Monday, November 13, 2017

San Diego leaders rejected calls for higher volume of restrooms downtown, but built one for $2 million

The City of San Diego helped install an aesthetically pleasing structure on its signature waterfront in 2014, designed by an artist to invoke “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” the popular 1970 novella about a seagull who wanted to be special.

Its function? A restroom. Its cost? Two million dollars. It was welcomed at the time as a sophisticated new addition to San Diego’s “front porch” for tourists and others arriving by bay. But now that a hepatitis A outbreak has killed 20 people and sickened more than 500 others, some are questioning whether the region’s priority should have been more downtown restrooms — not more stylish ones. The liver infection is spread because of unsanitary conditions, particularly among San Diego’s growing homeless population, which lacks access to proper facilities. The crisis has brought new scrutiny on years of grand jury reports that called for a significant increase in the number of restrooms downtown. Officials cited cost in rejecting the recommendations, even as they planned and executed the “North Embarcadero Visionary Plan” that included the seagull-themed lavatory. “The city should be beautiful and welcome tourism to boost our economy with the money that it brings, but at what expense?” said homeless advocate Anne Rios of the San Diego-based nonprofit Think Dignity. “I think our city places emphasis on those who have as opposed to those who have not.” A special joint government authority was formed to oversee the waterfront project in 2007. Mayor Kevin Faulconer, then a city councilman who represented downtown, chaired the authority. Mayor Faulconer is proud to have supported this transformative project to restore public spaces and recreation space along the waterfront,” spokesman Craig Gustafson said by email. “The exterior of the restroom facility also doubled as a public arts project meant to be showcased on San Diego’s waterfront. The fact that this project included a much-needed public restroom is a good thing.” Gustafson said the mayor recognizes the city needs more downtown restrooms and pointed to efforts this fall to provide public restrooms as the hepatitis A crisis boiled over and became national news. The fancy restroom facility that opened in 2014 stands next to Broadway Pier. It has a title, “Birds’ Words,” according to the San Diego Unified Port District, which helped pay for the bathroom. The 816-square-foot stand-alone building was designed by Los Angeles artist Pae White. White said the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan originally called for more traditional structures and a separate work of public art. She said she suggested integrating art into the design of the planned structures, as opposed to creating a free-standing sculpture. During one of the early meetings I got a sense that elements such as the bathroom or pavilions were going to be a bit non-descript and so I asked if I could intervene,” White said by email. “The art budget funds were used to put these ‘enhancements’ in place. So in many ways, the art budget is responsible for aestheticizing the existing plan.” White won a $125,000 contract in 2011 to provide designs and consulting for the project, according to port records. The project took longer than anticipated and the port repeatedly extended White’s contract, increasing its value to $291,350. In 2015, the project won an Urban Design Honor Award and a Divine Detail Award from the American Institutes of Architects, San Diego; was named an Outstanding Urban/Land Development Project in the State of California from the American Society of Civil Engineers, Region 9, and received a Project Achievement Award from the Construction Management Association of America. The city was warned repeatedly as far back as 2000 that human waste on city streets was a problem that threatened public health, and that there was a shortage of 24-hour public restrooms available to the city’s growing homeless population downtown. In 2005, city officials shot down a grand jury recommendation calling for more toilets to address the shortage. City officials said the facilities could cost up to $250,000 each to buy and install, plus another $65,000 per year to maintain, and the city did not have “the resources to execute a project of this magnitude.” Based on those cost estimates, the $2 million spent on the seagull-themed restroom could have paid for four such facilities and operated them for 16 years. Between 2010 and the peak of the hepatitis outbreak, the city closed more 24-hour restrooms than it opened downtown. As the health crisis peaked this fall, more resources were made available. “We have taken action to expand restroom opportunities as we work through this public health emergency,” city spokeswoman Katie Keach said. “We are monitoring usage of the public restrooms daily and will determine the long-term approach based on various factors, including public health needs.” The Port District operates 17 public restrooms on San Diego’s waterfront, according to information provided by the district. Of those, at least six are open 24 hours a day. “Birds’ Words” is one of three new public restrooms built on a half-mile stretch of the Port District’s waterfront property between 2012 and 2015, port spokeswoman Brianne Page said. One of them — a 24-hour stand-alone public restroom building the Port District constructed at Ruocco Park in 2012 — cost $378,991. The $2-million waterfront restroom cost about five times as much as the bathroom in Ruocco Park. Page said it’s important to understand that the Ruocco Park restroom was part of a very different project. “The restroom at Ruocco Park features a modern, minimalist design to go with the minimalist theme of the park,” Page said. The North Embarcadero bathroom — as well as all the project’s structures — “were designed to be inspirational, interactive and functional art.” The waterfront restroom was open from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. until San Diego County declared the hepatitis A outbreak a local public health emergency in September, Page said. It is now open 24/7. “Birds’ Words” is among the improvements constructed in the first phase of a waterfront upgrade known as the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan. The restroom building’s seagull-themed design extends to adjacent structures constructed as part of the redevelopment project, including a visitor center and cafe, to create a unified work of public art,” she said. The city and the San Diego Unified Port District split the estimated $28.6-million cost of constructing the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan’s first phase. Page said the Port had identified the need for a public restroom to be included in the project, and “design and public art were considered just as important as functionality.” “Pae White’s artwork is as aesthetically pleasing as it is functional and embodies the port’s dedication to world-class experiences that are accessible by all,” Page said by email. A 2011 draft resolution by the City of San Diego’s Redevelopment Agency shows officials planning the waterfront project were aware of the sanitation issues. The resolution said the restroom would bring “enhanced cleanliness and desirability of the area, including reduced use of public areas for toileting needs for the direct advantage of property in and adjacent to the Columbia neighborhood.”

