Needles, CA: Discussing and debating community clean up.

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Needles, CA: Discussing and debating community clean up.

Members of the Needles City Council and the public in attendance discussed and debated about community clean up and how to clean up blight and trash around the community during a Needles City Council Meeting held on Tuesday, September 12th, 2016 at the Needles City Council Chambers in Needles, California.

The agenda item was brought forward and requested by Needles City Council Member Shawn Gudmundson, who in the last few weeks have been putting on meetings with the community discussing how to clean up the community and what things both the community and the City of Needles can and should do.

Background information on the agenda item was provided to ZachNews by the City of Needles and includes what actions that should be done to address cleaning up blight and trash in the community.

** Background Information: Agenda Item #9: **

– Background:

Poorly maintained properties and community debris adversely affects a community’s identity, prosperity, opportunities, and property values. As the result of recent concerns about the appearance of the community, Councilor Gudmundson held a community meeting on August 24. At that meeting the following concerns were expressed:

* Need for additional code enforcement to enforce the 1982 municipal code,
* Regular street sweeping schedule,
* Clean up City owned properties,
* Trim trees along Army Road,
* Clean up J Street Corridor,
* Need to remove debris left along the roads/streets, and
* Provide volunteer opportunities for community clean up

Clean up problems come in three different forms; private property, right of way, and city owned property:

* City Property: The City owns 146 parcels of land comprising 627 acres. At a recent Council meeting the City Council authorized approximately $40,000 to screen fence the public works yard at which the City stores equipment and materials. The RFP for fencing was issued last week and proposals are due shortly. Results will be presented to Council for award within the next 30 days. Efforts are continuously underway to improve the appearance of the active City properties. Most recently the County Fire District has offered 12 3-day efforts annually by their work Crews to address larger clean-up projects. In the past they were used in major clean-ups such as the Wayside Park rehabilitation. Coordination is now underway to utilize them in the upcoming year. The City has worked with the Sheriff’s Office to utilize inmates for clean-ups on City properties including the golf course and parks. Lastly, the City has used no-cost Welfare to work job training programs for supplemental staffing at City operations including public Works clean-ups. Numerous citizens volunteer for clean ups across the City and remove tons of trash per year.

* Public Rights of Way: The City owns 55 miles of public rights of way for streets, sidewalks, utilities, and other public purposes. Rights of way have been the subject of illegal dumping. Approximately 200 illegal dumps have been removed in last two years. The City’s Waste hauler, Republic Waste provides weekly pick up to each residential, institutional, or commercial building and site in town and will respond to individual requests for “bulk pick up” for oversized or special recoveries twice a year at no additional charge for each location in town. Republic Waste has recently agreed to notify the City when and where bulk pick-ups have been initiated. The City also receives 12 roll off boxes without charge for special clean up events. Finally, City public works Crews routinely pick up trash and debris left on the curb for an extended period time and properly disposes of them. Over 100 tons of debris has been removed each of the last two years.

Code enforcement on private property. Enforcement actions against individual property owners can only be taken if the property represents a public nuisance as a threat to public health, life, or safety.

Some unsightly properties are not necessarily violations of the law. There are two pending claims against the City for pursuing code enforcement.

The Code enforcement process operates as follows;

* Observation/complaint results in a site visit by code enforcement,

* The property Owner is informed that a violation exists and resolution is requested, O if the matter is not remedied, code enforcement issues a Notice of Violation (NOV) which specifies the exact provisions of the municipal code that are operative to the situation and giving the property owner 10 days to remedy the violation,

* If the matter has not been voluntarily resolved, an Administrative Citation ($50/violation) is issued for each and every violation and the owner has 21 days to remedy the violation,

* If the matter is not remedied, an Administrative Hearing is scheduled at which the property Owner can present their case as to whether a violation exists and an order for the City to cease enforcement or an order the clean-up is issued,

* If the matter is still not resolved by compliance with the order, an Abatement Order is sought from San Bernardino County Superior Court,

* If the Order is issued the City may resolve the matter at its cost, including entering onto private property, and

* If the City has incurred costs it may seek reimbursement through a lien against the property.

