Fed up with how long it takes to correct code violations — from illegal construction to littered lawns — the City Council this week moved to take a more "fix-it-or-ticket" approach to enforcing the law.
As it stands now, getting city code violators to clean up their act can get bogged down in a prolonged period of violation notices, crammed court calendars and excuses, officials say. Under the new system, violators would get a "fix-it ticket" of sorts that if ignored, would be followed up with a citation and a fine.
"The idea is to prevent people from trying to buy time and delay when they are perfectly capable of fixing the violation," City Manager Scott Ochoa said during a City Council meeting Tuesday night.
First-time violators could be slapped with a $100 to $400 citation, according to a city report. Subsequent fines for the same offense could climb to between $500 and $2,000.
Under the current system, code enforcement officials send out multiple letters requesting that the violations be fixed, which can be followed up with extensions. If the violation remains — a period that can span months or sometimes more than a year — the city could take perpetrators to criminal court.
That process would still be available, but official say the proposed citations have proven effective in getting compliance faster in other cities that use them, such as Pasadena, Santa Monica and Riverside.
"This is just another tool that we want to add to our toolbox," said City Atty. Mike Garcia, adding that officials have to balance getting quick compliance and the "hammer" of criminal enforcement.
The new system, if approved, would not only hopefully spur quicker compliance, officials say, but keep fines generated by violations within the city's fold. Currently, fines generated in the court system stay there.
"Overall, I think it's a good idea," Councilman Frank Quintero said, referring to speeding up code compliance. "People get [in] compliance, the sooner the better."
Under the proposal, if violators ignore the fines, they could find themselves answering phone calls from a collections agency, facing a judge in small claims court or dealing with a lien on their property.
Code violators could still appeal to a hearing officer, just as with a parking ticket, but how that process would work is still up in the air.
City officials are also proposing a civil penalty for extremely rare cases in which, even after criminal prosecution, violations persist. Those penalties could cost up to $1,000 per day, with a maximum charge of $100,000.
The City Council is scheduled to take a vote on the proposal next week, but the three council members that were present on Tuesday said they were in favor of the change.
If it is approved, it could take nearly six months before the city implements the new process.