Can You Go to Jail for Not Getting a Building Permit?

Building a structure without a permit (with exceptions on the meaning of structure under the California Building Code) is a misdemeanor in most California local entities. Usually, the punishment for a misdemeanor under most municipal codes includes jail time. Let me choose two California cities at random: Sacramento and El Cajon to illustrate this point:

Sacramento Municipal Code section 

1.28.020 Criminal sanctions—Misdemeanors and infractions.

  1. It is unlawful for any person to violate any provision or to fail to comply with any of the requirements of this code, including any administrative order issued hereunder. Any person violating any of the provisions, or failing to comply with any of the requirements of this code, including an administrative order, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, except where it has been provided by state law or this code that the violator shall be guilty of an infraction. Any person convicted of a misdemeanor under the provisions of this code shall be punishable by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000.00), or not less than five hundred dollars ($500.00), or by imprisonment in the County Jail for a period not exceeding six months, or by both fine and imprisonment; provided that violations of Chapter 13.10 of this code regarding unlawful dumping shall be punishable by a fine of not less than five hundred dollars ($500.00), or by imprisonment in the County Jail for a period not exceeding six months, or by both fine and imprisonment.

El Cajon Municipal Code:

1.24.010 Designated violations-Misdemeanors and infractions.
A.    It shall be unlawful for any person to violate any provision or to fail to comply with any of the requirements of this code. A violation of any of the provisions or failing to comply with any of the mandatory requirements of this code shall constitute a misdemeanor except that notwithstanding any other provisions of this code, any such violation constituting a misdemeanor under this code may, in the discretion of the attorney having prosecutorial functions, be charged and prosecuted as an infraction; and with the further exception that any violation of the provisions relating to parking, operation of bicycles, operation of motor vehicles, and use of freeways, highways and streets by animals, bicycles, motor vehicles or pedestrians shall constitute an infraction.

B.     Any person convicted of a misdemeanor under the provisions of this code, unless provision is otherwise made in this code, shall be punishable by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars, or by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of not more than six months, or by both fine and imprisonment.

So, in both of these randomly chosen California cities, punishment of a misdemeanor shall be punishable by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars, or imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six months, or both.

So, do people go to jail for building without a building permit?  Probably not.  In the linked case, in the news today, the sentence was 200 hours community service, three years informal probation, and $14,191 in restitution, with an additional restitution hearing set.

That case involved a celebrity (or at least celebrity-adjacent) and a solid lawyer.  But perhaps the notoriety of the case informed its outcome (meaning the prosecutor was a little more zealous). And still, no jail time.

Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, LLP
A: 1447 Ford St. #201
      Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 296-6708

Neighbors, Google Maps and Disputes

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

I have been involved in a number of neighbor disputes, long-running and costly.  But this is a new one.

You should definitely click on the article, but a neighbor in Washington State mowed the shortened form of an expletive in his grass with an arrow towards his neighbor so that it would appear on aerial photography.

What laws does this violate?  I cannot think of any off-hand.

Can anyone think of any legal reason that the neighbor cannot do this? I’m not sure it would violate any sign code on earth, and if a code enforcement entity tried to enforce it, it would run up pretty hard against the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Reply in comments if you have any thoughts on the subject.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, LLP
A: 1447 Ford St. #201
      Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 296-6708

Investigative Reporting Website Creates San Diego Code Enforcement Database and Map

“inewsource.org” is a non-profit news-gathering organization in San Diego.  They have put together data regarding complaints and resolutions into a searchable database found here.

 

This database includes all complaints filed with San Diego’s Development Services Department’s Code Enforcement Division since Jan. 1, 2014 through November 2016. You can search by type of complaint, address or just browse the map. A caveat: not every complaint was found to be valid.

It’s an interesting tool and interesting to see the number and locations of complaints.

Recount Procedures If Necessary In the Redlands City Council Election November 2016

People are asking about the recount procedure in the Redlands City Council Election.

