Lazarus, who has lived in his home on Paseo Bonita in La Jolla since 1999, obtained permits for his various renovations and launched into construction, which included the conversion of his ordinary mailbox into a masonry mailbox, with the box itself lodged inside a 4-foot stucco structure. Plenty of other residents on his street and in the community had similar structures, and he liked the solid look of the structure that matched the look of his stucco home.
Twelve years after all the renovations were completed, Lazarus received an unpleasant surprise in the form of a civil-penalty notice from the city’s Neighborhood Code Compliance Department. His mailbox, it seemed, was in violation of the San Diego Municipal Code. Most egregious of his crimes, Lazarus was told, was that his mailbox apparently did not conform to the guidelines of the United States Postal Service (USPS).
“[The compliance officer] told me I needed to get an EMRA (encroachment maintenance and removal agreement) from the city in order to keep my mailbox,” Lazarus said. “So I went to the city but they refused to give it to me because my mailbox is over 3 feet tall. But, according to the USPS guidelines, the box should be 41 to 45 inches off the ground.”
Lazarus found out from a city engineer that a special permit for a masonry mailbox could be obtained for a structure under 3 feet tall, but a masonry structure over that height was illegal, a requirement that stands in direct conflict with the USPS guidelines, which Lazarus was told to follow for construction of his mailbox. As he seemed to be backed into a corner — and because the city threatened to fine him $2,500 for each day that his illegal mailbox remained in place — he decided he had no choice but to destroy the structure, a move, he said, that is costing him hundreds of dollars.
“They say I have to comply with USPS guidelines, but those are recommendations, not requirements,” he said. “[The code compliance officer] wouldn’t go for that explanation, so now I have no choice but to remove it. I’ve ordered a simple mailbox to replace it.”
Noting that scores of homes in the community have similar mailboxes, Lazarus wondered if the city would go after everyone. An attorney he spoke to told him that if the mailboxes can be determined to be the standard in the community, a case against the city could be made. At $2,500 a day in the meantime, however, Lazarus said he couldn’t afford to go that route. At press time, repeated attempts to contact the Neighborhood Code Compliance Department and the officer who served Lazarus his notice went unanswered.
“These mailboxes are something that have been in the community for decades,” he said. “It’s nothing new.”
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