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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Changes to Code Enforcement Policy Recommended by City Council

• Municipal Focus Shifts to More Regulation and Policing of Commercial Properties within Community

BY BILL KOENEKER

The Malibu municipal code enforcement policy is expected to be tweaked, but a major overhaul of policy is not expected after the Malibu City Council’s review this week of the staff’s recommended changes.
Unlike over a decade ago, when hundreds of homeowners showed up to carefully watch what the council had planned, there were very few eyes watching as was the case years ago when the topic became even the centerpiece of a council election campaign.
Planning Director Joyce Parker Bozylinski told the council the 2000 interim code enforcement policy, which remains in effect to this day, had been reviewed recently by the council’s Zoning Ordinance Revisions and Code Enforcement subcommittee, or ZORACES, which discussed proposed changes to the code enforcement policy.
Those recommendations from ZORACES have been incorporated into the proposed code enforcement policy, said Parker Bozylinski.
The planning director went on to say, the code enforcement policy for the most part will remain reactive for residential properties rather than proactive.
“Code enforcement for residential properties will primarily remain reactive, which is a complaint driven code enforcement program. Current exceptions are for health and safety violations or building or grading without a permit, which would remain in effect and would be pursued proactively,” Parker Bozylinski said.
She said there is one exception for a recommended change, which would be to allow staff to pursue certain violations easily viewed when staff is on the property for a scheduled unrelated site inspection.
“These violations would include observations of illegal habitable structures; either new habitable accessory structures or conversions of an existing non-habitable accessory structure,” she added.
However, zoning violations in non-residential zones would be pursued on a proactive basis and no longer require a written complaint.
“While this would apply to any violation in a commercial zone, this would also allow staff to more uniformly enforce the city’s sign ordinance. Often residents and other business owners don’t know what the city’s rules are for signs, or whether a new business has received a permit for a sign so they may not submit a written complaint,” Parker Bozylinski added.
Progress reports will now be provided, a departure from the past, according to the planning director, who said only certain types of information would be released, but the idea is to let the public know the cases are being handled and not stalled at City Hall.
A new policy has been added that pertains to existing violations when the property owner applies for a new permit on the property.
“The staff will work with a property owner to clear up any outstanding code violations concurrently with any request for a new permit on the property. The policy would allow staff the ability to work with an applicant on a plan to cure the existing code violation while concurrently processing a coastal permit for new development,” the planning head said.
“To avoid confusion about violations to conditions of approval, staff has added a policy stating that violations to conditions of approval on planning permits may be enforced on a proactive basis without a written complaint,” the planning director added.
Lucile Keller, who said she was representing the Malibu Township Council, said MTC supports policies for commercial code violations. “We are concerned Malibu does not protect the identity of the complaintant. The fear of retaliation needs to be addressed,” she said.
Council members said they thought the recommended changes would be helpful for ongoing programs.
Councilmember Jefferson Wagner, who along with Mayor John Sibert is on ZORACES, may have summed it up. “It is a new path to go on. It is quite a step forward for the city. I don’t see any problems,” he added.
“It solves a lot of the problems,” agreed Councilmember Lou La Monte.
APPEAL FEES
On another planning matter, the council agreed the appeal fee might be too high and agreed to schedule a public hearing to consider a modification to the existing fee.
Council members learned the city’s appeal fee compared to other coastal cities may be the highest and said they wanted the staff to figure out how to recover costs but keep the fee affordable.
What has happened, is that appellants, in quite a few instances, can avoid the fee altogether, and appeal the matter directly to the California Coastal Commission which charges no fee for an appeal.
The staff including City Attorney Christi Hogin suggested several alternatives.
“We need enough of a fee to thwart frivolous appeals. We need enough of a fee to make people serious,” said the mayor.
Hogin said the purpose of the appeal fee is when you have a service that is not for all citizens then you can shift the burden of costs.
She suggested that if there was a lot of interest by the citizens in a specific, appeal there could be a different fee. “If there is some general community interest, instead of fees across the board,” the city attorney said.
The council agreed the matter should go back to the drawing board for alternatives and recommendations so the council could consider a new appeal fee.

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