California Elections Code section 15620 et seq. governs recounts requested by voters.  Any voter may file a request for a recount pursuant to Elections Code section 15620.  The request must be filed no later than five days after the completion of the official canvass.  The completion of the canvass occurs when the elections official signs the Certification of  Election Results.  Elections Code section 15620(c).

The request must be in writing, specify the contest to be recounted, and state on behalf of which candidate (in this case), slate of electors, or position on a measure it is filed.  Elections Code section 15620(a).  The request may specify the order in which precincts shall be recounted, it may specify the method of counting to be used, and any other relevant material to be examined.  Elections Code sections 15622, 15627, 15630. The choice of method is either a manual recount (as defined in section 15627), or  by means of the voting system used originally. Elections Code sections 15627(a).

When I observed the recount requested in the 2014 31st Congressional District, certain precincts (186 out of 477) thought to have anomalies were requested to be reviewed first in accordance with Elections Code section 15622.  When insufficient results were found, the recount was suspended.

If it is not a statewide measure, as this is not, the request needs to be filed with the county election official responsible for conducting the election, unless the City canvasses their own returns, which is not the case here.  Elections Code section 15620(a).

“Any time during the conduct of a recount and for 24 hours thereafter, any other voter may request the recount of any precincts in an election for the same office, slate of presidential electors, or measure not recounted as a result of the original request.”  Elections Code section 15623.

The election official will post a notice stating the date and place of the recount at least one day before the recount, and the candidates will be notified by overnight mail or personally.  Elections Code section 15628.

A recount is open to the public, and must start no later than seven days following the receipt of the request and shall be continued daily, except for Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays, for no less than six hours a day until completed.  Elections Code sections 15626, 15629.  A manual recount must be conducted under the supervision of the election official by recount boards, (each consisting of four San Bernardino County voters), appointed by the election official.  Elections Code section 15625.

While the recount is public (section 15629), No ballot can be touched “without the express consent of the elections official or the election officer supervising the special recount board.” Elections Code section 15630.

The regulations provide further details about observers and spokespeople:

“(a) Any person may observe the recount proceedings, subject to space limitations of the recount location selected by the elections official pursuant to section 20816.
(b) Upon request by the elections official, each interested party shall appoint one of his or her representatives to serve as a spokesperson authorized to make decisions with respect to the recount on behalf of the interested party, or the interested party may serve as his or her own spokesperson. When accompanied by an elections official or his or her designee, the spokesperson shall have access to all areas where ballots are recounted by hand or tabulated by machine.
(c) Questions other than ballot challenges shall be routed through the spokesperson, who shall then direct the question to the elections official or his or her designee. Official discussions with any interested party concerning resolution of questions shall include each interested party or his or her spokesperson.
(d) The elections official may require any requestor, interested party, representative, or observer of the recount proceedings to log in and receive an identification badge before entering the recount location. If required, identification badges shall be worn at all times and returned to the elections official at the end of the day.
(e) Requestors, interested parties, representatives, and observers shall not interfere in any way with the conduct of the recount, touch any voting system components, ballots, tally sheets or other special recount board materials, sit at the official recount worktables, place any material on the official recount worktables, talk to members of the special recount boards or supervisors while they are processing ballots or other recount materials or assist in recount procedures.
(f) The elections official may deny entry to the recount location to any person who fails to comply with the requirements of this section.” 2 CCR section 20820.

The procedure for challenging a ballot is that the person challenging the ballot states a reason, the person counting the ballot shall “count it as he or she believes proper and then set it aside with a notation as to how it was counted” and the “elections official shall, before the recount is completed, determine whether the challenge is to be allowed. The decision of the elections official is final.” Elections Code section 15631.

