City Council learns volunteer citizen code compliance team in the works

February 12, 2016
Santa Paula News

Citizens could soon be on the lookout for code scofflaws and blight, the City Council learned at the February 1 meeting.

Santa Paula Fire Chief Rick Araiza, who also directs Building and Safety, told the council that a group of citizens — led by Ronda McKaig — have expressed a strong interest in beautifying the city by forming a “code compliance team.” 

Such teams noted Araiza are being used in several cities including San Diego and Garden Grove among others.

“Using their example the code enforcement team could go out and take pictures of abandoned cars, sign violations and garage sales…they would not make any contact with individuals,” but rather come back to city staff to address their observations of those not complying with the codes governing such issues.

Such a group said Araiza “Would be an adjunct” to the understaffed city that doesn’t have the personnel to enforce compliance issues in a timely manner.

The program is in the development stage including the guidelines and form that the citizens committee would use to report violations to the city. 

“This is just an update to let the council know we are moving forward on the request,” and Araiza said he expects the issue will return to the council in several months.

Mayor Martin Hernandez asked about training the volunteers.

“Building and Safety and Code Enforcement will go over our own codes and statutes of what they can do and can’t do. They will only be the eyes and the ears,” to bring incidents to the city’s attention so staff can screen reports and individuals are notified of violations.

Hernandez said he wanted assurances to the public that the citizens group would not be allowed to “enter private property whatsoever” to take photographs.

Araiza said such privacy issues would be addressed in training: “They’re not out there to be the Gestapo,” only looking for “eyesores in the neighborhood,” and volunteers won’t “be looking over the fence or crawling under the porch,” for documentation.

Councilwoman Ginger Gherardi asked if garage sales are illegal and Araiza said residents are allowed a certain number of sales each year.

But, he added, those presenting a problem “are the people that sell shampoos and perfume in their front yards and those that have sales every weekend…”

City Attorney John Cotti said the code on garage sales would be carefully screened to determine guidelines.

City Councilman John Procter noted that those that have ongoing sales of retail items or stage weekly garage sales, “At that kind of frequency could be a small business…”

Although Hernandez said he appreciated the volunteers “stepping forward and taking this on, I want to emphasis liability to the city…”

McKaig, said Araiza, is an attorney who is well aware of people’s rights. 

McKaig is also a co-founder of Citizens for a Safer Santa Paula. 

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