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/watchdog/sd-me-fancy-bathroom-20171112-story.html

Sunday, November 5, 2017

[Shasta County] Redding to grand jury: pension deadlines 'not reasonable'

Redding and the Shasta County Grand Jury are going another round on the city’s pension liabilities.
The City Council on Tuesday night could sign off on a letter from Mayor Brent Weaver to the grand jury, firmly rejecting its recommendations for Redding to get its pension funding in order.
The grand jury recommended, among other things, the city by Oct. 31 look for ways to increase contributions to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System over the next 12 years with minimal loss of key services and look for ways to increase revenues or reduce other expenditures.
The city’s unfunded CalPERS liability was about $207 million at the end of June 2015, according to the grand jury.
The jury also recommended a Dec. 31 deadline to create a five-year plan to increase pension funding for public safety and other employees.
But those timelines are “not reasonable,” Weaver said in the letter.
The city has sent a letter to the grand jury on its pensions report once before.
The city’s first response, penned in August, said the recommendations required “further analysis” and noted the city’s own work to address the problem.
But the grand jury found that lacking. The letter of the law, Foreperson Johnni Hansen wrote to the city, required the city to include a timeline for that analysis, which it didn’t.
“Due to the concerns issued by the grand jury the city’s response will now state that the recommendations will not be implemented due to the time frames required,” City Manager Barry Tippin said in a report the council.
Redding isn’t letting its pension woes go unaddressed, though. Both responses to the grand jury mention Redding is looking at prepaying unfunded liabilities and using a trust fund to stabilize rates and refinance debt, among other options.
Tippin is under council orders to either come up with or start implementing a plan to deal with the city’s finances, including unfunded liabilities, by next year as part of an update to Redding’s 10-year financial plan.
Labor negotiators are also asking employee unions to help with pension costs, updating the city’s development fees and will ask voters next year to pass a tax on commercial cannabis business. 
The city earlier this year began requiring top brass to kick in more toward their supplemental retirement plan. 
November 5, 2017
Redding Record Searchlight
By Sean Longoria


[Tuolumne County] Tuolumne supes to consider awarding $39 million contract to build new jail

