A Santa Barbara hearing officer revoked the $14,000 fine imposed on landlord Dario Pini for converting the “crawl space” under Pini’s property at 1105 East Gutierrez Street into two rental units, as well as several other allegedly chronic zoning violations. According to the revocation ruling, issued by hearing officer Kristy Schmidt, Pini had redressed the crawl-space violations within 13 days of being out on notice on July 13. The July 13 notice gave Pini 15 days to correct the problem.
According to City Attorney Steve Wiley, Pini, who owns more than 100 rental properties on the South Coast, has been a chronic enforcement problem since the 1990s. For that reason, City Hall imposed the maximum allowable fine — $250 a day per violation — on Pini. On that point, Schmidt, who normally works as a labor negotiator in the City Administrator’s Office, took issue. Whatever prior enforcement issues existed at the East Gutierrez Street property, she found, predated the current dispute by nearly two years. Under city code, she stated, the maximum penalty can be imposed only if the prior problem occurred within the previous 12 months.
Last month, Wiley filed a massive 64-count lawsuit against Pini, charging that the landlord has allowed slum-like conditions to proliferate at 27 of his properties to the detriment of Pini’s many tenants and to their neighbors as well. In that action, Wiley included the violations city inspectors found at 1105 East Gutierrez. In addition to the “crawl-space” apartments, city inspectors found the garage had been converted into an illegal rental, that an RV and trailer parked in the driveway had been converted to rental housing, and that the yard was cluttered with an over-abundance of trash and debris. (The crawl-space rentals in question had ceiling heights of six to seven feet.)
Wiley put Pini in jail on similar charges in the early 1990s and has had ongoing enforcement issues with him ever since. It remains to be seen what legal significance the revocation might have on the broader civil action Wiley filed against Pini last month. “It seems to me a pretty clear case of double jeopardy,” said Pini’s attorney Larry Powell. “You don’t get two bites at the apple.” Wiley said Schmidt’s decision should have no impact on City Hall’s more ambitious civil action against Pini. “Dario’s violations are a continuum of improper and nonexistent maintenance such that most of his properties are in violation of Uniform Housing Code,” he stated. As to the repairs Pini made, Wiley was openly skeptical. “Many of Dario’s ‘corrections’ have a way of not lasting very long.”
Wiley is seeking a court order to compel Pini to bring his units into compliance. He’s also seeking fines of $16,400 for all the alleged violations combined for each day they’ve occurred. Beyond that, Wiley is demanding a court order to put Pini’s substantial real estate empire into a receivership should he fail to clean up his act. For the time being, Powell expressed satisfaction that Schmidt revoked the sizable fine City Hall sought to impose. Given that Schmidt, a high-ranking City Hall employee, works closely with Wiley, Powell said he had his doubts. “It’s kind of like getting a traffic ticket,” he said, “and having a cop decide whether you’re guilty.”
The original posting of this article incorrectly stated that the fine had been imposed by City Attorney Steve Wiley. Hearing Officer Kristy Schmidt responded to that error: The article “$14,000 Fine Revoked for Landlord Dario Pini” contains some apparent inaccuracies that I want to correct. As a hearing administrator, I don’t overturn Steve Wiley on anything. Administrative citations and fines related to enforcement cases, such as the one you reference, are imposed by city staff in the Community Development Department, not by the City Attorney. There is a regular appeal procedure whereby a hearing administrator, frequently a manager from another city department, will review staff’s imposition of an administrative fine. As just one of a panel of staff hearing administrators, I am selected randomly to review a handful of appeals every year.
The decision that I rendered in this case was limited to facts presented by staff and Mr. Pini in an appeal hearing limited to one specific citation on one specific property. I am not familiar with, nor did I consider in rendering the decision, anything related to other enforcement cases against Mr. Pini, nor related to a more comprehensive lawsuit filed by the City Attorney”s Office. I think it is important to clarify the very limited scope of this particular appeal decision as compared to any larger action against Mr. Pini. – Kristy Schmidt, employee relations manager, City Administrator’s Office, S.B.