October 14, 2009 > Dispute Resolution
One of my priorities as a county supervisor is to promote healthy, peaceful and harmonious neighborhoods. Sometimes basic "neighbor to neighbor" communications break down and neighborhood peace-- turns into neighborhood war. Imagine you bought a new home three years ago in a great neighborhood with wonderful and friendly neighbors. Now imagine that it is has become a nightmare for you. Over the three-year time frame your neighbor next door, who welcomed you warmly, has acquired cars for his two kids. They park in front of your house, leaving no room for visitors to park and creating disturbances with loud music late into the night. To add insult to injury, the neighbor's dog is barking incessantly at any minor noise and you're losing sleep.
You've tried talking to him. His answers have been less than cordial; "it's a public street" or "You know how kids are". The friendly smile that was there to greet you as a new neighbor has been replaced by glares and silence. You've called the City's code enforcement department for help. They have investigated and determined there are no code violations. In retaliation for your call you suspect your neighbor is the one who has been littering your property and tagging your fence.
What can you do? You are at the point where you want to say forget it and sell your home. But the market is down and you'll lose money. Where do you turn?
The answer might be the Community Dispute Resolution service provided by the County's Office of Human Relations. They provide a wide range of services which include neighbor to neighbor disputes as well as entire neighborhood issues resolution. They are trained specifically to handle situations where small things have escalated into larger fights and even court action. Their success lies not in resolving the dispute but in assisting the parties to achieve the resolution on their own. They would talk to you and your neighbor separately to get a sense of the issue and the expectations and then move forward with both together. It's a voluntary program and they have successfully helped hundreds of people.
We sometimes think that disputes are caused by differences in language or culture. But what about the communication factor? We see it as well in our family life. How often have we misinterpreted a small conversation with our wife, husband or kids? If we don't seek to clarify at the time, the issue can magnify and create tensions and escalate even further. The Dispute Resolution Team recognizes the different forms of communications that opposing parties bring to the table. They can effectively guide and direct two parties who have differing styles. For example, one of their dispute cases involved a homeowner, who was an engineer, with his neighbor, who was a contractor, over a large monetary dispute. The resolution team recognized that what was at battle was the type of thinking pattern of the engineer going up against the free thinking contractor, and once they helped the neighbors to recognize this, an agreement was reached and the parties avoided costly litigation.
It is key to keep talking with your neighbors and try to maintain the attitude you had when you first moved in. If something comes up, don't be afraid to talk to your neighbor about it. Remember the little things, left unaddressed, are the ones that escalate into problems. If you are having an issue or know of a friend or relative who might need the county's service, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org cgov.org or (408) 299-5030 and I am happy to help. And remember, it's not just one on one differences. Dispute Resolution is a great resource if an entire neighborhood has an issue.
As I've stated before, the County, despite the faltering economy, has some very good resources to help you and your neighborhood thrive. I hope you will take advantage and I look forward to seeing you out in the community soon.
Santa Clara County
District Three Supervisor