With no code-enforcement officer in Los Gatos, several residents are complaining about reactionary enforcement, rather than a proactive approach to property related nuisance violations.
The offenses, which according to Patch Watchers seem to be on the increase, range from illegal signs, storage of hazardous waste, development without permits, accumulation of garbage, overgrown vegetation, dilapidated or abandoned buildings, storage of unlicensed vehicles, etc.
that looks at some of the blight and code-enforcement problems in and around the town. Originally started by this editor looking for trouble areas, it's now running based on frequent tips from local residents who report the problems in the hopes of getting them solved through exposure.
On Sept. 4, Los Gatos Town Manager Greg Larson presented a report to the Los Gatos Town Council about the issue.
Larson wrote that the town has received complaints that zoning violators are allowed too much time to remedy their violations through revised CUP applications and that complaining parties can't publicly express their concern with the enforcement process and results.
The town had one full-time code enforcement officer until 2008, when the position was eliminated due to budget constraints and the recession. The officer's duties were distributed to a variety of staff, including building inspectors, planners, town attorney's office and the town building official.
Given the limited resources, the town's Code Enforcement Program, administered primarily through the Community Development Department, operates on reactive basis to complaints from the community, the elected and appointed officials, and the Town Manager's Office, Larson said. The program receives some assistance from the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police and Los Parks and Public Works departments.
"One of the primary disadvantages to this approach has been the lack of accountability and standardization in enforcement cases, particularly with the continued follow-up or monitoring of compliance that is often necessary," Larson wrote. "Moreover, the staff members that are currently involved in code enforcement activities have neither the necessary training nor thorough understanding of the various Town codes and relevant county, state and federal codes to effectively perform this function."
But help is on the way. With the recovering economy, revenues have increased and staff is now pursuing a temporary code enforcement officer that will be reinstated during the fiscal year 2012-13 mid-year budget adjustments, Larson said.
The cost of a single code enforcement officer is approximately $115,000 a year, Larson said, which excludes associated costs for legal assistance, administrative support, and materials and supplies. The town, however, could spend up to $175,000 total to resurrect the position and participate in Project Sentinel, which provides tenant/landlord dispute resolution services.
Project Sentinel provides community mediation programs in Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View and Palo Alto.
However, even with the filling of the position, the code enforcement workload may still prevent the town from adopting a more proactive approach, he added.
The attached chart is a summary of the code enforcement case workload for the past two years. Of the 311 cases in fiscal year 2010-11 and 295 in fiscal year 2011-12, approximately six new complaints per week each year, the majority are related to property nuisance, noise, abandoned vehicles, building code, and illegal signs, he said.
Los Gatos Parks and Public Works Director Todd Capurso said last week the purpose of the report presented by Larson was to receive general feedback from the Council and that no action would be taken until later this year.
"We've put together kind of a working plan where we say, 'here are the types of [code enforcement] violations that are usually brought forward through a variety of mechanisms and we really don't have a uniform way to approach them because code enforcement has fallen to the building inspectors out of necessity," Capurso said.
A staff of four building inspectors and the chief building official have been busy attending to most of the code enforcement issues which have to do with building and zoning type of violations. Fortunatly, one of the town's building inspectors used to be a code enforcement officer so he has the background and also served as a police officer at another municipality, Capurso said.
"Our development activity is on the rise ... as applicants come forward and they're paying money for their projects to move through the process and they expect a certain turnaround on their inspections, the building inspection will have less and less time to deal with code enforcement ... out of that necessity code enforcement will get less and less attention," Capurso added.