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Orange County Focus

WESTMINSTER : Code Law Targets Repeat Offenders

October 10, 1991|JON NALICK

In an action that will enhance the city's ability to enforce its codes, the City Council has approved an ordinance permitting police and code enforcement officers to issue citations to repeat violators.

Under the ordinance, people who fail to fix code violations after two warnings may receive tickets of as much as $100 for the first offense and $500 for a third offense in a single year. The council approved the ordinance unanimously at its meeting Tuesday.

"We always try to go with the carrot approach" to try to get compliance with "courtesy notices" instead of tickets, "but in those cases where that doesn't work, we have a stick now," Mike Bouvier, city planning and building manager, said.

Bouvier said that before the ordinance was approved, all minor violations--excluding traffic, parking and animal-related violations--were defined as misdemeanors with fines of up to $1,000 and six months in jail.

However, because judges are reluctant to impose harsh penalties for minor offenses such as excavating without a permit or blocking a storm drain, they would often require code violators to pay small fines or no fine at all, he said. As a result, the city's threats of legal action were mostly bluffs, he said.

Although most people will fix a problem after initial warnings, the city's pursuing misdemeanor charges against repeat offenders was "like trying to use a sledgehammer to kill a fly," Bouvier said. "For all practical purposes, we never had an effective enforcement tool."

Bouvier said the citations will bring only a few thousand dollars into the city, but, he pointed out, enforcement officers are not "looking for revenues. We're trying to make the community a better place by getting rid of junk cars" and other nuisances.

The city has delayed hiring a second code enforcement officer pending the approval of the ordinance.

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