Friday, July 15, 2016
RIVERSIDE COUNTY: Jeff Stone defends interactions with code enforcement
A former Riverside County supervisor admitted meeting monthly with code enforcement officers to discuss cases in his district, a practice criticized as possible political interference in a recent grand jury report.
But Jeff Stone, a 2016 Republican congressional candidate who was elected to the state Senate in late 2014, said his goal was to serve his constituents and improve the look of Temecula Valley Wine Country, where a master plan took form under Stone’s tenure.
The grand jury’s report on the code enforcement included a section titled “Perception of Interference by Board of Supervisors in Code Cases.”
According to the report, code enforcement employees said county supervisors and their staff “have interjected themselves into active code cases, causing delays and sometimes abandonment of those cases.”
“It is reasonable for the supervisor or his staff to get information about the ordinance violation in order to assist a constituent with the issue,” the report read. “However, code enforcement personnel at all levels have perceived subsequent contact by the supervisor’s office as interfering with the code case.”
While the report did not mention any supervisor by name, two code enforcement employees testified about meetings with a supervisor and his staff in which a matrix, or list of code violations in wine country, was presented at the supervisor’s request. The list was from Sept. 24, 2010, when Stone was wine country’s supervisor.
“Witnesses stated that code enforcement was given the ‘go ahead’ or ‘stand down’ by supervisor/staff regarding 10 wine country cases on that particular (list),” the report read. “Similar meetings were held every month with updated (lists) for an unknown period of time.”
“The supervising code enforcement officer, who also attended these meetings, enforced the decisions. Witnesses told us that such (lists) were prepared only for the wealthy winery area of the county.”
Stone, a former Temecula councilman who was supervisor from 2004 to 2014, initially declined to comment about the report.
But in a letter to the editor to The Press-Enterprise submitted Wednesday, July 6, Stone wrote he took “great interest as the Third District county supervisor to eliminate blight and to help those cited understand the local laws, and in many cases, to help them comply.”
Stone wrote there were “so many code issues in the wine country” prior to the Wine Country Community Plan’s passage and he asked for a list of those with active citations.
“ ... and I wanted to meet with code officers monthly to ensure we were making timely progress in eliminating the code issues that were seemingly slow at getting solved,” he wrote. “If those cited were working with the county to cure their issues, we were supportive. If they ignored the county (only a few cases), we put the pressure on to get them to comply.”
“It’s disappointing that some code officers would object to my oversight, but frankly ... it is what the taxpayers expected of me when they elected me,” Stone added.
“We held landowners accountable that were illegally grading, reduced the sea of illegal signs put up by wineries which made the wine country look like a swap meet, and I even got a circus tent taken down which was only initially supposed to be put up temporarily.”
“While my oversight may have angered some code officers that were not doing their jobs to my satisfaction, I prided myself on getting things done.
Stone declined further comment through a spokesman.
Stone is challenging Democratic incumbent Raul Ruiz in California’s 36th Congressional District, which includes Hemet, San Jacinto, the Pass and the Coachella Valley.
July 7, 2016
By Jeff Horseman