Blog note: this article references grand jury reports on the county jail.
A Fresno-based construction company is at the top of the list for a $39 million contract to build a 63,000-square-foot jail in Sonora.
The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors will consider awarding the contract to Harris Construction Co. Inc., which submitted the lowest of three bids. The public meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday on the fourth floor of the County Administration Center at 2 S. Green St. in Sonora.
Construction is slated to begin in March and be completed in 2019 if the contract is approved by board as well as the state of California, which is covering $33 million of the construction costs.
County officials are calling the new jail the J.H. “Jack” Dambacher Detention Center after former Tuolumne County Sheriff John Henry “Jack” Dambacher, who served from 1922 to 1946.
The 230-bed jail would replace the 147-bed facility at 175 Yaney Ave. that was constructed in the 1960s. The old jail has been frequently criticized in annual reports by the Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury as outdated and unsafe for both inmates and staff.
Bernards Bros. Inc., based in San Fernando, and Broward Builders Inc., based in Woodland, submitted the other two bids at about $42 million and $40 million, respectively.
According to county documents, Harris Construction Co. Inc. was determined to be the lowest responsible and responsive bidder after each bid was reviewed by the County Counsel’s Office and Moss Construction Management.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $48 million.
Additional costs beyond the $39 million for construction include: $2.5 million for unforeseen contingencies; $1.7 million for architectural services; $1.4 million for construction management; $832,000 for insurance; $775,000 for specialty equipment; $607,000 for testing and inspection; $500,000 for furnishings; $301,000 for electrical services; and $294,000 in water and sewer connection fees from Tuolumne Utilities District.
While the state provided two grants for $33 million, the additional $15 million is planned to be covered by the county mostly through taking on debt.
The board is also scheduled to consider a tentative financing plan for the jail as well as other projects related to the Law and Justice Center and county’s technology infrastructure at Tuesday’s meeting, but no information on the proposed plan was available as of Friday afternoon.
Building a new jail is part of a larger plan for a Law and Justice Center off Old Wards Ferry in Sonora proposed since the early 1990s that includes the recently completed $20 million Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility and $2 million Tuolumne Transit Center.
A $65 million new courthouse is also planned for the center and would be entirely funded by the state, but it’s currently on hold due to a lack of money in the state budget for court construction.
November 3, 2017
The Union Democrat
By Alex MacLean


Saturday, November 4, 2017

[Lake County] County Grand Jury honored by state association

LAKE COUNTY >> The California Grand Jury Association presented the Best Grand Jury Reporting Award to the 2015-2016 Lake County Grand Jury for its report entitled “Role of the Office of Emergency Services in County Disaster Preparedness”. The award is given annually for excellence in reporting and the recipient is chosen from Final Reports submitted from the 58 California counties in the state.
The award was announced at the 36th CGJA Annual Conference on October 29-30. Traditionally, the competition for this honor is considerable throughout the state.
The award reads: “the 2017 Best Grand Jury Report Award [is] for reporting on the disorganized coordination of emergency services in the midst of one of the largest disasters in California. The report described the complexity of the situation and the critical nature of the various county agencies’ responses to the devastation fires suffered by Lake County in 2015, underscoring the importance of disaster preparedness before a catastrophic event takes place. The Excellence in Reporting Award program recognizes grand jury reports that bring to the public’s attention matters of vital importance and thereby lead to positive changes within their communities.”
Lake County’s report was chosen before the recent fires in Sonoma and Napa counties, though it turned out to be rather prescient, and generated substantial inquiries from representatives of those counties on the processes, procedures and references used in the writing of the document.
The report was an example of how the grand juries can help effect change in their counties. County agencies, such as the Disaster Council having regular meetings, and the Office of Emergency Services reorganizing to be more proactive and visible in Lake County, are making changes as highlighted in the report’s findings and recommendations.
The Grand Jury is always looking for representatives to serve. As long as you are over the age of 18 and a county resident you are eligible to apply.
Applications can be found on the Lake County website under the Grand Jury, or by contacting the Superior Court.
November 2, 2017
Record-Bee
By Staff Reports


