Council Adds Teeth to Building, Zoning Enforcement
By Teresa Rochester
April 12 -- Building and zoning violators may soon have their day in "court" following a decision by the City Council last week that lays the groundwork for administrative hearings for those slapped with violations.
The proposed ordinance, which still needs to clear one more vote by the council, puts teeth into the City's ability to crack down on violations ranging from cars parked on lawns to illegal garage conversions by issuing citations, fines and penalties for non-compliance.
The council voted 6 to 0 with Councilman Robert Holbrook abstaining because he was concerned with the $500,000 start up cost for the program, which is expected to cost $450,000 annually.
"I share your concern about cost but this is a resident issue we've been hearing about," said Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown.
The ordinance would distinguish between lesser infractions - such as after-hours construction, posting illegal signs and parking a vehicle on a lawn - and more serious violations of the building and zoning code, including illegal garage conversions, substandard housing and construction without a permit.
Fines for lesser infractions would range from $75 to $1,000 depending upon the violation. Penalties for serious violations would be established on a case-by-case basis and would not exceed $25,000 per day for each ongoing violation up to a maximum of $500,000.
Council members directed staff to tweak the proposed ordinance so that those issued citations would receive a warning letter before a fine is imposed.
"I think warning letters are appropriate," said Councilman Ken Genser, "because people don't always know what the laws are."
Those who commit serious violations will first be issued a compliance order with a period of time to correct the problem. Fines would begin on the compliance due date.
An integral piece of the proposed ordinance is a hearing right for both types of violations. Land use attorneys have long lobbied for hearing rights, particularly attorney Chris Harding, who represents a Sunset Park family who sued the City two years ago after receiving a notice of violation for a play structure they built in their backyard. The family had no venue to argue or appeal the case.
If an individual notified of a serious violation does not correct it or chooses to contest it, the matter would be brought before a hearing examiner to determine if a violation exists and if the violator did not correct it in a timely manner.
If the Hearing Examiner finds that there is a violation that has not been corrected in a timely manner, the examiner would issue an order to correct, impose costs and set penalties.Those cited for lesser violations would have the opportunity to appeal their citation in a hearing setting as well. However a key difference is that appeals will be heard before a City staff person, instead of an independent hearing officer.
Copyright 1999-2008 surfsantamonica.com. All Rights Reserved.