This week, the San Joaquin County 2017-2018 Civil Grand Jury released its report investigating the various code enforcement departments within San Joaquin County. The scope of the inquiry involved identifying the various departments and determining the level of enforcement. The Grand Jury determined that the areas that fall under code enforcement, including blight, abandoned vehicles, structural hazards, and illegal commercial truck parking have a direct effect on the quality of life for residents of San Joaquin County.
The decision to investigate code enforcement agencies in San Joaquin County grew out of early discussions among the grand jurors questioning how effectively the agencies functioned and if their work improved the quality of life for residents in San Joaquin County.
The Grand Jury found that several code enforcement departments are still experiencing the effect of the housing crash of 2008 and the subsequent budget and staff reductions. Stockton and some of the surrounding areas were deeply impacted by that city’s bankruptcy declaration in 2012. Many agencies still function with minimal staff, employees serve in multiple roles, and volunteers fill needed vacancies. Agencies must work to generate voluntary compliance in creative and cost-effective ways.
Major findings included the fact that the cities of Escalon, Ripon, Manteca, Lodi, Tracy and the community of Mountain House are still affected by the budget and staffing reductions resulting from the 2008 housing crash. The result is enforcement that is reactive instead of proactive.
Specifically, the Grand Jury developed the following narrative for Escalon.
Escalon has a population of approximately 7,200. Currently there is no budget for code enforcement and the code enforcement position was eliminated in 2008. Code enforcement responsibilities are spread over multiple departments such as development services, public works, and on some occasions the police department.
Requests for code enforcement are complaint-driven. Code enforcement does accept anonymous complaints. Due to the small size of the community, the city believes anonymous complaints protect the privacy of residents.
The main code enforcement issues at this time are weeds, rubbish, and nuisance abatement. An appeals process exists to resolve contested non-compliance disputes.
Escalon is also adopting new city ordinances to increase code violation fines and property tax liens. In addition, the city is exploring the possibility of adopting a new ordinance to address abandoned automobiles on private property.
The Grand Jury recommended that Escalon explore budget options to restore the code enforcement officer position and consider using volunteers to increase code enforcement compliance.
San Joaquin County as a whole covers an area of 1,426 square miles with approximately 740,000 residents. The county has seven incorporated cities: Escalon, Lathrop, Manteca, Tracy, Lodi, Ripon, and Stockton. Mountain House is a planned community operating in its own special district. In addition, several townships and neighborhoods exist in the unincorporated areas and are served by the county code enforcement department.
To aid the inquiry, the Grand Jury developed and sent out code enforcement surveys to the seven incorporated cities, Mountain House, and San Joaquin County to gather information about the communities and their code enforcement practices.
The survey requested the following information: Size of community, department staffing levels, common code enforcement violations encountered and most severe code enforcement related violations, complaints received, type of response format used, that is reactive (complaint-driven) or proactive (action-oriented instead of complaint-driven) and the yearly budget.
The City Councils of Escalon, Lodi, Manteca, Ripon, Tracy and Lathrop, the Mountain House Board of Directors and the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors are required to submit a response to the Presiding Judge of San Joaquin County Superior Court within 90 days as to each finding and recommendation contained in the Grand Jury’s report.