[Alameda County] Supervisors Respond to Grand Jury on Donations

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors has replied to the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury’s comments about supervisors’ use of discretionary funds, which they give on a regular basis to non-profit entities.
Supervisors sent the Grand Jury a letter Oct. 24, responding to the Grand Jury’s June 1 report. Civil Grand Jury comments are intended to be helpful to government by suggesting better procedures, or pointing out what jurors consider defects. All of the jurors are lay citizens, and have an advisor from the District Attorney’s office.
The civil Grand Jury does not make any allegations of criminal behavior.
The donations under discussion come from savings that supervisors realize by not hiring staff up to their maximum budget allowance, and on business expenses. The program is called the Fiscal Management Rewards Plan (FMRP). All county departments have these funds as a reward for their in-house cost-cutting actions.
Each supervisor donates the money to a number of non-profits in his or her district, making his/her own judgments about the merits of each recipient.
In the Valley, records from the Grand Jury for approximately a two-year period in 2014 and 2015 show that Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who lives in Dublin, and represents that city, Livermore, and Fremont, gave large donations to some non-profits. He was a benefactor for Las Positas 4-H Camp at $50,000. He gave $31,000 to the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District, $25,000 each to the Taylor Family Foundation and the Dublin Gael Boosters Club, $20,000 to the Livermore Rodeo Foundation, and $10.000 to the Fremont Symphony Orchestra.
Supervisor Nate Miley, whose district includes Pleasanton, Castro Valley, unincorporated urban areas near Hayward, and part of Oakland, donated $98,000 to Hill Communications over two years to support violence prevention education. He gave $50,000 to the capital campaign of AXIS Health Center and a donation to Tri-Valley Senior Support.
Supervisors don’t spend all of their FMRP savings in one year. The total for five supervisors for a carryover from a previous year in 2016-17 was $9.7 million.
Haggerty listed $796,000 in carryover money, and Miley showed $283,000 remaining in his 2016-17 fund.
A criticism in the Grand Jury report related to the fact that supervisors have large accumulated amounts that can be donated to non-profits without any competitive process.
Further, there sometimes are no written contracts, and little, if any, oversight about how the non-profits use the donations. This falls short of good governance, says the Grand Jury.
The supervisors reply that the allocation process is not a failure of good governance. The FMRP is used as a grant program, without specifically contracting for services. Often the money is used as bridge funding to continue ongoing work, or fill in gaps, or to be used for special projects.
However, supervisors agree with the Grand Jury in this respect: “The process for awarding funds can benefit from increased accountability measures to ensure the funds are used for appropriate public purposes.”
The Grand Jury also states that the county’s Manual on Accounting Procedures and Policies (MAPP) requires the FMRP dollars to meet the same standards as other county expenditures on donations over $3000.
The board agrees MAPP says that all expenditures must meet the same standards, but the board also comments that a county policy grants exceptions to supervisors concerning procurement policy.
November 2, 2017
Livermore Independent
By Ron McNicoli


[Shasta County] Redding Resident Receives Prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the California Grand Jurors’ Association

Seaside, Calif., October 30, 2017. Marsha Caranci, Redding, has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the California Grand Jurors’ Association (CGJA). The award was presented to Caranci on October 30 at CGJA’s 36th annual conference held in Seaside in Monterey County.
The award honors exceptional and important work performed over an extended period to further the goals and purposes of the civil grand jury system in California and of the association. CGJA’s most prestigious award, it has only been given seven previous times since its creation in 1995.
Caranci’s most significant contribution is in managing and orchestrating the annual training of more than one thousand grand jurors in counties throughout the state. She has led this effort since 2011, resulting in an increasingly effective training program each year heralded by courts, grand jurors and counties. Her other contributions to CGJA permeate throughout the entire association.
Caranci served on the Shasta County Grand Jury for two terms, 2001-02 and 2002-03 (the latter as foreperson). She is very involved in the Shasta County Grand Jurors’ Association (serving in in many capacities).
The California Grand Jurors’ Association is a statewide nonprofit organization of former grand jurors with the mission “to promote, preserve and support the grand jury system through training, education and outreach.”