The Code of Regulations provides further detail:

“(a) A challenged ballot shall be set aside with a notation indicating the precinct number, the method by which it was originally counted for the official canvass, e.g., direct recording electronic voting system, scanner or hand count, the challenge number assigned to the ballot, the reason for the challenge, and the identity of the person making the challenge.
(1) A ballot that was counted in the official canvass, including a counted vote by mail or provisional ballot, may be challenged only on grounds of disqualifying distinguishing marks or some other grounds visible on the face of the ballot so that the ballot can be isolated and removed from the count if the elections official determines that the ballot was not properly cast.
(2) A voted ballot that was not counted in the official canvass, including a rejected unopened vote by mail or provisional ballot, may be challenged and added to the count if the elections official determines that the ballot was properly cast.
(b) Resolution of challenged ballots shall take place in a segregated area within the recount location, separate from that being used to perform the recount, as determined by the elections official, to avoid confusion and mixing of ballots.
(c) Challenges shall be resolved each day after all special recount boards complete their work, or more often if necessary, as determined by the elections official, but in any event before the conclusion of all recount proceedings. The determination of the elections official on a challenge shall be final. The elections official shall maintain a record of each challenge and the determination on each challenge.” 2 CCR section 20823.

Every vote in every precinct must be recounted, or the results are null and void, and if a different candidate wins, the results of the official canvass will be changed.  Elections Code section 15632.  A copy of the results shall be posted conspicuously in the office of the election official.  Elections Code section 15633.

Manual recounts have this procedure:

“(a) One of the four special recount board members shall read the ballot and call out the vote cast for the contest subject to recount on that ballot; one shall observe that the correct call was made, and two members shall each separately and independently record the votes as called out.
(b) Prior to beginning the actual manual recount, the elections official shall instruct all members of the special recount boards, requestor, interested parties, representatives and observers on the procedures to be followed for the recount and shall provide them with copies of these recount regulations, any local documentation concerning recount procedure, and documentation on how to interpret and read the votes cast on the ballot, consistent with federal and state law and the State Uniform Vote Count Standards. The instructions and documentation shall include a statement that in the event of a challenge, the determination of the elections official shall be final.
(c) Vote by mail and early-voted ballots cast from a precinct subject to recount shall be tabulated separately from ballots cast in a polling place on Election Day.” 2 CCR section 20831.
Since the Redlands Municipal Election was a “vote for multiple” election, if a manual recount is requested, the following procedure applies:

“Manual recount tabulation on a voting system in a “Vote for Multiple” contest is subject to the following requirements:

(a) Prior to counting the ballots for the contest subject to recount, and in the clear view of the requestor, spokespersons and observers, all ballots for the precinct shall be separated into stacks that do and do not contain the contest. Those that contain the contest shall be sorted as follows:
(1) Ballots that were not voted for the contest (under-voted);
(2) Ballots that were over-voted for the contest;
(3) Ballots indicating a vote for the first candidate listed on the ballot for the contest; and
(4) Ballots that do not indicate a vote for the first candidate listed on the ballot for the contest.
(b) Starting with the voted ballots, one member of the special recount board shall state the candidate or position for which the vote was cast making sure the requestor, interested parties and their representatives can observe the contest subject to recount.
(c) After the vote is stated and counted, the counted ballot shall be placed on the table, with the counted ballots placed in stacks of 10 (or 25).
(d) Two members of the special recount board shall record the votes stated, marking hashes in succession on their individual tally sheets. Each of these two board members shall announce when he or she has counted 10 (or 25) votes. If both members call out 10 (or 25) counted votes at the same time, the tally shall continue forward for the next 10 (or 25) ballots. If both recorders do not reach 10 (or 25) additional votes on the same ballot, then the count for the last interval of 10 (or 25) ballots shall be stricken from their tally sheets and those ballots recounted.
(e) A requestor or an authorized spokesperson may request to inspect any ballot. Tallying shall be halted while the ballot is presented to the requestor or spokesperson for closer inspection. At no time may any requestor or spokesperson touch or come into physical contact with any of the ballots. Tallying will resume once the inspection is completed, which the requestor or spokesperson shall complete in a reasonable amount of time.
(f) Once all the votes for the first candidate have been recorded, the valid voted ballots shall be resorted into two stacks:
(1) Ballots that were voted for the second candidate in the contest; and
(2) Ballots that do not indicate a vote for the second candidate in the contest.
The ballots voted for the second candidate shall be calculated in accordance with (b) through (e) above. Tallying shall continue in this manner, until the votes for each candidate in the contest have been recounted and tallied.
(g) After all voted ballots have been counted and tallied, the two special recount board members who have been recording the votes will each independently calculate the total votes for each candidate or position on their tally sheets. When both have completed totaling, they will each announce their totals one candidate or vote position at a time. If both announce the identical vote total for each candidate or position in the recounted contest, the recount of that precinct shall be deemed complete and the results reported to the elections official. If the special recount board members announce different vote totals for any candidate or vote position in the recounted contest, the recount tallies recorded and announced will be examined. If the difference can be explained by the special recount board or supervisor, or by the elections official or his or her designee, it shall be corrected on the tally sheet. A written explanation shall be made on an attachment to the tally sheet. In the event of an unexplained discrepancy, the results for that precinct shall be discarded and the recount of that precinct will start over.” 2 CCR section 20833.

