Code enforcement — or the perceived lack thereof — is among the biggest complaints fielded by Manteca City Council.
To address the concerns, Mayor Ben Cantu has suggested the council explore shifting the code enforcement unit out of the Police Department and into the Community Development Department. Cantu’s rationale is that since that is the department most versed in property restrictions and rules that it would make the unit that consists of two full-time code enforcement positions as well as a part-time aide more effective.
But based on the workload that is driven by complaints and not pro-active enforcement, having 2½ positions for a city of 85,000 — roughly the same size when Manteca had more than 15,000 less residents — might be the real issue.
A presentation prepared for the City Council Tuesday to discuss moving code enforcement from the Police Department to the Community Services Department, it was noted in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019 there were 2,155 code enforcement cases opened and 2,431 cases closed. That translates into 10.4 cases opened and 11.7 cases closed on any of the 207 given days that code enforcement is on the job based on alternating four and five day work weeks.
While some complaints are easy to handle with minimum time, many aren’t. Some — such as the successful effort by code enforcement to get three severely distressed four-plexes to have blight issues remedied — are lengthy, time consuming processes. The new owners, thanks to the city’s code enforcement efforts, are legally required to rehabilitate the properties. That work has already started. The city also received all of their legal costs plus $71,280.74 in fines and abatment costs related to enforcement actions.
There are currently 448 open cases of which 15% are zoning or building code violations. The overwhelming majority of cases relate to nuisance violations involving junk, debris, vacant properties, inoperable vehicles, property maintenance and graffiti. Other violations are health and safety violations, lack of required services (trash and water), and business license violations, encroachment onto public property, alarm permit violations, and vacant property violations. Nuisance cases often involve abatements, board ups, and enforcement actions beyond notices and citations that prolong the timeframe to close the case.
Police Chief Jodie Estarziau in her report noted if the council desires a more pro-active approach to code enforcement, they might want to look at adding one or more code enforcement officers. That could be done as earlier as the mid-year budget review that takes place in late January and early February. At that point if the city’s revenue is running far enough ahead of projections and the council makes it a high of enough priority against other issues they’ve identified such as Cantu’s expressed desire voiced during a previous council meeting to hire eight more police officers in the next three years as well as find money to do more street maintenance, the council could bulk up code enforcement at that time.
As for moving the code enforcement unit out of the Police Department, Estarziau has made a case that may not be as effective as some might think.
Code enforcement officers often find that some of the cases they handle will involve drugs, prostitution, stolen vehicles, and theft of stolen property requires them to work closely with sworn officers.
Other points the police chief makes are:
Having code enforcement as part of the Police Department creates the appearance they have more authority when dealing with citations and fines. She argues citizens are more likely to comply with them as a Police Department employee than a Community Development employee.
The code enforcement has a strong working relationship with the Community Development Department when dealing with permitting and zoning violations.
Access to police data bases allows code enforcement officers to routinely check addresses and occupants for incidents related to the violation. Knowing who is associated with the parcel, including their criminal history provides valuable information to the code enforcement officers who take needed precautions to ensure their safety.
Those data bases have what the police chief describes as “a dramatic impact on efficiency and effectiveness of resolving cases in a timely manner.” For example it cuts down significantly on research needed for false alarm cases.
Estarziau noted that there are space limitations in the Community Development Department. That said, even though there is an office in the police department that can house all thee code enforcement workers, if the staff is expanded space will become a problem at the police department as well.
The City Council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.
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