Residents who are cited for code violations—from parking junkers on city streets to illegally converting their garages—will now be able to appeal their citations a lot sooner. But they may also face higher fines if they’re found guilty.
“It gives us more discretion in dealing with how penalities are doled out,” said Supervisor Gregory Daniel said. “The state law might establish a penalty at $100 or $150, but with an adminstrative review process you can get that up to $1,000.”
The city recently announced the establishment of a zoning code enforcement unit within the city’s Office of Neighborhood Services. The new team will consist of four full-time city employees—three code enforcement officers and one supervisor—devoted to investigating community complaints about potential violations and expediting resolution to problems. The new unit specifically deals with building and zoning issues like storm water discharge and dumping, street vending violations, and public right-of-way issues. The code enforcement officers will also tip off other departments to violations of other codes, including health, environmental, housing, and fire laws.
Supervisor Gregory Daniel likened the new unit to a swat team. “You send the regular cops out to the daily routine patrols. But if there’s a problem where you need skill, you need a marksman with special training,” he said.
Daniel said under the previous system, there was only one code enforcer within the zoning department who handled complaints from neighbors or investigated violations. The aim of the new system, he said, is to improve the quality of life for all residents by cracking down on law-breakers and, in some cases, helping residents come into compliance with city law.
“There are a lot of provisions saying what you can and can’t do. But the flip side of what we want to do is help you do what you want legally. So, for example, if a person spent ten grand to illegally convert their garage, we want to search out those resources that will help you bring the project into compliance. It would be pretty ugly if we made you tear it down and throw away $10,000.”
Another component of the new system is the establishment of an adminstrative hearing process, which will allow residents to have their cases heard before an internal hearing body within the city manager’s office instead of going into municipal court, which often takes months or even years to resolve, Daniel said. The new appeals process for neighborhood complaints is similar to that used for parking tickets and business license issues.
“Other cities are going toward this system,” said Daniel. “It cuts down on a lot of waste. We don’t have to spend a whole lot of staff time and resources sitting in a courtroom dealing with attorneys.”
Daniel said the hearing officers are supplied by a private company with whom the city contracts. The two hearing officers will hear cases two days per week and be equipped to hear a total of 40 cases per week.
The administrative hearing will also give the city more leeway on what types of penalties to impose because it is not limited by the parameters established by state criminal law. Under an administrative system, the city council establishes penalties for certain violations.
“It gives us more discretion in dealing with how penalities are doled out,” Daniel said. “The state law might establish a penalty at $100 or $150, but with an adminstrative review process you can get that up to $1,000.”