Court tosses code enforcement cases spurred on by letter from disgraced former assistant development services director

Couple who owns West Side semitruck storage yard found not liable in four code violation cases

Aerial footage of the couple's property off Potranco Road. (Joshua Saunders, Eddie Latigo, KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – An administrative hearing officer has tossed out four code violation cases against the owners of a West San Antonio storage yard after ruling that city code does not require the parking area to be paved.

KSAT Investigates reported last month that a letter written by a disgraced city executive was used as the catalyst for multiple code enforcement cases at the property in the 8200 block of Potranco Road.

The 2021 letter, written by former San Antonio assistant development services director for land development Fernando De Leon, raised concerns that a certificate of occupancy for the property was issued by the city in error, that the front parking area used to store semitrucks was not paved and that flood concerns on the property created a “life safety issue.”

De Leon, who served 14 months in federal prison for bribery, established a code consulting firm after his release from federal custody in 2016.

The letter, which De Leon confirms he wrote as background research for a developer of a West Side project that borders the couple’s land, was eventually provided to District 6 staff who then forwarded it to the city’s development services department, prompting a review of the property.

Ex-assistant development services director Fernando De Leon confirms writing the 2021 letter and giving it to a partner of a West Side development. (KSAT)

City officials as recently as last month said they were unaware who sent the letter to city council staff.

In a municipal court ruling last month, an administrative hearing officer said the elderly couple who owns and lives on the property is not liable for code violations related to a lack of paving in the yard’s parking area.

San Antonio City Council in 2011 approved zoning that allows the couple to live at the back of the property while continuing to store semitrucks as a commercial parking business in the front of it, city records show.

The couple had looked into pouring concrete in the parking area, but determined it was too expensive and would constantly need repairs due to cracking, city records show.

The zoning case moved forward without the improvement being made, after the couple agreed to prohibit oil changes from being done on the property, emails show.

But as recently as last summer, an assistant city attorney wrote that there is no document stating the city agreed to not require the paving.

“Per my clients, there was never an agreement to waive that requirement and no one can locate any such document reflecting such an agreement so far,” the attorney wrote in June 2022.

A city spokesman provided the following statement Friday after the city released records of the code enforcement cases being dismissed:

“Development Services investigates potential code violations and issue citations when warranted. Municipal Court then decides whether to uphold the citation. Development Services will continue to investigate potential code violations at any property and issue citations when warranted. In this case, Municipal Court has ruled on the citations.”

Following a public records request from KSAT, the city this summer released more than 2,400 pages of documents detailing De Leon’s extensive communication with city staff, including the heads of both Development Services and the city’s Public Works Department.

The internal city records show De Leon has communicated with city staff on at least 74 construction projects since being released from federal prison.

Officials this summer defended the contact between city staff and De Leon, stating he is a “customer” of the city and that they cannot discriminate against people with criminal backgrounds when issuing permits.

One of the developers of the project that borders the couple’s land, Vicinia, told KSAT this summer that De Leon’s research was part of the due diligence done by his group as it was looking to purchase the couple’s land.

The developer confirms his group made multiple offers to buy the property, as Vicinia believed early on that it needed to acquire the land to help with drainage.

The developer said his group eventually hired an engineer and found a drainage solution without needing to purchase the couple’s property.

KSAT was present for the groundbreaking of Vicinia in the fall of 2019, but the project appears far from being completed.

The developer said this summer he had no update on when it will move into its next stage of development and that it was always planned to be a long-term project.

A website for the project appears to have been taken offline within the past few weeks.

Editorial note: The owners of the property are related by marriage to a KSAT producer.

About the Author:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.