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Code Compliance fails to do its job, grand jury says

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Posted: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 8:25 am

Overworked staff faces pile of complaints

“Designed for disaster,” was the phrase used by Calaveras County’s Chief Building Official Jeff White in regards to the high volume of code complaints the Building Department addresses regularly.

Findings from a newly released interim Calaveras County Grand Jury Report describe an understaffed department dealing with hundreds of backlogged complaints. The delay that comes with addressing the complaints allows code violators to “play” the system, often facing no timely enforcement of fines or levies when projects are found to be non-compliant, the jury said.

The grand jury conducted a department investigation after receiving a citizen complaint about the department’s lack of “diligence” in pursuing non-compliant and unpermitted business and residential construction.

For White, the news is nothing new to him or the county’s two code compliance officers, Todd Barr and Courtney Minehart. Since two former officer positions were cut in 2009, the mountain of complaints has been steadily increasing.

“It’s really like trying to paint the Golden Gate Bridge with a Q-tip,” said White. “The numbers can’t work. We literally do not have enough staff to process the workload. Clearly, it’s a problem.”

The department, which receives about 100 new complaints on an annual basis and has a staff of nine, has only two code compliance officers responsible for administrative work and the enforcement of zoning, building and health and safety regulations across the entire county. According to the report, the “backlogged non-compliance workload is far too great for the current two officers.”

Barr and Minehart deal with a variety of complaints, each of which has to be officially filed and prioritized before being investigated.

“There’s never going to be an end to complaints,” said White. “Everything under the sun ends up under code compliance and therein lies part of the problem.”

“Everything under the sun” can range from addressing debris and garbage issues, people squatting in foreclosed homes, illegal methamphetamine labs and indoor marijuana grow operations, and puppy mills to signage complaints, unpermitted construction and illegal camping.

Once a complaint is received, the department issues letters to the violator to request compliance – typically within 30 to 60 days. If noncompliance is found while an officer is in the field, a “red tag” citation is issued requiring all building activity to cease. After being notified, fines can be issued. If not paid by a specified deadline a lien can be applied to the property tax bill or deed. Fine objections are heard by the Assessment Appeals Board.

Calaveras County’s two officers typically handle between 60 and 70 cases simultaneously, similar to other California counties, according to the report.

In its findings, the Grand Jury recommended hiring an additional code compliance secretary or clerk to assist with handling complaints and managing databases to allow the current officers to focus on backlogged cases.

The report suggested that the funding for this position be drawn from existing code compliance section revenue –permit fees, fines imposed on non-compliant projects and liens places on property tax bills and deeds – described as a “cash cow” for other county funding needs.

Also recommended was the establishment of an automatic monitoring and follow-up system that would provide alerts when critical deadlines approach and to ensure that fines and taxes are imposed and levied on time which, according to Barr, is being addressed with the rollout of a new software system designed to streamline such issues.

“It’s just the same old story you’ll find anywhere,” said White. “We’re just playing the hand we’ve been dealt.”

Responses to the jury’s findings are required from the Building, Information Technology, Assessor’s departments and the Board of Supervisors within 90 days.

To view the report in its entirety, visit calaverasenterprise.com.

© 2015 Calaveras Enterprise. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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7 comments:

  • Bookldy209 posted at 11:49 am on Wed, Apr 3, 2013.

    Bookldy209 Posts: 383

    That would be "infested" with vermin, but you probably got that. :)

     
  • Cleareye posted at 9:52 am on Wed, Apr 3, 2013.

    Cleareye Posts: 657

    Most codes are written by the manufacturers of the affected products, not by the safety police. It's easy to say "bar wiring can burn down a whole community" but lots of things can destroy a whole community.
    Wiring and heating, along with structural elements could be inspected by a knowledgable consultant from the insurance companies or the homeowner. We have created a bureaucracy that feeds on the taxpayers inability to stomp them out. These "inspectors" could all be free enterprise building consultants buying their own retirement programs instead of feeding at the government trough.

     
  • Bookldy209 posted at 8:58 am on Wed, Apr 3, 2013.

    Bookldy209 Posts: 383

    Code compliance officers also investigate and clean up behind those among us who dump construction debris and more on the side of the road. For several years, some yahoo was dumping oil in drum sized containers on an Arnold road. Others choose to trash their old tires and appliances on Sheep Ranch Road in the middle of the night on a regular basis (despite the fact that there is no fee or just a few dollars to haul to the landfill). Another Arnold person had inherited property with an abandoned house they allowed to rot into the ground that became a drug house and invested with vermin. And this is only in the Route 4 corridor. Be grateful that there is someone looking out for you, your neighborhood and your investment in your home.

     
  • Coackroach posted at 6:56 pm on Tue, Apr 2, 2013.

    Coackroach Posts: 60

    I can agree with everyone here. Get the building inspection out of our government. Its our property, which we work hard to pay for, yet some guy just because he has a title of building inspector can tell you what you can and can't build on it. Something really wrong here. Can you believe that if you have a support post or joist on your deck bad the inspector says you now have to pay for engineering, plans and permits. You're into one board replacement for $2500.00 even before you get to change the $10.00 board. And thats if they don't decide they want you to remove and replace your whole deck, because it just so happens to have been built before all the new codes went into effect.
    I totally understand why so many people build without permits. have you ever gone into the building department. Its got to be probally the most unfriendly office in the whole county complex.
    Let the people build, after all its their property.

     
  • Anonso Quijano posted at 1:59 pm on Tue, Apr 2, 2013.

    Anonso Quijano Posts: 309

    There is a problem when someone's construction violates the basics of safe construction. Bad wiring can burn down a whole community. A poorly constructed retaining wall next door can cause a mudslide to take out your house. Do you want your grandkid as a guest at a slumber party, under a roof that can't carry the snow load? I am against "yard police" and would not live with a HOA, but common sense isn't universal and must be enforced in construction.

     
  • Charles Dudley Jr posted at 12:40 pm on Tue, Apr 2, 2013.

    Charles Dudley Jr Posts: 1281

    Agree with most all you say as long as some brand of formal certified building inspector signs off the work I'm ok with whatever anybody builds on their own land(s) and I think it is fine time the Government completely get out of the building inspection business, turn it all back over to the private sector and go their own way.

     
  • Cleareye posted at 10:47 am on Tue, Apr 2, 2013.

    Cleareye Posts: 657

    All government "building compliance" departments should reconsider their purpose. Currently, they are doing the work that homeowner insurance companies should be doing.
    Property owners should be allowed to do whatever they like on their own property.
    Dangerous construction would be at the owners risk. Their insurance company, if they want one, should do the inspection to understand their risk. Why should we taxpayers subsidize insurance companies?
    If a property owner wants to build something in excess of neighborhood "guidelines" they should deal with their neighbors themselves. It used be called being "neighborly."
    We do not need the government holding everyone's hand. So what if a property owner adds a bedroom?
    There are of course some limitations, like water and sewer availability, fire risks to neighbors, etc. But these can be dealt with without the "jack-booted-thugs" called building inspectors.Imagine how difficult it would have been to build the West if pioneers were preceded by building inspectors?