolished, Gonzales said. A lien is placed on the property by the county, which must be paid if the property is sold.
A property owner can appeal the violation to district court before any clean-up or demolition happens, Gonzales said. So far, no one has gone that route, so it’s difficult to predict an outcome.
“I would imagine a judge would give the property owner the benefit of the doubt, give them time to clean up the property,” she said. “I’m not really sure though.”
When owners are contacted about a derelict piece of property, Gonzales said, in some cases, the ownership can be a bit unclear.
“With the pending cases, it’s because owners have told us they sold the property years before or they are on a real estate contract,” she said. “In other cases, we’re seeing people who want to clean up their properties, but they don’t have the means. They want to donate the property and we’re referring them over to our property donation program.”
If the property is accepted by the county commission, then the county becomes the owner and it can be cleaned up and structures removed, she said.
“There are multiple ways that we can clean things up. The program, in general, I think is working. I think it’s been slower moving than we would have liked but we’re making sure we’re doing everything correctly,” Gonzales said.
“We’ve been careful, making sure we understand our ordinances. If it’s a property that needs to be cleaned up, just trash, that’s one thing, but if you throw in a building that’s then demolished, that’s a hard mistake. Someone may think it’s a terrible building, but there’s still value, it’s somebody’s property.”
Photos courtesy of Valencia County Code Enforcement
In July 2021, a dilapidated property on Brazaro Boulevard in Monterey Park, above, was cleaned up by the owners after the Valencia County Code Enforcement Office began the abatement process of the property. Because the owners complied, a lien was not placed on the property by the county.
The county received three separate funding allocations from the Legislature — $500,000, $177,600 and $390,000 — through the county’s Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan priorities, which must be used by the end of the 2023-24 fiscal year.
“The hope is we can eventually fund this through our general fund, and address several properties a year. This is a big problem in the county, but couldn’t have started with just county money,” she said. “We’re hoping that by starting the cycle we can fund this as an ongoing initiative.
“We need to make sure we don’t leave any money on the table and show our legislators this is something they should keep investing in.”
While all of the county code enforcement officers identify dilapidated properties, Gonzales said two of them have become the “experts” when it comes to the abatement process.
“Two are focusing on making sure the process is carried out correctly. If it does go to court, they are prepared to say, ‘This is the precise process we followed for every single one of these, just like we always do. It’s not discrimination; we’re not targeting anyone.’”
To report a dangerous or dilapidated structure or nuisance property in the unincorporated part of Valencia County, or to inquire about a closed or active case, call the county code enforcement department at 505-866-2054.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.