There is a cost associated with a recount, and the amount for this Redlands Municipal Election recount, should it occur, will depend on a variety of factors.  The election official determines the amount of the deposit necessary to cover the costs of the recount for each day.  The voter filling the request must deposit, before the start of the recount and at the beginning of each day, the amounts to cover the cost of each day.  If the results are reversed, the deposit must be returned.  Elections Code section 15624.

How much will the recount be, if one is requested?  San Bernardino County does not give the typical fees, but the Lesli Gooch recount (which was a manual recount) was $6,300 for one day which changed one vote: http://www.latimes.com/local/political/la-me-pc-recount-halted-20140626-story.html

A City Council election in Victorville in 2014 with an 12 vote discrepancy would have cost $4,400 a day.

The estimated cost of a recount in the 8th Congressional District in 2012 was “$11,335 for the first day’s recount. [The requestor] will pay roughly $6,000 for each day after that.”

A 23 vote differential in a Hesperia Unified School District election had an estimated $8,000 per day recount cost. http://www.hesperiastar.com/article/20071119/NEWS/311199993

There is also an automatic manual recount (countywide) established by Election Code section 15360.  By law, a random sample of ballots from every election must be recounted manually to verify the computer count.  A minimum of one percent of all votes cast is included in the process.  This must occur before the election is certified.  The automatic manual recount is open to the public.  A court explained it like this:

“1 percent manual tally” is a procedure used in California to test whether there are any discrepancies between the electronic record generated by a voting machine and what is essentially a manual auditof that electronic record. Essentially, after each election, the “official conducting the election” is to conduct a “public manual tally of the ballots tabulated” by any voting machines “cast in 1 percent of the precincts chosen at random by the elections official.” (§ 15360.)  Nguyen v. Nguyen (2008) 158 Cal.App.4th 1636, 1643.

There are court challenges available after the recount, but since the recount in this case is mere speculation, they will be discussed at a later time.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

 

Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, LLP
A: 1447 Ford St. #201
      Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 296-6708

Filing Late Government Claims (Tort Claims) in California

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Generally government claims for personal injury and personal property damage are due with a public entity within six months of an incident, with some notable exceptions.

However, if a claimant fails to file a government claim within the sixth months, there is a procedure to file a late claim.

(a) When a claim that is required by Section 911.2 to be presented not later than six months after the accrual of the cause of action is not presented within that time, a written application may be made to the public entity for leave to present that claim.

(b) The application shall be presented to the public entity as provided in Article 2 (commencing with Section 915) within a reasonable time not to exceed one year after the accrual of the cause of action and shall state the reason for the delay in presenting the claim. The proposed claim shall be attached to the application.

(c) In computing the one-year period under subdivision (b), the following shall apply:

(1) The time during which the person who sustained the alleged injury, damage, or loss as a minor shall be counted, but the time during which he or she is mentally incapacitated and does not have a guardian or conservator of his or her person shall not be counted.

