Nevada County code compliance efforts criticized
June 9, 2013
The Nevada County Code Compliance Department is under attack from multiple fronts. Many residents are planning to attend today's special meeting on Nevada County's 2013-14 budget with the intent of scrutinizing the Community Development Agency's budget and recommending code compliance either be downsized or eliminated.
In a recent meeting of the Nevada County Land Use Efficiency Committee, a nine-person citizens committee that provides oversight for the Nevada County Community Development Agency, those on the committee voted six to one to withhold support for the proposed agency budget.
In a memo to the Board of Supervisors, Chairman Denis Kutch urged the board to consider "improvements in the structure of code enforcement, including possible re-organization."
Dottie Ray Souter, a real estate agent in Nevada County, questioned the value of spending about $435,000 on salaries for the code compliance department when it is anticipated to bring in about $24,000 in revenue from fines.
Code compliance has three enforcement officers, a part-time secretary and a program manager, said Community Development Agency Director Steve DeCamp.
Souter said the department should be restructured to include only a part-time secretary, as she said the department should focus on due process — sending letters, accepting and processing payments.
The building department already maintains qualified inspectors who could perform site visits, Souter said.
"You need somebody to address flagrant violations but not at the tune of a half a million dollars a year," Souter said.
DeCamp said the department under-performs from a strict business standpoint because it is as run as a government service.
The building department, which processes applications for new houses and developments, should not be subsidized by the public, DeCamp said, but the board has emphasized that it is "part of the general public good to keep the community in line with the code."
DeCamp said the 2013-14 code compliance budget represents a 10 percent reduction from the previous year.
Chuck Shea, the executive director of the California Association of Business Property and Resource Owners, said he will be attending today's budget hearing and will ask the board of supervisors to eliminate code compliance.
"People are afraid of code enforcement because they are too aggressive," Shea said, adding officers often bully and intimidate members of the public.
Shea enlisted T. Michael Walker and Edwin Milkey, both former or current investigators, to talk to multiple individuals regarding recent interactions with code compliance officers; they both claim to have detected a pattern of inappropriate use of authority.
"It should be code assistance, not enforcement," Milkey said, adding that helping people with compliance would be more welcomed by the community.
Both men said they came across instances where code compliance officers were in the neighborhood on a complaint, noticed infractions on neighboring properties and began demanding permits from property owners.
DeCamp refutes these allegations, saying the department is "100 percent complaint-driven."
DeCamp acknowledges that code enforcement is unpopular, particularly with those who are the subject of complaints. He further stated the department is often used in neighborhood disputes.
"Most people we deal with don't even know they are not in compliance, and as soon as they are alerted, they are willing to clean it up," DeCamp said.
For every person who complains about code compliance being too aggressive, there is another person complaining about how the department isn't moving faster to have a neighboring property brought into compliance, DeCamp said.
Souter said she remembers a time when many county properties were in disrepair. She asserted the real estate market and escalating values are what cause people to clean up properties rather than government interference.
DeCamp said no incentive exists where no real estate sale is imminent and where the only property values that are harmed are those in proximity to an offender.
In the calendar year 2012, 266 new code compliance cases were opened by the department, and 230 cases were closed. As of Dec. 31, 2012, 397 cases remained open, compared to 364 cases in 2011; 326 cases in 2010; 301 cases in 2009 and 259 cases in 2008, according to the 2013-14 budget summary.
The Nevada County Board of Supervisors will conduct a special meeting at 9 a.m. today to hear written and oral comments from the public concerning the proposed budget.
The meeting, which will take place at the board chambers at 950 Maidu Ave., Nevada City, will also feature a public hearing on the possible transfer of Health and Welfare Realignment.
To view the budget and related material, visit http://www.mynevadacounty.com/nc/ceo/Pages/budgetmain.aspx.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.