Abusive Code Enforcement

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

I have begun to notice a pattern in complaints about code enforcement agencies lately.

One is that certain cities (especially large charter cities) regarding what they want out of code enforcement. They used to want to use code enforcement tools to eliminate blight and come into compliance.  Now, it seems that many cities want to generate revenue from code enforcement instead of compliance.

The second pattern is that code enforcement is abusing their discretion.  In order to make money, little infractions become major code enforcement violations.  Dormant trees in the winter become unmaintained landscaping. A burnt patch of summer grass becomes lack of landscaping.

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.

A: 1255 W. Colton Ave. Suite 104,
Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 708-6055

 

City of Riverside Charter Change and the City Attorney’s Office

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

I have previously written about the City of Riverside City Attorney’s Office.  In today’s Press-Enterprise, there is an article about proposed Charter changes that would limit the office of the City Manager.   The article is written by Alicia Robinson and is titled Charter changes would set limits on City Manager.  I do not know where it was located in the physical newspaper.

The section regarding the City Attorney’s Office is very interesting:

The other change removes the city manager’s authority over employees of the . . . city attorney. . . .

City Attorney Greg Priamos, who proposed the change, would only speak generally about it and would not comment on whether it was a response to a specific incident.

The charter now lets the city manager approve or disapprove hiring decisions of the city clerk and attorney. Priamos said he doesn’t think that matches the intent of the charter to keep those three positions independent.

“Having the city manager having any influence whatsoever on the personnel decisions of the city attorney can … impair the city attorney’s ability to provide independent, unbiased legal advice and counsel to my client,” which is the city as represented by the council, Priamos said.

. . .

. . . Barbara Purvis, a retired assistant city attorney . . . said she is puzzled as to why a charter change is needed. But city documents suggest former City Manager Brad Hudson was likely the impetus for the proposal.

According to documents released in response to a California Public Records Act request, former Deputy City Attorney Rachele [sic] Sterling filed an internal complaint in February alleging Hudson accessed her city emails because of her political support of Councilman Paul Davis, and because he wanted to know what city employees had told her about “improper and unethical practices in the public works department.”

In March, Sterling wrote to the council detailing alleged improprieties in awarding contracts, saying employees were directed to steer work to Hudson’s friends. Hudson and the city have denied the allegations and a city-commissioned outside legal investigation found no wrongdoing. Sterling was fired in May.

The city has never explained why Hudson was looking at the emails of one of Priamos’ subordinates, and officials have not clarified whether that could be a violation of attorney-client privilege. When asked in August, Hudson refused to say why he was looking at Sterling’s emails, but in documents from the outside law firm’s investigation, Hudson said he had heard complaints that Sterling was interfering in public works matters.

The report noted that Hudson “functioned as a supervisor” over Sterling and thus had the power under city policy to review her emails. Priamos said attorney-client privilege prevents him from discussing the email incident.

Purvis said it would be “totally improper” for anyone outside the city attorney’s office to review its employee emails. She’d like an explanation of the proposed change, she said, because the charter shouldn’t be altered without a compelling reason.

As background, Raychele Sterling was my immediate predecessor at the City of San Bernardino.  She returned to the City of Riverside in 2001, opening up the position of Deputy City Attorney in San Bernardino.  She was always very helpful to me both in the brief hour or so we discussed the cases and matters I was inheriting from her in San Bernardino, or to point me in the right direction in the Riverside City Attorney’s Office, or if I had a public works question.  I last spoke to her last year, in person, at Riverside City Hall, before her firing.  I have not spoken to her since, and I have no inside knowledge of what happened in Riverside beyond what has been reported in the Press-Enterprise.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find the charter committees proposals online, so I cannot explain the actual changes to the existing charter.  The committee will present its proposal to Council on January 24, 2012.

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.

A: 1255 W. Colton Ave. Suite 104, Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 708-6055

City of Riverside’s City Clerk Online Public Records

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law.
Finding a municipal record can be difficult even for in-house municipal lawyers. When I was Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands and a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, I would have to go to, email or call the City Clerk’s Office for someone to manually pull the needed document.

Luckily, progressive cities are putting more and more documents online.  This is a good practice because it allows both staff and the public to pull up public records without having to waste staff time retrieving the record.

