Chapter Four: Zine’s cop-out
Much of city government took days off in advance of the holiday so I was lucky to run into Councilman Dennis Zine who had the first shot at stopping the illegal conversion of a single family house in my neighborhood into a three-unit apartment building
It was Thursday night and I was a guest on “Primetime Zine,” the councilman’s monthly talk show hosted by Lee Kanan Alpert on Time Warner Cable’s public access channel. The invitation came before I found out Zine was one of the suspects in the mystery of who was killing my neighborhood.
With American flags flying from atop his SUV, Zine pulled into the Time Warner Cable parking lot and strutted up to me with two aides in tow. He wore an American flag tie, had an American flag lapel pin and carried a flag in his hand and was in the mood for a fight, if not a revolution.
I told him I was going to bring up the illegal conversion on air, that my neighbors were frustrated that neither he nor other city officials seem to take the issue very seriously and were so upset they were signing petitions.
“You’re wrong. They have a permit,” he snapped, insisting his staff did all it could by referring my neighbors’ complaint back in March to the Department of Building and Safety. (My neighbor, a retired doctor, doesn’t share that point of view, having spent hours waiting in Zine’s office in a futile effort to actually talk to the councilman).
They have a permit to illegally convert a house into an apartment? And all you did was refer the complaint to Building and Safety?
“It’s right here in the Building and Safety files,” he said, waving printouts downloaded by a staffer. “We looked into it today and it’s all perfectly legal. You’re wrong.”
What ensued was a heated discussion between two people who have had a lot of heated arguments over the years but still get along in a funny sort or way given the volatile nature of their personalities.
I told him a crime was being committed that would destroy my
neighborhood, chase away people who lived in there for 50 years and
turn it into a slum and he would share in the blame.
Zine would have none of it. “There’s no crime,” hs said. “My planning deputy has looked into it and everything is in order.”
didn’t know, however, about the July 16 hearing coming up — a private
hearing, public not allowed — over the citation for construction
without a permit or that two of the three units were already occupied.
“It’s legal to rent out rooms in your house,” he retorted.
install three kitchens, four bathrooms, with separate exits for the
three units, advertise three apartments for rent on westsiderentals.com
and seek $5, 500 a month in rent from three tenants while subdividing a
2,047 square foot house into more than a dozen rooms?
He said it’s a Building and Safety issue and the department will take care of it according to the law.
But you make the laws, I insisted, and if the laws are inadequate than it’s your job to fix them.
If this drags on for months or years, my neighborhood will be destroyed. What are you going to do about it?
“That’s a civil matter, not a city matter,” he said.
at that point the referee — Zine’s chief of staff Cliff Ruff, like the
councilman a retired cop and former police union official — stepped in
before someone, undoubtedly me, got hurt, most likely impaled with an
So the show went on but not before I overheard
Zine angrily claiming he was blind-sided and set up by bringing me, of
all people, in as a guest.
We argued a lot about just about
everything during my 15 minutes or so on air and agreed on some things
but stayed as civil to each other as our aforementioned personalities
It wasn’t until I got home that I took a closer look at
the records Zine handed me. records that supposedly showed the illegal
conversion wasn’t illegal after all because Building and Safety had
issued permits for the construction.
What Zine’s records in
fact showed was that building permits were issued in 2003 for
converting the house into a licensed board and care facility, which was
unpopular but accepted in the neighborhood. Those permits expired last
year and the only permit issued since was in February to install a
seismic gas valve. Zine’s records do not show the city approved of
converting the house into apartments, a point I raised in an email to
Ruff but haven’t heard back.
And so Dennis if you’re reading
this, or somebody is reading it to you, it’s you who is wrong. And
you’re still a suspect in the crime against my neighborhood whether
your aggressive attitude was simply based on misinformation or intended
Hey, I’m the detective in the case and I’ve got to keep an open mind to all possibilities..