Most violations are resolved voluntarily and few run the course to a court Warrant. In the last two years the City has spent in excess of $200,000 on debris removal, site clean ups, or demolitions. Past Council actions to improve community clean-up have been to;

* Shorten the enforcement procedures to eliminate approximately 50 days in the enforcement Schedule,

* Awarded a contract for improved fine collection,

* Secured Community Development Block Grant funding for demolitions, and

* Due to the high incidence of problem properties required rental properties to register to ease monitoring.

There are currently 42 open cases in various stages with approximately 30 cases which have been successfully closed. There is one warrant to be executed, one that has had its Second and final Administrative Hearing and is expected to be successfully closed by the mid September. There are currently 5 fire damaged structures which are in the abatement process with one already cleaned up and the demolition permit has been issued for the clean-up of a second. The final 2 owners are non-responsive so the court abatement process will be required.

Code enforcement is part of the Building and Safety organization of the City. Currently there are Currently 31 active building permits all of which have at least one inspection required at any given time. There are several permit applications filed yet to be issued Currently there are four jobs in review status on the drawing table waiting for approval with several more in the queue.

To address the situation that most of the residential area problems involve rental properties, the Council adopted a rental registration program which identifies those properties, requires them to be registered, and annually inspected for safety, including any Municipal Code or Health, Life, or Safety Code violations. Property management is a commercial venture and is now regulated as Such.

In order for the City to enter onto a private property permission from the landowner is required. Some residential properties that experience debris problems involve elderly or disabled persons unable to address the problem. Recent meetings have been held with the Needles Unified School District regarding their program which requires each student to conduct a total of 80 hours of Community service in order to graduate and whether that labor force can be used to supplement City staff resources to address clean-up of City property and assist those unable to properly care for their homes.

Increased training is and has been underway for all City enforcement programs to improve effectiveness, enforcement capabilities, and due process capabilities. Conclusion: Much has been done. More remains to be done. A greater effort must be undertaken.

A list of recommendation options were provided in the agenda packet to members of the Needles City Council for consideration and direction as well as what would be the fiscal impact on this recommendation options items depending on direction by members of the Needles City Council.

** List of Recommendations: **

* Conditions which qualify as a threat to public health, life, and safety will be reviewed by the City Attorney to best define under what specific circumstances a party can be cited for violating City law,

* The City will work with the Campus Challenge program of the NUSD to utilize the student community service hours towards community clean-ups.

* The City will seek the assistance of citizen and non-profit servie organizations to undertake clean-up and neighbor assistance programs.

* The City Public Works will post on the City website, seek coverage in the local paper, include regular schedules in the utility bills as an insert, and otherwise disseminate information on the street sweeping schedule. Variances will be reported to the City Council on a monthly basis.

* The City Public Works, Parks, Building and Grounds, and NPUA water sewer and electric utilities will review their operational grounds and areas of responsibilities including rights of way and City lands, and prepare a clean-up plan which Will be presented to the City Council. Progress reports will be made on a regular basis.

* City public works departments will be asked to inventory tasks which can be accomplished by the Fire District work crews when they are available.

* City personnel staff will seek to secure additional no-cost labor for use in clean-ups. o City Crews have been instructed to begin each week with a community drive through to collect improperly discarded items.

* The City waste hauler has been asked to improve their bulk pick-up protocol and effectiveness, and notify City staff of scheduled pick-ups.

* Public Works will arrange for a 40 yard roll off trash bin to be made available at various neighborhood based locations rotated throughout the community for seasonal, no-cost clean up Opportunities.

* The City Code enforcement and building official duties will be better defined in order to increase enforcement actions including the use of contract labor.

* A log of Outstanding enforcement cases will be posted monthly on the City’s website and reported quarterly to the City Council. O Community clean-ups will be organized on a quarterly basis to assist the elderly, handicapped, or otherwise unable to clean their properties.

* The City will request the County Fire District and Sheriff’s Office to present plans as to what they can do to assist in community clean up and/or enforcement.

* Additional resources will be sought for community enhancement programs and activities.

* Council appointment of a “Beautiful Needles” citizen’s task force for one year to review progress, evaluate effectiveness, and make suggestions to the City Council about measures to improve the overall visual condition of the Community.

** Fiscal Impacts: **

* Deferral of other high priority operations and maintenance responsibilities.

* Increase in public works funding from the General Fund.

* Potential increase in code enforcement fines.

* Increase in building fees.