(2) The time shall not be counted during which the person is detained or adjudged to be a dependent child of the juvenile court under the Arnold-Kennick Juvenile Court Law (Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 200) of Part 1 of Division 2 of the Welfare and Institutions Code), if both of the following conditions exist:

(A) The person is in the custody and control of an agency of the public entity to which a claim is to be presented.

(B) The public entity or its agency having custody and control of the minor is required by statute or other law to make a report of injury, abuse, or neglect to either the juvenile court or the minor’s attorney, and that entity or its agency fails to make this report within the time required by the statute or other enactment, with this time period to commence on the date on which the public entity or its agency becomes aware of the injury, neglect, or abuse. In circumstances where the public entity or its agency makes a late report, the claim period shall be tolled for the period of the delay caused by the failure to make a timely report.

(3) The time shall not be counted during which a minor is adjudged to be a dependent child of the juvenile court under the Arnold-Kennick Juvenile Court Law (Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 200) of Part 1 of Division 2 of the Welfare and Institutions Code), if the minor is without a guardian ad litem or conservator for purposes of filing civil actions. California Government Code section 911.4.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, LLP
A: 1447 Ford St. #201
      Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 296-6708

Governor Brown Signs Brown Lawn Bill By Assembly Member Brown

By Michael Reiter Attorney at Law

You may have seen the articles about the new California law that permits dead lawns during the drought. Here is the text of AB1, introduced by Assembly Member Cheryl Brown (D-San Bernardino):

ENROLLED   JUNE 29, 2015
PASSED  IN  SENATE  JUNE 22, 2015
PASSED  IN  ASSEMBLY  JUNE 25, 2015
AMENDED  IN  SENATE  JUNE 16, 2015
CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE— 2015–2016 REGULAR SESSION
ASSEMBLY BILL No. 1

Introduced by Assembly Member Brown
(Coauthor: Senator Nielsen)
December 01, 2014

An act to add Section 8627.7 to the Government Code, relating to water.

LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL’S DIGEST

AB 1, Brown. Drought: local governments: fines.
The California Constitution requires that the water resources of the state be put to beneficial use to the fullest extent of which they are capable and that the waste or unreasonable use or unreasonable method of use of water be prevented. Existing law, the California Emergency Services Act, sets forth the emergency powers of the Governor under its provisions and empowers the Governor to proclaim a state of emergency for certain conditions, including drought.
This bill would prohibit a city, county, or city and county from imposing a fine under any ordinance for a failure to water a lawn or having a brown lawn during a period for which the Governor has issued a proclamation of a state of emergency based on drought conditions.

DIGEST KEY

Vote: majority   Appropriation: no   Fiscal Committee: no   Local Program: no  


BILL TEXT

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:

SECTION 1.

The Legislature finds and declares both of the following:

(a) That this act is in furtherance of the policy contained in Section 2 of Article X of the California Constitution.
(b) The prohibition on imposing fines for failing to water a lawn or for having a brown lawn during a period for which the Governor has issued a proclamation of a state of emergency based on drought conditions is a matter of statewide concern and not a municipal affair, as that term is used in Section 5 of Article XI of the California Constitution. Therefore, Section 2 of this act shall apply to charter cities.

SEC. 2.

Section 8627.7 is added to the Government Code, to read:

8627.7.

(a) During a period for which the Governor has issued a proclamation of a state of emergency under this chapter based on drought conditions, a city, county, or city and county shall not impose a fine under any ordinance for a failure to water a lawn or for having a brown lawn.

(b) A violation of this section is not subject to the criminal penalties set forth in Section 8665.

What does this mean?  It means that cities, counties, and the state’s only City and County (San Francisco) cannot impose a fine under existing property maintenance ordinances during the drought. The Senate Floor analysis expressly states this applies to charter cities:

 Apply to charter cities because the prohibition of fines imposed for

failing to water a lawn or having a brown lawn during a period for which the

Governor has issued a proclamation of a state of emergency based on

drought conditions is a matter of statewide concern and not a municipal

affair, as that term is used in Section 5 of Article XI of the California

Constitution.

