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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Council Subcommittee Explores Some Significant Code Enforcement Changes

• Recommendations Could Increase Local Regulatory Power

BY BILL KOENEKER

The Malibu City Council’s Zoning Ordinance Revisions and Code Enforcement Subcommittee met last week to hear from the staff on updating the city’s code enforcement policy.
The subcommittee is comprised of Mayor John Sibert and Councilmember Jefferson Wagner. Planning commissioners and others contribute to the discussion in the informal setting.
The staff was instructed to bring back a document with the actual policy language for further comment by the subcommittee.
The impetus for the discussion came from the city council, at the request of Sibert. Planners were directed to look at the current enforcement policy “to ensure that it is meeting the current needs of the city.”
Code enforcement became a very heated and controversial issue in the city’s history over 12 years ago and played a key part in one city council election.
The city currently has an “interim” code enforcement policy that was adopted in 2000 and was based on the recommendations of a 16-member code enforcement task force formed after the political furor of code enforcement issues spent itself.
The task force submitted a report that consisted of three subcommittee reports that resulted in the existing policy, as Planning Manager Joyce Parker Bozylinski points out in a staff report.
The current policy has three components. The first establishes that code enforcement is handled on a complaint basis except for those complaints involving health and safety matters or construction and grading without a permit.
All other complaints must be in writing and anonymous complaints will not be investigated.
The second component states that no progress reports will be provided to the complainant. “The reason for this policy was to avoid situations where a complaining party or member of the public would constantly call staff for updates on the case,” the planning manager added.
The final component of the code enforcement policy, according to Parker Bozylinksi, deals with enforcement. “This section covers home occupations, pre-1993 unpermitted structures. The home occupation provision is obsolete. The pre-1993 provision states that generally there will be no criminal prosecutions or civil actions on structures built before 1993.”
Parker Bozylinski said the staff had several questions in terms of what direction the subcommittee recommended code enforcement move towards. “Currently the provision that allows staff to prepare, serve and record a notice of violation on a property is only in the building code. Amending the municipal code to allowing notice of violations to be recorded on properties with zoning violations could be a good tool for staff to utilize to ensure compliance with all of the city’s regulations,” she wrote.
The planning manager, in a staff report, also wanted to know, “should the policy provide that no new planning or building permits will be issued on properties that have an active code enforcement case except to correct the violation? The policy could allow an applicant to process a permit for new development concurrently with a plan to cure the existing code violation.”
The big question that Parker asked is, “Should the city move to a proactive code enforcement program in which code enforcement staff would actively target certain code violations such as signage or other more visible violations and pursue these violations citywide without a written complaint?”
“While code enforcement policy could have a provision that indicates violations of conditions of approval on a planning approval, coastal development approval or any permit issued by the city can be pursued without a written complaint, staff believes this should be standard operating procedure. Any violation of a condition of approval should be pursued proactively without a written complaint if the city does not enforce the conditions of approval on a permit, those conditions of approval become meaningless,” according to Parker Bozylinksi.
Subcommittee members said they wanted to see what all of this would look like in a written policy format before further discussion and continued the matter until the staff could bring back a document.
Parker Bozylinski said she understood the panel could accept a proactive policy say for instance when it came to signage that staff could contact businesses and explain how a sign could be in violation. “But a written complaint would still be needed for residential,” she added.
The subcommittee, as the planning manager understood it, would recommend a notice of violation could be filed with not just building violations, but also zoning which is currently not the case.
The subcommittee stopped short of endorsing stopping an applicant from proceeding with a request for a permit if there is a code violation on the property. “It would be more like trying to work with the applicant and to analyze what the violation is compared to with what is sought in the permit request,” she said.
The planning manager told subcommittee members the department has tools available to code enforcement to gain compliance and to recover the costs. the planning division has an after-the-fact approval permit fee that is set at five times the regular fee.

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