Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Why Riverside County says supervisors aren't meddling with code enforcement

Riverside County officials say it’s OK for supervisors to inquire about cases on constituents’ behalf.

Riverside County’s official response to a grand jury report on code enforcement agreed on the need for improvements, but took issue with the panel’s finding that county supervisors may have interfered with code violation cases.The official response is on the Board of Supervisors agenda for Tuesday, Sept. 13, more than two months after the grand jury issued a report critical of the county’s code enforcement department, which is responsible for enforcing building codes and related rules in unincorporated communities and the city of Perris.The panel found fault with how long it took code enforcement cases to reach a hearing date – 4.3 years on average, according to the report. Unsupported and inaccurate billing of property owners is common and there’s no procedure in place for property owners to get refunded for fines when those owners are exonerated, the grand jury reported.The panel also questioned whether the county’s five elected supervisors “interjected themselves into active code cases, causing delays and sometimes abandonment of those cases.”It brought up a 2010 matrix, or list, of code violations in Temecula Valley Wine Country presented at an unnamed supervisor’s request.
“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 jury reported. “Similar meetings were held every month with updated (lists) for an unknown period of time.”
State Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, who was wine country’s supervisor in 2010, later said there were many code enforcement issues prior to the passage of a wine country master plan and that he asked for the list of active citations in that region.
“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,” Stone wrote in a letter to The Press-Enterprise.“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 pressure on to get them to comply. It’s disappointing that some code enforcement officers would object to my oversight, but frankly ... it is what the taxpayers expected of me when they elected me.The county’s formal response echoed Stone’s assertion that it is proper for supervisors to respond to constituents’ concerns.
“Some code enforcement cases are complex in nature,” the response read. “Achieving compliance in those cases may require coordination and discussions between multiple departments and it is not inappropriate to involve (supervisors’) staff in those discussions so that ... staff is aware of the status of the case and board staff can also inform county departments of information received from their constituent.”According to the response, the county is easing supervising code enforcement officers’ workloads so they can resolve cases quicker and review cases “before ... invoices are set out to remove any abatement costs charges that may not be appropriate.”
September 12, 2016
The Press Enterprise
By Jeff Horseman

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