* $94,000 is the balance in the Surplus Property restricted account in the General Fund

Also provided in the agenda packet to members of the Needles City Council was information on Needles Cleanup Committee Report, a bill protecting Code Enforcement Officers heads to Governor, a list of City-Owned land, a Code Enforcement Provisions of the Municipal Code, and Code Enforcement Log.

** Read the full Agenda Item #9 Packet at the following City of Needles website address: **

http://cityofneedles.com/2016%20website%20file%20posting%20(Needlesserver)/1%20CITY%20COUNCIL/09%20SEPTEMBER/cc_091316-9.pdf

As the discussion continued, the issue over enforcement and who’s job is it to clean up the community, turned the discussion into a bit of a debate.

** Video from ZachNews on YouTube: **

Needles City Council Member Shawn Gudmundson spoke about the response he has been getting from the community and from meetings with the new Needles Cleanup Committee.

Needles City Council Member Shawn Gudmundson said, “Answering the concerns of the citizens of came to me and are fed up to the point of saying ‘I’m tired of coming to Needles — I contemplating moving – I’m no longer can defend our home town’. What are we doing to take care of it. You councilors have gone one dimensional, all it is about future agricultural and other areas. So we need to listen to this group; our first meeting we had 16 individuals.”

Needles City Council Member Shawn Gudmundson then read part of a letter from the Needles Cleanup Committee to members of the Needles City Council which read the following: “Rick our first meeting we had sixteen individuals in attendance. A lot of the same faces in attendance of course. However there were seven new faces that came out to voice their concerns and ideas. In all, the major topic was our City’s allowance of code enforcement violations on private properties, including rentals, empty lots, and the City’s own. Many voiced they are contemplating even moving if the City does not address this long overdue problem. These new middle-aged faces are longtime residents that have deep ties to our beloved City. They are to the point if the City does not act now, it will be too late to turn it around. So we were in concurrence to the following plan of actions to get Started….”

The list in the Needles Cleanup Committee letter reads as follows:

1) Create a part time/temporary code enforcement position to enforce the violations that were implemented by a prior city council back in June 1992 for city code violations.

2) Implement a street sweeping schedule and abide by it. Make the schedule available on the City’s webpage, get it posted in the newspaper and send a flyer out in the utility bills.

3) Start with the City’s own properties, i.e. Public Works Yard, streamline the installation of a new fence so volunteers, San Bernardino County Fire Crews can install slats come October. The have available equipment of chainsaws, weed eaters, etc. to assist us. Chief Marshall Would have his 18 man crew available in October depending on the fire season.

4) Trim the trees across from Duke Watkins Park, Spikes Dog Park, Skate Park and the newly constructed Dollar General going in. Not only is it a fire hazard, it allows a place for the homeless, pedophile’s, and others do unlawful acts in that area.

5) The J Street corridor, needs to have overgrown vegetation removed by the ball fields, the flood control pond next to the Needles Aquatic Center.

6) Most of all hold our City employees accountable, make them take pride within the city they work for. Many times, way too often there are items placed in the City’s right of ways, that could be removed, however it usually takes a phone call from a concerned citizens or a Councilor for action to be taken.

7) We must have a way for the good citizens of Needles that would volunteer to assist the removal of these items, not having to call Allied Waste listing the displaced items and them taking only what’s on the list. The placement of roll offs at a City facility would assist the good Standing residents and volunteers in discharging these items. This would also deter individuals that may have been abusing the roll offs as their own personal trash cans. Especially individuals that do not reside within our City.

Needles City Council Member Shawn Gudmundson continued reading the Needles Cleanup Committee letter saying, “In closing, this is just a start, yes I understand that the City has a lot of good things that may come to fruition in the upcoming year, but if we do not fulfill our citizens desires, who will be left to see it. Going forward we need not be one dimensional as a City, let things play out and lets focus on enhancing our Communities appearance so we may attract new residents, businesses but most importantly, retain the one’s we have.”

During this agenda item, some in the public and members of the Needles City Council began to go off topic discussing about other issues related to fire district and local fire hydrants in the community that need to be checked, but Needles City Council Member Shawn Gudmundson wanted the public and members of the Needles City Council to focus on the topic in front of them, cleaning up our community.