Caranci is obviously pleased with the award she has just opened and received.

Press release, California Grand Jurors’ Association
Contact Jim Ragan at jimragan@charter.net



[Marin County] Tiburon Resident Receives Prestigious Service Award from the California Grand Jurors’ Association

Seaside, Calif., October 29, 2017. Karin Hern, Tiburon, has received the Angelo Rolando Service Award from the California Grand Jurors’ Association (CGJA). This award, made annually for outstanding long-time service to the association at the state and local levels, was announced at the association's 36th annual conference in Seaside.
Hern served multiple terms on the Marin County Grand Jury and was foreperson in 2006-07. She is a past president of the Marin County Chapter of CGJA and served on its board for several years. Hern was a member of the CGJA Board of Directors for eight years and continues to serve on numerous committees. She has long been a part of the CGJA team that trains more than one thousand grand jurors throughout the state every year.
The California Grand Jurors’ Association is a statewide nonprofit organization of former grand jurors with the mission “to promote, preserve and support the grand jury system through training, education and outreach.”

Hern, holding her award, thanks the association for this honor.

Press release, California Grand Jurors’ Association
Contact Jim Ragan at jimragan@charter.net



[Alameda County] East Bay Express Receives Best Media Reporting Award for Civil Grand Jury Coverage

Seaside, Calif., October 29, 2017. The California Grand Jurors’ Association has granted the Grand Jury Media Coverage Award to the East Bay Express, of the Oakland-Berkeley area, for its coverage of Alameda County Grand Jury reports over the past year.
In 2016, the East Bay Express clearly analyzed grand jury reports and regularly informed the public of their relevance to current government issues. The news outlet reported on the grand jury’s comprehensive investigation finding that a councilmember had a conflict of interest and used her elected position to influence an administrative decision by city staff. They covered the report’s finding regarding the email policy of the city of Berkeley as it pertains to the public’s right to know. In addition, the East Bay Express brought to light findings about expensive Oakland city waste contracts.
The annual Grand Jury Media Coverage Award program recognizes individuals and media that have created positive changes in their communities by increasing awareness of the California Grand Jury system. The award was presented on October 29 at the association’s 36th annual conference held in Seaside. Janet Clark (president) and Mike Henn of the Alameda County chapter of the association accepted the award for the East Bay Express.
The California Grand Jurors’ Association is a statewide nonprofit organization of former grand jurors with the mission “to promote, preserve and support the grand jury system through training, education and outreach.”

From left to right, Mike Henn and Janet Clark accepting the award from Barbara Sommer, chair of the association's Excellence in Reporting Subcommittee

Press release, California Grand Jurors’ Association
Contact Jim Ragan at jimragan@charter.net



Lake County Grand Jury Receives Excellence in Reporting Award for “Role of the Office of Emergency Services in County Disaster Preparedness”

Seaside, Calif., October 29, 2017. The California Grand Jurors’ Association has granted the Grand Jury Reporting Award to the 2015-16 Lake County Grand Jury for its report “Role of the Office of Emergency Services in County Disaster Preparedness.”
The report described the critical nature of the various county agencies’ responses to the devastating fires suffered by Lake County in 2015, underscoring the importance of disaster preparedness.
A 2014 Strategic Plan for the Office of Emergency Services prepared by its manager identified areas of weakness in the county disaster preparedness agencies along with specific steps to remedy them. While some steps were in progress to address certain areas (for example, starting to update the Emergency Operations Plan, holding training sessions) most remained incomplete by the time of the Valley Fire fourteen months later.
The grand jury found deficiencies in organization, supervision and implementation among the agencies investigated. It also found that, because of the deficiencies brought to light during the Valley Fire, county efforts are underway to see that they do not reoccur.
The annual Grand Jury Reporting Award recognizes a grand jury report that is of high quality, has a positive impact on the community and increases awareness of the California grand jury system. The award was presented on October 29 at the association’s 36th annual conference held in Seaside. 2015-16 Lake County Grand Jury members Kathryn Schmid, Rosemary Dontje, and Phillip Myers accepted the award on behalf of the entire grand jury.
The California Grand Jurors’ Association is a statewide nonprofit organization of former grand jurors with the mission “to promote, preserve and support the grand jury system through training, education and outreach.”

