Nuisance law moves forward

An ordinance designed to allow Costa Mesa officials to address "chronic" problems unanimously passed the City Council earlier this week but faces more hurdles before becoming law.

The Public Nuisance Abatement Ordinance had its first reading Tuesday and will come before the council again during the Oct. 1 session. If approved, it would take effect 30 days later.

The ordinance, which the council last examined in June, would provide 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.

Examples include properties that have maintenance or hoarding issues or that generate 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.

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

Assistant City CEO Rick Francis and Deputy City Atty. Elena Gerli stressed during Tuesday's meeting that such an ordinance is commonplace among cities and would be used sparingly.

The ordinance would not address innocuous things like garden gnomes, Francis said — a reference to a comment made during June's discussions.

Councilwoman Wendy Leece noted that any concerned resident has the same power as a council member to file a complaint under the ordinance's equal access provision.

Westside resident Terry Koken called it "bad law" with definitions that "are so slack as to not define anything." He said he felt such an ordinance could "arbitrarily" determine that the California-native plants on his front yard "be classified as weeds."

"A beer can on your front lawn might just qualify your property as a nuisance under the arbitrary process set forth in this legislation, whether or not you yourself had consumed the contents or placed it there," Koken added.

Gerli said cases have to be sound enough to be subject to court action, including the issuing of warrants and enforcement of unpaid fines.

"We always keep in mind: 'We're gonna go in front of a court. A judge is going to look at this,'" Gerli said. "And if we go in there with something that is, frankly, ridiculous, the judge will laugh us out of there."

In May, the Planning Commission recommended that the council adopt the ordinance.

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