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‘Codewatch’ Saves City Money, Officials Say

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and City Council members Laura Chick and Mike Feuer said Wednesday that “Codewatch"--a new program that trains volunteers to spot building-code violations--has saved the city an estimated $100,000 in its first three months of operation.

The 60 volunteers who take part in the program in the San Fernando Valley offered tips that generated 805 code-violation cases between April and June, Chick said. Of those, 360 have been dealt with--78% through voluntary compliance by violators, and 22% through referrals to city officials. The remaining 445 cases are still pending.

The estimate of how much money the program has saved is based on what it would have cost to have those cases settled through the actions of city employees, rather than those of volunteers, program manager Dale Wong said.

Modeled on a program used in San Diego, Codewatch has volunteers patrol neighborhoods and notify owners by mail of code violations spotted on their properties.

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The volunteers look for 14 code violations ranging from trash cans left out too long to overgrown weeds to cars parked on lawns.

If the violators comply with a written request to fix the problem, they are sent a thank-you note. If not, their case is referred to code-enforcement officials.

Although the program has raised concerns that it could lead to confrontations between property owners and volunteers, Chick and other advocates have played down the potential for conflict.

Volunteers are taught to be discreet and are not allowed to patrol their own neighborhoods. Their names are not mentioned in letters to violators.

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While some volunteers have been questioned while removing handbills from public property, no serious incidents have taken place, Wong said.

“The principle is just community people looking out for their communities,” said Deane Leavenworth, spokesman for the Mayor.

The number of cases generated by the program, “was higher than I expected,” Chick said. “The voluntary compliance is a big thing. That saves taxpayers’ dollars,” she said, because city employees do not have to spend time pursuing the case.

Chick was an early advocate of the Codewatch program, part of city efforts to address quality-of-life issues in neighborhoods, and to halt their slide into disrepair. Keeping up the appearance of buildings and neighborhoods helps keep crime at bay, she said.

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“This is not just going to save money on building inspectors,” she said. “Eventually it will save big money on police officers.”


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