It passed the Assembly by a vote of 80-0  on June 25, 2015. The bill passed the California Senate by a vote of 37 Yes, 0 No, and 3 No Votes Recorded (Senators Hall, Morrell and Pavley). Senator Isidore Hall III is a Democrat representing the South Bay of Los Angeles (35th District), Senator Mike Morrell is a Republican serving the 23rd Senatorial District including Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands and San Bernardino, and Senator Fran Pavley is a Democrat representing 27th District representing parts of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.

The legislative history tells us which cities were seen by Assembly Member Brown as the most egregious violators:

From the Assembly Floor Analysis June 24, 2015:

In the most severe situation provided by the author, a homeowner in the City of Upland faced

misdemeanor charges for “failing to follow city code, and properly maintaining his front yard

and parkway space,” according to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, stemming from the

homeowner’s decision to stop watering his lawn in August of 2013.  As of January 2015, that

homeowner planned to go to trial, and faced, according to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin,

up to $4,000 in fines, or six months in jail.  The homeowner was offered a deal several times

to reduce the amount of the fine if he corrected the issue, but he opted instead to go to trial.

Assembly Member Brown also singled out the cities of Glendale and San Bernardino.

In a nightmare for municipal lawyers trying to find this section for years in the future, this law was placed in Title 2 (Government of the State of California), Division 1 (General), Chapter 7 (California Emergency Services Act), Article 13 (State of Emergency). I understand why (because it deals with the declaration of the drought emergency), but it probably would have been more visible elsewhere.

The Senate Analysis states supporters “argue that this bill is straight-forward and provides a

common sense measure to ensure households are not penalized for conserving water.”

What will a defense to an administrative citation or criminal citation for unmaintained landscaping look like?  Hopefully, local public entities will voluntarily stop citing brown lawns during the drought.  However, if they don’t, a criminal demurrer, or an appeal of an administrative citation should do the trick.

Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, LLP
A: 1447 Ford St. #201
      Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 296-6708

Code Enforcement Gone Wild

I was a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino and the Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands. Along with another Deputy, I advised what was then the Code Enforcement Department in San Bernardino.  The City of Redlands had different code enforcement issues than the City of San Bernardino, but code enforcement was an important part of my job in Redlands.

We were not on the leading edge in San Bernardino (everything we did was pioneered at larger cities), but we tried to employ as many code enforcement tools as possible. We were never successfully sued in a code enforcement case while I was there.

However, now that I represent citizens, I see all kind of ticky-tack things that other entities do.  Here is an article from the Salt Lake Tribune

“Ogden tells dad to take down his kids’ cardboard castle because it’s ‘junk'”

Now, this is in Utah, but most cities and counties in California have a similar ordinance that prohibits junk, trash, and debris in your front yard.  However, just because it’s technically illegal doesn’t mean that the City should cite for it.

Looking at the link from the story, this is the City of Ogden ordinance:

 

12-4-2: WASTE MATERIALS OR JUNK; PROHIBITED ON PREMISES:

A. Prohibition: It is unlawful for any owner, occupant, agent or lessee of real property within the city, to allow, cause or permit the following material or objects to be in or upon any yard, garden, lawn, or outdoor premises of such property:

1. Junk or salvage material;

2. Litter;

3. Any abandoned vehicle or inoperable vehicle.

In California, our ordinances tend not to be as vague as this code section.

Does a cardboard castle even qualify as “junk” or “litter?” If it were in California and I were reviewing a notice (which I believe I did sometimes in Redlands) or a citation (in San Bernardino), I would probably turn it down.

As I teach code enforcement officers in training, just because something can be cited doesn’t mean it should be.

I think the reaction by the resident was the right course of action.

“Had he not received the letter, he was planning on taking the castle down soon anyway. But after receiving it, he now plans to keep it up until just before the penalty.”

Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, LLP
A: 1447 Ford St. #201
      Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 296-6708