Needles City Council Member Shawn Gudmundson said, “I don’t know were we got off topic on discussing fire and discussing this; lets discuss the things we’re here to discuss; cleaning the city up. Making our law enforcement personnel enforce a — violations that were implemented in 1992. Three of them come to mind; section 16-4: Keeping property clean; section 16-23: Accumulation of debris; 16-29: Accumulation of compatible waste. We need to enforce are already implemented violations; we need the City Attorney to put some more teeth into them and clean the city up. Thank you.”

After Needles City Council Member Shawn Gudmundson comments, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Deputy and former Needles City Council Member Pat Murch came up and spoke to members of the Needles City Council.

Pat Murch said, “For the last week, I’ve heard a lot about your meeting (speaking towards Needles City Council Member Shawn Gudmundson). There’s needs to be an understanding that some of you aren’t getting. San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department – who I work for – does criminal law. It does not do city ordinance and code enforcement….”

Needles City Council Member Shawn Gudmundson interrupted Pat Murch saying, “and can… excuse me.”

Pat Murch continued his comments saying. “I would suggested that maybe some of you get some education and understand what criminal versus administrative is done. Because we don’t go in and clean up trash; that’s not our job. So someone might wanna get an education.”

After Pat Murch’s comments, Needles City Attorney John Pinkney spoke on the matter of the 1992 violations mention saying, “We can certainly — the code goes back to the early 90’s; code enforcement so the City Manager and I discussed this today and we’ll come back to you with maybe an proposal updated ordinance that would improve upon the remedies the city has available to it; in terms of code enforcement if the Council like use to do that.”

Needles City Council Member Shawn Gudmundson then spoke after Needles City Attorney John Pinkney saying, “For $2.4 million dollars, we need to find away where it’s part of San Bernardino County Sheriff’s contract — that’s all I’m gonna say — for $2.4 million dollars. Nothing against you Mr. Murch (speaking towards Pat Murch), I’m talking our overall contract. That’s all.”

After, a local resident Tona Belt spoke to members of the Needles City Council saying, “I agree on everybody; it’s cleanup, that’s the best for this town. But we need to work together; this isn’t about the police, this isn’t about the city council, this is about the town — the community; what’s best for the town. It’s o.k. that we have our jobs; I 100% understand that, and it’s not anything against the police, the council members, anything — everybody just needs to do their part. If we all come together and everybody cleans up — your part of the neighborhood, we each do it individually and spread the word to our neighbor, then we can each get this town looking better. We all live here, this is our community, we want this town to look better, so we all do our part. Lets not fight about it, lets not argue whose job it is and isn’t; it’s everybody’s job to do the right thing — that’s the button line. If we all want to get our town looking…. like it… use to look, then maybe you knew better — we want more businesses in our town, we want to be proud of our town. We all talk positive about our town, then we keep it positive. There’s no…. I understand we have our jobs; everybody is over worked and under paid, I understand that, but we all have to put a little extra effort to make our town look better.

The crowd in attended inside the Needles City Council Chambers then erupted in applause for her comments for all of us should do our part to clean up our community.

Just before voting on the agenda item, Needles Vice Mayor Jeff Williams spoke saying, “I’m surprised to see this come forward as much as this council has done on this. But to bring it forward and ask for certain things that you (looking towards Needles City Council Member Shawn Gudmundson) were part of the council that took the code enforcement officer out of the budget, and then go in and bang on Rick to get this stuff done without somebody to do it — it’s not fair. We need to look into putting him back in — mid year maybe, and getting code enforcement back in there. And as far as contracting out of the city department for building inspections, I am not for contracting out — another city department. That hasn’t gone out really well with out wastewater plant and I wouldn’t be for that. Thanks.”

At the end, members of the Needles City Council voted unanimously to approve the list of recommendations for taking action to improve general clean up of the community.

** The Vote Count: **

Needles City Council Member Shawn Gudmundson: Yes

Needles City Council Member Louise Evans: Yes

Needles City Council Member Tony Frazier: Yes

Needles Vice Mayor Jeff Williams: Yes

Needles City Council Member Tom Darcy: Yes

Needles City Council Member Robert Richardson: Yes

The hope from the community is that the blight, the trash, and burned out abandoned buildings can all be clean up, that the people working to enforce the law and codes are do so right, correctly, and as quick as possible to address the matter, and that all of use, both residents, business owners, and our local government, do their part in making Needles, California a clean and wonderful place to work, play, and live.

 

 

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