County supervisors consider nuisance abatement process

Written by Jessica Cejnar, The Triplicate July 29, 2013 04:07 pm

Following a contentious debate over blight in Del Norte County two weeks ago, County Code Enforcer Dave Mason presented an updated process for dealing with nuisances on private and public land to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Mason took elected officials through the nuisance abatement process by first identifying the owner, public or private. If public, Mason must determine what agency owns the property, and if the county owns it, he must identify what division controls the property.

“If it’s a non-maintained road then it comes to me,” he said. “If it’s an unimproved parcel that’s not a recreational facility then it comes to our department. The first step is to prioritize reviews with department heads. We go over what are the issues, who’s complaining, how bad it is and what’s the proper response.”

A low-priority situation is addressed when time and resources are available, Mason said. Available funding is looked at when a nuisance abatement situation is considered a “normal” priority and it is put into the rotation of projects. If a situation is considered high priority, county staff would use existing funds and may apply to the Board of Supervisors for additional funding, Mason said.

In the case of the 3.5-acre county-owned parcel near Walmart, District 1 Supervisor Roger Gitlin had brought the situation to the county’s attention and asked staff to find the funds, Mason said.

“In my 20-plus years of experience, these types of projects sometimes go much further than you anticipate because you grab hold of a piece of trash and start pulling it, and it just gets bigger and bigger,” he said. “Original estimate was maybe a dumpster, but to be on the safe side, let’s make sure we had extra. Fortunately, it wasn’t needed. Volunteer funds more than covered all of it, but we had that safety factor in that report.”

In cases of private property, 70 percent of the residents who receive verbal warnings take care of the nuisance right away, Mason said. Others receive written notices, he said. If the nuisance hasn’t been addressed, county staff balances the funds available to the severity of the situation, Mason said.

Nuisance hearings are scheduled before an independent public hearing officer once a month, Mason said. In fiscal year 2010–11, four cases went before the hearing officer, he said. Twenty-three cases went before the public hearing officer in 2011–12. In 2012–13, the public hearing officer dealt with 12 cases, Mason said.

Cases since 2005 include felony timber theft, a hazardous waste dump at Dead Lake and taking out over 200 cars and 150 tons of garbage on Union Street using a $500,000 grant from Cal Recycle, Mason said. 

Since January 2005, the county has spent $116,000 of the general fund to alleviate public nuisances, Mason said. The county has recovered $124,000, he said.

“Communities are beginning to realize that code enforcement isn’t telling people to sweep off their front porch,” he said. “Code enforcement is penicillin, we’re not NyQuil. We don’t make people feel better, we address the problem.”

Mason presented the updated nuisance abatement process after he and Heidi Kunstal, deputy director of building and planning, were admonished by supervisors David Finigan and Michael Sullivan on July 9. Sullivan and Finigan said Mason and Kunstal circumnavigated the board in addressing the parcel near Walmart, adding that county code enforcement had other projects on its rotation list.

On Tuesday, Sullivan apologized to Mason and Kunstal for the remarks he made on July 9. Finigan was absent, representing Del Norte County at a National Association of Counties meeting.

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