Wednesday, October 12, 2016
[Riverside County] Board of Supervisors Pass New Method for Resolving Code Disputes
RIVERSIDE COUNTY - Riverside County supervisors Tuesday approved changing the process of resolving code enforcement disputes by making independent hearing officers available to adjudicate matters, potentially saving the county time and money.
Supervisors Marion Ashley and John Benoit introduced the proposal to make hearing officers the arbiter of code-related appeals -- instead of the Board of Supervisors -- after a Riverside County Grand Jury report last month cited instances of lengthy delays and the appearance of "improper patronage" in the resolution of alleged code violations.
Under the current system, when a resident is cited for failing to maintain property in compliance with county regulations, the person can object to the Transportation & Land Management Agency, resulting in a hearing before a TLMA official. If the first hearing is unsatisfactory, the property owner can contest the code penalties in two additional hearings chaired by TLMA executives.
Barring satisfaction there, the property owner has the opportunity to take his or her case to the Board of Supervisors. Beyond that, relief has to besought through the judicial process.
County officials estimated that the board hears cost recovery and abatement hearings 50 to 100 times a year. The costs of summoning a code enforcement officer and county attorney to an administrative hearing, as well as having the matter vetted in advance by the Executive Office, can total$3,100, officials said.
By contrast, the cost of delegating the matter to an independent hearing officer would come to roughly $1,500 per case, according to the Executive Office.
"This is about creating a process that streamlines our work and makes us more efficient," Supervisor Chuck Washington said.
He said "99 percent" of code cases are resolved without any need for a floor debate or discussion, and for those 1 percent of cases that do require additional attention, the hearing officer option may be better.
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, who took issue with the grand jury's findings last month, said he remained foremost concerned about the ability of "constituents to address their concerns to us, their duly elected representatives.''
"Our office needs to monitor the process and ensure that constituents are treated fairly," Jeffries said. "The grand jury says we shouldn't have anything to do with it. Well, then, why on earth are we here? "
"Code fines can reach $1,000 a day. We have to make sure the process is fair, compassionate and understanding," he said. "As long as there's a provision that the board has an opportunity to hear a case, I'm happy with that.'"
Ashley concurred, saying he had no hesitation allowing matters to come to the board ``when there's a belief somebody has been wronged.''
"If we see something that isn't right, we still have the ability to step in and say something," Ashley said.
Based on the majority's bent, County Counsel Greg Priamos recommended --and the board agreed -- that the revised hearing policy will include an option for any supervisor to "assert jurisdiction" in a code-related dispute and have the matter heard before then entire board, rather than automatically going to a hearing officer.
Hearing officers, in accordance with the California Government Code,will have to be attorneys with at least five years general law experience and no disciplinary action on their records.
The Office of County Counsel will formalize the new policy and bring it back to the board for implementation.
October 5 2016
By Peter Smelser