From left to right, Phillip Myers, Rosemary Dontje, and Kathryn Schmid accepting the award from Barbara Sommer, chair of the association's Excellence in Reporting Subcommittee

Press release, California Grand Jurors' Association
Contact Jim Ragan at jimragan@charter.net  




Thursday, November 2, 2017

[Monterey County] Negotiations under way for four Monterey County-operated utility systems; Cal Am, Monterey One Water vying for control

Blog note: this article references a 2013-14 grand jury report.
Monterey County >> Looking to unload the four utility systems it operates, Monterey County has entered negotiations with California American Water or Monterey One Water to sell or transfer them, but without notifying customers about the potential deal.
County management analyst Lynette Redman confirmed Tuesday that the county Board of Supervisors had directed county officials to “move forward” with negotiations to sell or transfer the Chualar, Boronda and San Jerardo sewer systems, and the San Jerardo water system. Redman said Cal Am and Monterey One Water were chosen from a pool of three respondents to begin negotiations after a combined request for qualification was issued for all four utility services a year ago. California Utilities Service had also expressed interest. Redman did not disclose whether the interested parties would negotiate for all or just some of the four utility services, nor any of the prospective terms of a sale or transfer.
“The county would essentially like to get out of the (utilities) business,” Redman said. “We believe the utilities would be better served by an entity with utility experience.”
However, Redman said none of the customers currently served by the four utility services have been notified about the potential sale or transfer, and they would only be notified if and when negotiations are concluded. In all, the four utility services serve about 1,610 connections.
Cal Am spokeswoman Catherine Stedman confirmed the company is interested in all four systems, explaining that Cal Am is a “growing company and there are many communities interested in our service.” Stedman pointed out Cal Am already provides water service to Chualar.
Monterey One Water general manager Paul Sciuto also confirmed the public agency’s interest. He said the county asked if agency officials would be interested in responding to the request for qualifications. Sciuto said agency officials “thought being a good partner to the county, as well as lending our expertise to the community would be the right thing to do.”
Chualar’s sewer system, which serves about 170 connections with an annual budget of about $94,000 in the largely Latino community, has struggled financially for years as its rates don’t bring in enough revenue to meet the system demand. County supervisors agreed in March to forgive more than $1.166 million in county general fund loans for major repairs conducted between 2012 and 2014.
The supervisors also approved a rate increase proposal, the system’s first in 14 years, aimed at raising adequate revenue for operations, capital improvements and reserves. The proposed rate increase must be approved through a special assessment process, which allows for customers to file protests and to deny the rate increase if a majority of parcel owners in the district do so. If the rate increase is rejected the system would require either additional general fund loans or subsidies, or some other funding source to cover operations and maintenance.
According to a staff report, the proposed rate increase would “likely make (the system) more attractive to potential bidders.”
The 2013-14 county civil grand jury recommended the 50-year-old Chualar sewer system, including holding ponds near the Salinas River, be replaced as soon as possible and that a $4 million sewage treatment plant be built to handle system demand and provide farm field irrigation supply.
Redman said Pajaro, which serves about 1.013 connections with an annual budget of about $900,000, Boronda, with 360 connections and a $150,000 annual budget, and San Jerardo, with 67 connections and an $80,000 annual budget, are all operating with rates that cover costs.
However, the county did provide funding for a temporary water filtration system for low-income farmworker collective of San Jerardo after water contamination fouled its wells after the Alisal Water Company failed to address the issue, as well as upfront funding for a new water system.
October 31, 2017
Monterey Herald
By Jim Johnson


