Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Owning property in the city -- this is just silly

First, let me introduce you to Carol Anderson.  She's the Senior housing and zoning inspector, code compliance division, for the department of planning and development (DPD) for the City of Seattle.   I figure a formal introduction here is in order, because this is a story about Carol. 

Carol was a little shy initially about having her picture taken, but warmed up pretty quickly.  Carol is good that way.   That's Carol on the left.  On the right is Angela Summer, another Senior housing and zoning inspector from DPD

Nice smile, Carol. 

 The specific complaint that Carol was responding to was "junk storage".  I didn't understand what she meant by this -- There were two freezers on the back porch, some plants in both pots and 5 gallon buckets, a small pile of kindling wood and a few other odds and ends in the back yard.  I just didn't see it.  Here's a couple of pictures of the "junk storage" backyard. 

 I'm just not getting it.  What's junk?  huh?  I email Ms. Anderson and ask her to clarify.  Her response: 
"Mr King,

Hopefully this information will be of assistance to you:
The case number that has been obtained for this most recent complaint is #1024520.
Please look at Director’s rule 6-90, which can be viewed by going to the DPD website www.Seattle.Gov/DPD
Then choose Resources, Director’s Rules, and look at 6-90. This is the Land Use interpretation for junk storage, and also explains Seattle land use code section 23.42.020 A, Accessory uses.
The Seattle Land Use Code, Title 23 can also be viewed on line.
Citation enforcement procedure is explained in chapter 23.91.
Section 23.91.020 explains “abatement”.

Ok.  Fine.  I look up directors rule 6-90.  It refers to junked or inoperable cars or items that are not customarily incidental to residential use .  Nope, none there.  Abandoned or salvaged items.  hmm... don't see any there.   What on earth are you talking about, Ms. Anderson?  I ask again, and her response: 

"Mr. King,

On my initial site visit to your property, I pointed out the items that need to be removed in order for your property to be in compliance. Nothing since that initial visit has changed. These items include, but are not limited to:
1. The pile of salvage wood ( discarded lath), and the other wood scraps that were outside on 12/27.
2. The 5 gallon buckets that are strewn about the yard.
3. The 2 freezers that are outside on your porch, if they are not inside, or in an enclosed area.
4. Any other bags stored outside on the property, and any other salvage metal or wood, garbage, etc.
We will be at your property on January 5th at 10:00 AM. If you choose not to remove the items to put your property into compliance, The City will remove them for you.
Thank you in advance.
Carol Anderson"

Freezers.  Huh.  They're in use, they're on the back porch, they're full of meat.  Lathe we use as kindling in the fireplace.   Don't see the problem..   Freezers/refrigerators are customary and incidental to residential use.  As are flowerpots.  And firewood.  What gives?

  5 gallon buckets strewn about the yard.  Let me go back outside and look:

 Yes, there are quantity 10 5 gallon buckets.  They're full of potting soil and plants.  Some are upright, some are on their sides to drain.  "strewn about the yard".  Maybe Carol has something personal against gardening.  I don't know. 
Concord grape starts in this bucket dormant because of the winter season. 

Ok.  I'm not getting it.   If Carol really wants the buckets, she can have them.  I ask her to clarify which Seattle Municipal code says buckets can't be used for gardening; she declines to answer.  I would, too.  It's not against the law to garden using buckets in your backyard. 

But Carols on a a mission. 

"Mr. King,

I wanted to let you know that we will be at your property tomorrow sometime around noon instead of 10. The Community Police Officers that were going to meet me got pulled into a special project at the last minute so they instructed me to request a standby through dispatch. Shift change and roll call are around 11:30, so I think we are looking at noon or shortly after.

A couple of police officers.  A couple of DPD staffers.  At least three visits, and this is about 10 buckets of plants.  The other stuff that she's complained about is long gone.

So Carol and her entire crew descended on my backyard this morning, and they removed the offending 10 buckets.  They dumped the plants out, and dumped the plants out of the pot as well.  They took the buckets, but left the pot.  I guess they decided that gardening is half-ok?  Or that some sorts of pots are allowed? 

