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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
West Valley code enforcement officer Jill Robinson and fellow officer Dennis Murray check a home. Forty-three percent of West Valley properties have code violations.

WEST VALLEY CITY — The house looks deserted, with mysterious electrical wires dangling between the slats of its shabby, white siding, but it's not so bad.

It's the overgrown weeds, incomplete fence and a ramshackle "For Rent" sign that make the home a classic example of the problem West Valley City is trying to purge from within its borders. On average, 43 percent of properties in the city have at least one code violation — from giant weeds to cars parked on the front yard — and city leaders are alarmed.

"I found the mailbox — it's in the tree," West Valley code enforcement officer Jill Robinson exclaimed as she scrutinized the property from across the street.

"What's the violation?" Robinson's trainer, code enforcement officer Dennis Murray, asked.

"Pretty much every one," she answered.

Robinson left a courtesy note of the property's violations wedged in the door. One down, hundreds to go.

According to a recent, city-sponsored survey of some 1,000 properties randomly selected from across West Valley City, some neighborhoods are worse than others — with percentages of violations in some areas as high as 58 percent and as low as 33 percent in other areas.

But Community Preservation Department Director Layne Morris says he's surprised to see that an average of 43 percent of properties in the city have code violations.

"In some ways, it's disturbing to us," Morris said. "In other ways, it makes sense. We thought, 'No wonder we've never been able to get anything done cleaning the place up.' We're so far behind the curve on the whole thing." West Valley City also sampled 100 homes in "the nicest part of the county," Morris said, declining to name the area — other than to define it as an upscale, east-side city — and 100 homes in a lower-scale west-side area to gain a frame of reference for where the city is. Seven percent of the east-side homes surveyed had violations, while 45 percent of the west-side area had violations.

"Even though this is uncomfortable for us as a city — obviously, we don't want to look any worse than we have to — but at the same time, I

want us to progress and improve, and we have to identify where our problems and issues are," City Manager Wayne Pyle said. "I can't find another model out there or other city out there that has gone to this extent. From that aspect, I think we're really doing something unique."

Earlier this year, West Valley City created a new Community Preservation Department to give a more concentrated effort to cleaning the city and improving its image. Five new code enforcement officers were sworn on June 10 to increase the department's hours of operation from four days a week to Monday—Saturday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Morris says the department also may work Sundays if it's necessary.

The city commissioned the survey to get a benchmark to see if the city has improved in a year. Another survey will be commissioned in May to see if the city has made any improvements.

Cracking down on houses that are chronic violators gives Murray — a retired police officer who's been with the preservation department for a year — some satisfaction. He recites the department's goals to preserve the welfare and comfort of West Valley residents like a mantra as he trains Robinson, one of the department's five new officers, and approaches another door with a rolled-up violation courtesy notice.

Helping preserve residents' property values is a motivator, but breaking West Valley's bad reputation is another reason Murray likes his job.

"You have the same problems in any city," says Murray, who points out that code enforcement officers have had their lives threatened for trying to enforce the city's codes. "West Valley City is committed and dedicated to making West Valley lose that reputation that there are all crooks and robbers and drug lords that live in West Valley City. We're tired of that."


E-mail: achoate@desnews.com