[Santa Barbara County] Santa Barbara Realtors Sue City over Property Inspections

Say Zoning Information Reports (ZIRs) Violate 4th Amendment


Blog note: this article references a 2014-15 grand jury report on ZIRs.
Santa Barbara Realtors sued City Hall this week over a controversial ordinance that mandates detailed inspection reports of residential properties prior to every sale. The lawsuit spearheaded by the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors (SBAOR) and filed by the powerful Pacific Legal Foundation law firm out of Sacramento argues the inspections impinge on homeowners’ constitutional rights by violating the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unlawful government searches.
SBAOR president David Kim said his organization finally deadlocked with the city after eight years of negotiations over its Zoning Information Report (ZIR) requirement. “We both came to an impasse, which led SBAOR to pursue other avenues of making the city understand the draconian nature of this ordinance,” he said. Kim and his fellow realtors argue ZIRs are not only burdensome and expensive at $475 a pop and required no later than five days after entering a sales contract, often in the middle of escrow but also woefully outdated. Santa Barbara, they note, is only one of 20 cities in the state to require them.
Kim pointed to a 2014-2015 Santa Barbara County Grand Jury report that examined repeated complaints over ZIRs. Originally adopted in 1974, the ordinance was designed as a “health and safety” check on the proliferation of unpermitted rental units in garages and rooms split from downtown Victorian homes. Since then, the ZIRs have evolved to include meticulous appraisals by the city’s Community Development Department (CDD) of minor building codes and zoning laws e.g., fence lines, window placements, and so on. Violations must be remedied by the current owner, frequently at great cost, before a sale is allowed.
The intent of the ordinance is laudable, the grand jury said, but its real-world application is highly problematic. ZIRs are often inaccurate, incomplete, and inconsistent, the jury heard from multiple witnesses. Files were lost in office moves, and a large number of discrepancies occurred during the 15-year tenure of one particular employee. “Many homeowners and real estate agents provided evidence that although one ZIR is deemed clear, the next ZIR on the same property may cite violations,” the grand jury stated. This puts blameless owners on the hook for the costs to fix violations committed by a previous owner. “The CDD is unapologetic about this,” the report states, even when unfavorable ZIRs kill sales.
The grand jury concluded that while ZIRs once had an important role to play in preserving neighborhoods from overcrowding, “time has caught up with them and they no longer hold the relevance they once had.” Moreover, it stated, “The past-mistakes-must-be-corrected attitude [of the CDD] is unprofessional and unfair to the innocent people simply trying to sell their homes.” The report highlighted multiple instances of owners digging up old blueprints and aerial photos to prove their cases. “The onus should be on the city to prove that a violation exists, and not on the seller to prove that one does not exist.” It also described nightmare scenarios of would-be sellers being forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars to rebuild decks or move outbuildings.
Kim elaborated that the state’s robust Real Estate Transfer Disclosure Statement law renders ZIRs moot, and he said the lawsuit is not meant to do away with home inspections altogether during the buying/selling process. “This case is limited to an invasive and expensive inspection requirement by the city that is unrelated to any health or safety issues and is performed by government inspectors with no specialized knowledge,” he said. (On its website, the city states that a ZIR inspector is “neither a building inspector nor a licensed surveyor.”) “We want to emphasize that we encourage buyers and sellers to obtain independent inspections on the property as part of their due diligence.”
Meriem Hubbard, the Realtors’ attorney, said the Pacific Legal Foundation previously put pressure on City Hall to suspend ZIRs. As a concession, the city now allows homeowners to opt out of new inspections. But, said Hubbard, the final ZIRs then include a large disclaimer from staff that the city cannot confirm any violations exist due to limited access to the site. “This is very coercive,” she said. If true health and safety concerns exist, Hubbard concluded, “They can get a warrant and look around.”
Hubbard said she recently received a letter from City Manager Paul Casey affirming Santa Barbara’s ZIRs would not be discontinued. Casey and City Attorney Ariel Calonne said they had not read Hubbard’s lawsuit and so could not comment.
October 26, 2017
Santa Barbara Independent
By Tyler Hayden