The system for handling citizen complaints over violations of the municipal code in Morro Bay is ineffective, inconsistent and needs to change, according to a grand jury report released Tuesday.
To help improve the process, the report called for the hiring of a code enforcement officer, a position the city has left vacant since 2005.
The city currently relies on a complaint-driven process in which citizens report alleged code violations to various departments or city officials — including the city manager and city attorney.
A city website option also features a “Let Us Know” link, directing complaints to respective city departments.
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The municipal code includes ordinances on building codes relating to quality of construction or illegal living spaces; water waste laws targeting over-watering during the drought; and parking, including those who exceed metered time limits. Other categories include noise, graffiti, zoning and weed abatement.
“While Morro Bay officials provide a wide range of options for its residents to communicate with them, the effectiveness of these communications cannot be determined, and so many options may lead to confusion,” the report stated.
Morro Bay City Manager David Buckingham has acknowledged that a more streamlined process is needed.
He has proposed funding a full-time code enforcement officer in his envisioned budget, which will be considered by the City Council for approval leading up to the next fiscal year which begins July 1.
“Re-establishing a consistent code compliance program has been a concern of mine for seven months,” Buckingham said in an email.
The report also critiqued the city’s complaint tracking system, saying it isn’t consistent and doesn’t enable the city to effectively develop enforcement plans or track repeat offenders.
Without a code enforcement officer, relying only on citizen reports leads to inconsistencies about how the law is applied.
“While the current complaint-driven process may result in correction of a single violation, similar violations at other locations in the city are not identified and therefore not addressed,” the report states. “This results in inconsistent enforcement, which can be perceived as unfair.”
Larry Herbst, the grand jury foreperson, said that the report was based on a citizen complaint about the lack of municipal code enforcement. But the grand jury didn’t investigate any specific complaint.
“What we investigated is primarily their process for handling code violations,” Herbst said. “It was really the broad category of them. It was more about a recommendation to have a process revamped so they were providing the same access points and consistent handling.”
The grand jury’s recommendation also included buying “a municipal code software package to track all code violation complaints.”
Buckingham said that he appreciates the issues highlighted in the report, noting that he’s committed to creating a “consistent, proactive code enforcement program.”