You tell me. 

Now this is coming at a time when Seattle is having one of the worst budget crisis it has ever had.  Carol, how much resource did you just invest in removing 10 buckets of plants from a backyard? 

And isn't gardening legal in your own backyard? 

I just love Seattle.  Love it to death.


Dave said...

I am willing to bet that sometime in the not too distant future you get a bill from seattle for cleaning up your property, they gotta pay for Mayor McMumbles bycycle lanes somehow.
Maybe you should have spray painted the buckets and claimed them as yard art.

Patty S. said...

Holy cow, somebody's got it in for you big time. Unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

Just reinforces my reasoning for NOT living in a city!

Erin said...

So I guess they are only plant pots if you pay money for them. Reuse, recycle and re-purpose are just cute little sayings on a poster, don't actually do it.

Across The Creek Farm said...

They'd crap a brick if they took a drive through rural Arkansas

Kevin Kossowan said...


StefRobrts said...

So they left your freezers alone?

Lee Johnson said...

Isn't it against the law to NOT recycle in Seattle ... so why is against the law to reuse? I have to say that the more you write about Snohomish, the more convinced I am to never live in Washington. Oregon also loves useless bureaucrats, but has even less money to fund their madness.

Ultimately, the problem is cities. When you squeeze enough people into a small area, there will be a number of overwrought perfectionists who believe their quality of life is impacted by your 5-gallon buckets. HOAs cater to these people in particular, but it seems your local zoning department is happy to oblige as well.

Bruce King said...

I'm a little bemused by the whole episode. I'll get a bill, no doubt. I've submitted a public disclosure request that I think will yield some interesting background on this, and I'll follow up on it when I recieve it.

These guys are worse than a HOA. At least with a HOA, you're talking about neighbors and you can hold them to the same standards. I asked carol to let me come and look at her backyard. Her reply? "you'll get a better view from the alley" -- ok. What's your address? "I don't have to give you that". Look, if it's good for the goose, it's good for the gander. No double standards here. If she feels like it's appropriate to scrutinize peoples property and uphold certain standards, I'd expect her to be open to the same scrutiny.

Bruce King said...

It is actually against the law not to recycle. But you have to recycle in the approved way, with the approved contractor. That way you pay the largest number of people possible. And they contribute to political campaigns. I'm a bit cynical about this, I'll admit.

Bruce King said...

stef: this whole thing started when I had to evict a renter. The tenant asked that he be able to bag his stuff, including a mattress, and put it at the back of the house for a few days while he moved. A few days turned into a week, and the guy just dissapeared. I waited another week, and then took all the stuff to the dump.

At some point during that, someone complained to the city. Carol followed up on the complaint, and she kinda blew it when she said "and it smells, I was just out there" -- at the time the stuff was already gone.
So a few days later she came out and verified that the stuff in the complaint was gone, but then decided that the freezers, wood pile and buckets/plants had to go, too. So I moved the wood pile and freezers, but finally got fed up with it. She and I had several exchanges, which I've excerpted above, but she was not going to back down.
Fine. Consulted an attorney, attorney advised me that I couldn't file a claim or put this in front of a judge until they harmed me in some way. I moved the freezers and the wood pile and everything else but the plants, and called carol and told her that. Not good enough; the potted plants have to go, too.
That seemed unreasonable. So now that they've damaged me I'll take appropriate action.

Carol was reluctant to put anything in writing, which I believe is for obvious reasons. She's out of bounds here, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

This is amazing. They should really bring a bit of common sense to their job. Who doesn't reuse buckets for gardening?

Anonymous said...

There must be ways of finding out her address but if you followed her you'd no doubt be done for stalking. Do you guys have anything like the Brit 'Freedom of information Act'? Failing that get Wikileaks of her case.
Sounds like harrassment to me.
I love growing tree from seeds and cuttings and my yard has maybe 600 pots from ounces to 10galls.
Feel sympathy with you fellah!