Saturday, February 27, 2021

Letter to the Editor: Re: Code Enforcement [Sutter County Appeal Democrat]

I want to start by sincerely thanking the Sutter County Grand Jury for their dedication and service to better our community. These are 19 ordinary citizens who made an extraordinary commitment. They volunteered for an entire year to be our "Civil Watchdogs."

Code enforcement issues were a focus of my campaign and a major concern for our community. Prior to knowing the Grand Jury had investigated Code Enforcement, I addressed the issue during a recent Board meeting.

The Grand Jury report includes serious findings and thoughtful recommendations that include outstanding fines should be collected, additional enforcement officers be hired and the Board of Supervisors be informed of the process.

These are absolutely reasonable recommendations. I am less than 2 months into this job, and I'm only one supervisor and vote, but I will fight for accountability and transparency in the coming weeks to address these issues and begin to right the ship.

Again, thank you to our Grand Jury - your time and effort are not in vain. Thank you for shining a light on these issues.

Nick Michelli
Sutter County Dist. 1 Supervisor
Feb 23, 2021

County responds to [Sutter County] grand jury

 Counters charges duties were neglected the past three years

The Sutter County Grand jury recently released the findings of an investigation into the code enforcement department and found it largely neglected its duties in collecting fines for citations and pursuing violations for the past three years, but a county spokesperson contends the report doesn't tell the full story.

Sutter County Public Information Officer Chuck Smith argued the county has not neglected its duty regarding code enforcement efforts, at least for the past several months, as staff and supervisors have been working to improve case management and case prosecution.

''The grand jury is correct that code enforcement is important and the residents of Sutter County deserve to have a fair and effective code enforcement program," Smith said ''This is a priority of the county."

Grand jury members opted to investigate the department's operations and performance after receiving numerous complaints related to illegal building and zone violations not being addressed or investigated by the county.

The county's previous code enforcement officer resigned in February 2020, leaving the department with no personnel. TRB and Associates was hired to review the department's current operations and procedures and identify improvements .4LEAF Inc. was also hired in July 2020 to provide a consultant code enforcement officer on an as-needed basis.

When 4LEAF started, Smith said there were 224 open cases. As of December 2020, the county had 191 open cases.

The department is utilizing the existing consultant code enforcement officer to investigate and prosecute existing and new cases on a priority basis that considered life/safety violations first," Smith said. ''There is no established timeline to resolve all cases since the department continues to receive new complaints."

The grand jury stated there were fines totaling over $1.1 million that the county had not collected as of Nov.30, 2020 -revenues that could be used to defray the cost of enforcement activities and encourage compliance. The county says the fine total was substantially overstated due to inaccurate calculations based upon a daily fine for every day that a violation existed -- consultants say a more accurate interpretation of the county's previous code enforcement ordinance is that the fine could be accrued for each day that a code enforcement officer confirms that a violation exists, typica lly through a site visit.

Smith said a more accurate amount is less than $200,000. He said over the past 2 1/2 years, the department has collected over $96,000 in fines from violations.

The grand jury also found that there were 54 open cases that had not been inspected as of Nov. 30, 2020, and another 152 cases that were closed without an inspection date and no valid reason given.

While the county did not deny that some cases were closed without reasoning, Smith said the department closed some cases due to age and reopened them under new case numbers in order for them to be processed under new guidelines established by the revised and updated ordinance.

"For those parties that chose not to correct the violation, the county has held code enforcement hearings on these active cases with the new hearing officer," Smith said.

Since the previous code enforcement officer's departure, the Sutter County Board of Supervisors has adopted changes to the Administrative Penalties Ordinance Section, appointed a county administrative hearing officer to preside over code enforcement case hearings, and adopted revisions to the county ordinance code pertaining to administrative penalties.

The search for a new, full-time code enforcement officer has been ongoing since September 2020 and the hope is to hire someone within the coming months.

"The initial recruitment did not provide sufficient qualified candidates, so the recruitment was extended," Smith said. "The department expects to begin interviewing qualified applicants at the end of February 2021 and hopes to have a full-time officer hired by April 2021."

ByJake Abbott
February 17,

Sunday, February 21, 2021

[San Mateo] County civil grand jury report identifies obstacles to building and permitting second units

 There is potential for many thousands of new secondary housing units in single-family areas throughout San Mateo County, and more should be done to make these units easier to build, argued a Civil Grand Jury Report released last year.

San Mateo County cities were required to provide feedback on the report, and most communities were largely in agreement with the report's findings. Access the full report and responses here.

The availability of housing, especially housing considered "affordable" in San Mateo County is considered by county housing leaders to be at a crisis point, the report stated. About 68% of the county's land is protected from development as agricultural or open space, and of the already developed land, two thirds is occupied by single-family homes – of which there are about 155,000 within the county.

However, there are only about 4,000 known secondary units on those properties, the report stated.

Several rounds of laws passed at the state level that took effect in 2017 and 2020 are expected to make constructing second units easier for homeowners. For instance, just since 2017, the number of new second units in the county increased to an average of 269 per year, up from 60 per year in the years 2010 through 2016, according to the report.

And new laws that took effect on Jan. 1, 2020, streamlined the process further. These included laws that bar homeowner associations from banning secondary units, require local governments to include steps to incentivize and promote the creation of affordable second units in their general plans, and prohibit impact fees, additional parking or owner occupation requirements for second units that are 750 square feet or less in size. In addition, second units are not allowed to be used as short-term rentals, or those less than 30 days, in a move to discourage their use as vacation rentals.

In addition, in January of last year, the county started an amnesty pilot program for homeowners who want to upgrade existing non-permitted second units. It allows existing second units to be brought up to code and receive permits, and offers homeowners a no-risk option to back out of the process any time without having to bring the non-permitted unit up to health and safety standards.

Yet the biggest obstacles that remain to building new second units or upgrading non-permitted ones are obtaining financing, a limited supply of contractors willing to work on second units, and a limited number of inspectors recruited and trained by local governments, the report stated.

The grand jury then offered several recommendations. The county and cities within the county should keep reaching out to homeowners to let them know about the new laws that streamline the process to build and permit second units, the jury said. The county and its cities should figure out how to make a list of financial partners that can help homeowners secure funding to build or upgrade second units. They should develop a list of contractor resources and work with training institutions to recruit and train more general contractors and inspectors. And they should encourage homeowners whose second units are not permitted to get them permitted.

Various models have been studied to encourage jurisdictions to make second units more accessible to homeowners. For instance, San Jose has created a position called an "ADU Ally," who helps people with their questions about secondary units or accessory dwelling units (ADUs), while Napa and Sonoma counties have the Napa Sonoma ADU Center, which offers technical assistance and homeowner education. There is also a statewide association called the "Casita Coalition" that provides resources to policymakers and city professionals. The county is supporting creating a white paper to look at those approaches, according to the report.

Several communities weighed in on the reports with their own responses.

Menlo Park noted that the county is already working with the Casita Coalition's committee working on ADU financing strategies. A recent study in Menlo Park found that between 2010 and 2018, there were 126 violations at second units reported, or about 1% of all housing units citywide. About 78% of the unpermitted second units citywide are in the city's Belle Haven neighborhood, while most of the permitted second units are in other areas of the city, according to the city's response.

Menlo Park and other communities pushed back on the notion that a shortage of inspectors are an obstacle to building construction.

Other communities noted that while there are only 4,000 known secondary units, it's still not clear how many unpermitted second units exist throughout the county.

The Almanac
by Kate Bradshaw
February 19, 2021