Tim Beals’ Response to Code Violations
Sierra County Planner Tim Beals provided the following response to an EBlast that Sierraville.org sent out in early June 2020 which asked subscribers if any were willing to sign a petition to strongly urge the powers-that-be at the County to intervene and take action to address issues surrounding properties that have fallen into disrepair:
We are in the midst of completing formal notices to approximately a dozen violations-- both new and pre-existing-- in Sierraville. Two or three of the violations we are commencing formal proceedings on are pre-existing and have been around for a while. I had fully intended to have these under violation order by now and, in fact, had assured a number of people that such violation orders would have been well-underway at this point. Unfortunately, I lost three key staff members in my office and have an additional vacancy in the Planning Department (just filled one week ago). The combined effects from all of this really set us back and was further exacerbated by the coronavirus and the County’s response and administration to this pandemic which all but consumed us since February. These various events set back a lot of projects, not just code enforcement. In regard to the Sierraville code enforcement specifically, we have been making every attempt to respond to complaints and to code violations that are observed. Upon discovery, staff resources are assigned, and documentation begins as we commence taking a violation case ultimately (if necessary) to the County District Attorney. Sometimes the violation is solely a building code issue, sometimes it is a zoning or planning code issue, sometimes it may be an environmental health issue, and in many cases it may be multiple or a combination of code enforcement issues involving multiple departments and occasionally the State Department of Fish and Wildlife and/or the State Regional Water Quality Control Board.
In the past 18 to 24 months, we have resolved, or are in the final stage of abatement, thirteen violations-zoning issues, building code issues, and one large scale resource damage issue that included the State Department of Fish and Wildlife. We have eight pre-existing violations in various stages of investigation, and we have six new violations that have been identified and which have occurred within the past 90 days. Of the eight pre-existing violations, three are building code only, four are combination of building code and planning code violations (one of which includes State Department of Fish and Wildlife, Environmental Health, and nuisance proceedings as well), and one is a grading permit violation. We are currently making contact with the property owners of the six newly identified violations, one of which is a grading permit/State Fish and Wildlife issue, two are zoning issues, and three are building code issues. These six new violations are all very newly discovered.
In summary, we have thirteen abated or substantially complete abatement actions, we have six very newly discovered violations, and we have eight pre-existing violations. We are focusing on resolution of the pre-existing violations several of which are fairly recent. When the property owners of the more recent pre-existing violations were approached, some confronted enforcement staff with accusations of selective enforcement and some simply refused to abate the violation. Still, we are just days away from releasing formal violation complaints against all of the pre-existing violations identified in the previous paragraphs. I chose to serve formal violation complaints on the record owners of all eight of these pre-existing violations to avoid further accusations of selective enforcement and to resolve them as promptly as possible. These formal enforcement notices are detailed, assign very specific demands for abatement, have limited time allowed for compliance, and summarize the consequences of disregarding the order. A custom abatement order is being served on the record owner of each of the eight pre-existing violations identified above.
In the case of abandoned vehicles, the enforcement work that I am involved with does not cover abandoned vehicles. For information on this program please visit Chapter 34 of the County Ordinance Code. This Chapter describes the entire policy and as you will see, it is administered and enforced by the County Sheriff. I do not want to speak for him but from a historical perspective, there has always been a definite lack of funding unless the Board of Supervisors wants to fund the program out of the general fund. For further inquiries please feel free to communicate with Sheriff Fisher and he can assist you.
The only avenue that I am aware of in response to vehicles and machinery concerns is through the County Health Department if the vehicles or machinery are causing a pollution or release of hazardous waste. There are provisions in the County Code for a person to file a complaint under the nuisance provisions of the Code but I would think it may be difficult to come up with a solid basis for it to be declared some form of public nuisance.
I understand the frustration that can be occurring, and I fully respect the effort to bring attention to a need that the community feels is underserved. I am not attempting to dissuade anyone from expressing this concern through the petition and I sincerely appreciate the interest and the desire for consistent and thorough code enforcement, thus making the County’s land use and building codes meaningful and effective. I take this seriously and I know the Board of Supervisors does as well. However, I did want you to understand the situation from my perspective as the responsible department for a majority of the County’s planning/zoning, building code, road and drainage, grading, floodplain, and resource code enforcement. There are a considerable number of violations here compared to most other communities. The issues I outlined obviously have a more pronounced impact on Sierraville simply due to the sheer number of violations in process, however, I do not want anyone in the community, nor the county, to be of the belief or assumption that the County does not believe that code enforcement should not be a priority aspect of County services. I can only trust that the formal violation and abatement orders to be released within days will have a positive impact on the effort that is underway to highlight the need for code enforcement.
Hope this helps.