April 26, 2005 > Code Enforcement, What is it?
Code Enforcement, What is it?
An Interview with Community Preservation Manager Leonard Powell
TCV: What is the Code Enforcement Division of Building and Safety?
Powell: We enforce sections of the Fremont Municipal Code and other relevant codes. If a member of the public has a concern about building or zoning and land use, it would be appropriate to come to us. We handle over 60 types of violations such as weed and waste, substandard housing, fences and signs.
Our department is under Development and Environmental Services. Street or police issues generally go directly to those departments but we are a good place to start if residents have concerns that they think police, fire or the street department would not handle. We will direct the call to the right person whether or not it should be addressed by Code Enforcement. People can call us at (510) 494-4430.
TCV: Is the bulk of your work generated by citizen complaints?
Powell: Yes. Most of our work comes that way. We also have some staff referrals and do proactive work as well.
TCV: How are calls prioritized?
Powell: Top priority goes to calls that are public safety concerns and building safety problems - housing, weak or failing buildings, electrical hazards, lead paint hazards - anything that would affect the health and safety of the general public or building occupants. Some calls may deal with our department and another department too such as a complaint of excessive parking and housing conditions. In that case our actions would be coordinated; parking problems under police jurisdiction and housing under code enforcement.
TCV: If a citizen calls with a complaint, what happens?
Powell: A complaint sheet is filled out including the address and nature of complaint. One of three enforcement officers will be assigned to the case depending on location - there are three enforcement zones in the city. A case will be opened and if it can be verified, a compliance plan is created. Each case is unique. We try to address every case in a timely manner although some cases take quite a bit of time and several visits to resolve.
TCV: Will the person who makes the complaint be kept informed of progress?
Powell: We will keep them informed if requested. We also accept anonymous complaints.
TCV: If I identify myself, how is my privacy protected?
Powell: Your name is put on the bottom of the investigative sheet. A note on our form indicates that the name of complainant is to be kept confidential. If we copy the complaint sheet, that complainant information is omitted.
TCV: When investigating a complaint, do you indicate that to the person under investigation?
Powell: I usually say that we have received a complaint on the property; that is why we are investigating this. We say that the city has an interest in seeing that a correction is made. The city is taking action, not the complaining party. We try to rely on educating the violating party first to see if the problem can be resolved voluntarily.
TCV: What if the complaint is of something that is not readily verifiable?
Powell: If it is something that we cannot view from a public way, we will phone or leave a note requesting an inspection.
TCV: What if someone refuses to cooperate?
Powell: We will stay with each case until resolved. The remedies available to us include an administrative citation, criminal citation or civil injunction. Voluntary compliance is always sought first. If that doesn't work, citations would be the next step. These range from $30 - $500 per citation and are progressive. Beyond citations, we may consult with the city attorney and explore other options.
TCV: How much time is given to correct a violation?
Powell: Generally, a set time limit between one and 30 days is given to fix the problem.
TCV: How do you handle intermittent violations such as hand-held signs?
Powell: We ask the reporting party to tell us about patterns of activity or call when the activity starts again.
TCV: If someone has questions about the building code or land use, where should they inquire?
Powell: The best to place to start, especially with land use questions, is with a city planner [(510) 494-4440]. These are the people we go to when we have questions. Complaints, however, begin with us.