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Council passes nuisance ordinance

The Costa Mesa City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Tuesday designed to allow city officials to levy fines up to $1,000 in an attempt to control nuisance behaviors such as loud noise and drifting smoke in residential areas.

The Public Nuisance Abatement Ordinance, which had its first reading Sept. 17, will take effect in 30 days.

Those who violate the ordinance face a fine of $250 for the first violation, $500 for the second and $1,000 for all other repeat offenses, according to city documents.

The ordinance, which the Planning Commission recommended that the council adopt in May, provides the city with a more streamlined approach toward fixing "chronic and long-term problems" that spill over and are detrimental to other properties, according to city staff.

Currently, the city's code limits its nuisance abatement ability to property maintenance issues, according to city documents.

Now, a nuisance property might be a home that is in disrepair, overflowing with possessions and debris or the source of constant noise or drifting smoke. Blighted properties that attract squatters or areas where a "disproportionate amount of criminal offenses are being committed," such as motels, would also fall under the ordinance, according to city documents.

Under the new ordinance, if a property is identified as a nuisance, city code enforcement officers make contact with the property owner in person or in a letter detailing the concern. City officials then have the discretion to either meet with the property owner to discuss the issue or initiate fines, said Rick Francis, the city's assistant chief executive officer.

Those found to be in violation of the ordinance could be fined and forced to remedy the problem within 30 days, but they would also have the opportunity to appeal.

The Costa Mesa action comes in the wake of a recent court decision that revitalized lawsuits against Newport Beach by sober-living home owners over a 2008 zoning ordinance that drove many group homes out of the city and forced others to limit services.

Newport Beach passed the ordinance after residents complained that dozens of group homes had created parking, traffic, noise and secondhand smoke problems in residential neighborhoods.

A key difference with Costa Mesa's ordinance is that the city isn't concerned with where the properties are located, only that they are negatively affecting the rest of the community, said Mayor Jim Righeimer.

Steven Polin, a Washington D.C.-based attorney representing the sober living homes in Newport Beach, addressed the City Council on Tuesday on behalf of Yellowstone Recovery, a center that operates such facilities in Costa Mesa.

Polin said he sees uncomfortable parallels between Newport Beach's zoning laws and Costa Mesa's ordinance.

"There is planning afoot here in terms of using a new abatement ordinance and zoning laws to clear out the sober homes in Costa Mesa," he said. "This isn't a threat, but if there's any code enforcement activity that's directed at Yellowstone, then I'm going to get involved."

Polin pointed to the federal Fair Housing Act, which protects alcoholics and drug addicts from discriminatory housing regulations.

"Yellowstone is entitled to the enjoyment of their property just like everyone else in the city," he said.

Righeimer fired back at Polin, saying he was "disappointed" with his comments, and assured meeting attendees that the ordinance was not created to discriminate against people in recovery.

"I'm telling people that we need to look at the impact [of nuisance properties], but we do not look at those things because of who's living there," he said.

The council also voted Tuesday to create a part-time community outreach position after having had difficulty finding a candidate to assist homeless residents in the city on a contract basis.

Rosemary Nielsen currently performs outreach and case management services for individuals deemed homeless in Costa Mesa.

Nielsen ensures the city provides mental health consulting services to the city's homeless residents in an effort to help the Neighborhood Improvement Task Force mitigate the problem in Costa Mesa, according to a staff report.

"They help people get IDs and navigate the system so they can get benefits and hopefully get off the streets," said Muriel Ullman, a city housing consultant who has worked extensively on homeless issues. "There's a lot of work that goes into it."

The new outreach worker will help the city move homeless people into permanent housing and sober living facilities or reunite them with family, according to the report.

The item was not discussed during the meeting and was passed unanimously on the consent calendar.

The position will be between 20 and 24 hours per week and will pay a salary of $24.41 to $32.71 per hour. The salary has already been allocated through the Neighborhood Improvement Task Force budget.

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