Friday, August 22, 2014
(Ventura County) Moorpark responds to grand jury report
August 21, 2014
By Stephanie Sumell
The City of Moorpark agreed with only portions of a Ventura County grand jury report that suggested the community development department, the city’s code enforcement arm, should make changes to the way it does business.
The Moorpark City Council approved a formal response to the report by the county’s grand jury, an oversight committee that ensures that local government is serving the best interests of the community, during its regularly scheduled meeting on July 16.
Released to the public on June 9, the grand jury report said the city needs to exercise more care when processing municipal code violations and awarding conditional use permits to developers.
The report followed a 10-month investigation triggered by a complaint that suggested the city’s community development department had awarded conditional use permits that did not align with its municipal code.
The grand jury, which has no authority to take legal action against the entities it investigates, concluded that the City Council violated its own municipal code when, against the advice of the city attorney, it approved a zoning clearance for a new business venture that was not permitted by the zoning ordinances that were in place.
The recreational vehicle storage business on Spring Road received a temporary zoning clearance in 1994.
The decision, the grand jury said, ultimately allowed the developer to avoid submitting permit applications and processing fees for 17 years.
The city’s report disputed the grand jury’s finding.
It said the zoning clearance was approved by the city’s former community development director—not the City Council— in 1994, but was promptly rescinded after it was reviewed by the city attorney.
The city’s report also disputed the jury’s finding that the community development department lacks the organizational structure needed to “provide for adequate and timely management oversight and technical review of zoning clearances or permits.”
“The conclusion in the grand jury report was made based on the handling of one case by the community development staff that occurred 20 years ago,” the city’s response said. “The handling of that case is not reflective of the organizational structure today.”
The city also defended its decision not to use specially hired experts to interpret sections of the municipal code because Dave Bobardt, the community development director, is the city’s expert in those matters.
The city also found fault with the report’s assertion that the community development department doesn’t provide city management with enough information to adequately keep track of permits.
According to the city’s response, City Manager Steve Kueny requests information from community development department as needed.
And the information he receives, the city said, is adequate.
The city also disagreed with the grand jury’s assertion that being overly “business friendly” can have significant consequences to the city.
“Being business friendly does not imply that the city condones or ignores the violation of any of its laws,” the city said in its response to the grand jury’s report. “Furthermore, the current City Council is not in the position to second guess the intentions or actions of the 1994 City Council.”
The city did agree, however, with the grand jury’s findings that its community development department doesn’t have an effective way of alerting city staff to pending and outstanding violations to city code. What’s more, the report showed the city doesn’t do a good enough job of keeping track of the permits and the abundance of correspondence between City Hall and those seeking permits.
Moorpark is taking steps to address those issues.
Joe Fiss, a principal planner for the city, said the community development department will continue to look for ways to improve.
“There is always room for improvement,” Fiss said. “The city felt that some of the suggestions (by the grand jury) were appropriate to effectuate and others weren’t necessary to accomplish our goals.”