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City rejects resident's appeal of cleanup order

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By David Giuliani

It’s a script that never seems to change: The City Council tells resident Tony Ortega to clean up one of his properties, and he threatens to take the matter to court.

On Wednesday, the council considered an appeal from Ortega, who is fighting a city order to clean up his property at 135 Railroad Ave.

Elmer Martinez, the city’s community development director, went through all the documentation on the case with the council. Ortega has been ordered to clear trash from his property, move out inoperable cars and demolish buildings that are considered dangerous to a neighbor’s property.

In his letter requesting an appeal, Ortega maintained that the city didn’t tell him about his right to appeal the council’s decision, and he noted that the process server gave him the council’s resolution on Columbus Day, a national holiday.

Martinez pointed to documents sent to Ortega that detailed the appeal procedure.

Gloria Ortiz Tafoya, who owns the house next door, said she has been trying to sell it but had letters from prospective buyers who said that they wouldn’t buy it because of Ortega’s building, which is falling over on her property.

“I’m coming to you on my hands and knees asking what we should do,” she said, praising the city’s code enforcers for doing what they can.

Dozens of residents have signed petitions urging the city to take action against Ortega for his Railroad Avenue properties. Other Ortega-owned properties have been the target of city action before.

Ortega didn’t say much during the appeal hearing.

“Please tell me that I have the right to appeal and send me a letter with the resolution signed by the mayor,” he told the council.

He said he would clean up the 135 Railroad Ave. property once he resolves a court case involving one of his properties near Interstate 25. A nearby landowner is objecting to his placing of inoperable vehicles and junk on that property. Until that litigation ends, Ortega said he can’t move items from his Railroad Avenue properties to near the highway.

The council unanimously denied his appeal, with Councilman Macario Gonzalez responding, “Oh, yes,” when asked for his vote on a motion to reject the appeal.

Ortega promised to take the matter to District Court.

After the vote, Councilman Tony Marquez questioned what he called an “infinite loop” in solving cleanup problems such as Ortega’s.

City Attorney Matt Sandoval said such efforts take years, as is the case in Albuquerque when it demolishes dilapidated motels on Central Avenue. “It’s a very frustrating process,” he said.