The City of Riverside has such a system, which I stumbled upon looking for a Government Claim form from the City.  As an aside, I called the City’s 311 call center and they said the Government Claim Form is not available online.  They agreed to email me one.

The City of Riverside record database is available here.   The available folders are: Administration, Agendas, Boards and Commissions, Chaindex, City Council/Agency Reports, Contracts/Agreements, Covenants and Agreements, Deed Chaindex, Deed Outs, Deeds, Discussion Session, Elections, Fiscal, General Plan 2025 Program, Insurance, Minutes, Miscellaneous, Ordinances, Purchase Orders, Resolutions, Upcoming Public Hearings.

The Agendas go back to 1997.  The oldest deed that I could find was from 1955.  The earliest Agreement is from 1960.  Minutes date back to incorporation in 1883, Ordinances to 1907 (dating to the new series Ordinance 1).

There are many fascinating documents, including the Incorporation document from 1883.    Of course, the City of Riverside was then in San Bernardino County, so the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors was William F. Holcomb, first elected to the position in 1882.  Both his grandson and great-grandson would become mayors of San Bernardino.

So, you can’t get the Government Claim form online (I would suggest that someone who needs a claim form call 311, the City emailed it to me), but you can get a whole host of other documents that have a variety of uses.

[Update September 29, 2011]

San Bernardino also has such a system, which I stumbled upon while looking at Gigi Hanna’s website.

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.

A: 1255 W. Colton Ave., Suite 104
Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 708-6055

The Riverside City Attorney and the City Attorney’s Office of the City of Riverside, California

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

This is a first in an occasional series regarding the City Attorneys of the Inland Empire.  Most City Attorneys are not in the forefront of every day politics, and are largely unknown to the general public.  This is not an accident.  When I was a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, I asked a former Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, then the Assistant City Attorney of another Inland Empire city, if the City Attorney of that city actually existed.  The Assistant City Attorney confirmed that the City Attorney did, indeed, exist.

The City of Riverside is by far the largest City in the Inland Empire, or as the Press-Enterprise inexplicably calls it, Inland Southern California.   The State of California Department of Finance  January 1, 2011 population estimate for Riverside, California is 306,779.  Riverside is a full-service municipality, with a police and fire departmentt, a museum, and an electric utility.

Riverside is a charter city.  The Riverside City Charter, Article VII, Section 700 states that “there shall be a City Attorney . . . who shall be appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the City Council.

The Riverside City Charter continues, in section 702 to state the City Attorney’s duties, eligibility, and powers:

To become eligible for City Attorney, the person appointed shall be an attorney-at-law duly licensed as such under the laws of the State of California, and shall have been engaged in the practice of law for at least five years prior to appointment. The City Attorney shall have power and may be required to:
(a) Represent and advise the City Council and all City officers in all matters of law pertaining to their offices.
(b) Represent and appear for the City in any or all actions or proceedings in which the City is concerned or is a party, and represent and appear for any City officer or employee, or former City officer or employee, in any or all actions and proceedings in which any such officer or employee is concerned or is a party for any act arising out of such officer’s or employee’s employment or by reason of such officer’s or employee’s official capacity.
(c) Attend all regular meetings of the City Council and give advice or opinion in writing whenever requested to do so by the City Council or by any of the boards or officers of the City.
(d) Approve the form of all contracts made by and all bonds given to the City, endorsing the City Attorney’s approval thereon in writing.
(e) Prepare any and all proposed ordinances or resolutions for the City and amendments thereto.
(f) Surrender to the City Attorney’s successor all books, papers, files and documents pertaining to the City’s affairs.
The City Council shall have control of all legal business and proceedings and may employ other attorneys to take charge of any litigation or matter or to assist the City Attorney therein.

The Riverside City Charter further defines the City Attorney’s powers in section 704(b) regarding the Controller:

(b) Supervise and be responsible for the disbursement of all moneys and have control of all expenditures to insure that budget appropriations are not exceeded; audit all purchase orders before issuance; audit and approve, before payment, all bills, invoices, payrolls, demands or charges against the City government and, with the advice of the City Attorney, when necessary, determine the regularity, legality and correctness of such claims, demands or charges. [Emphasis added].

Riverside City Charter section 806 regarding the Planning Commission mentions the City Attorney:

The City Engineer, City Attorney, and Planning Director or their assistants, may meet with and participate in the discussions of the Planning Commission but shall not have a vote.

The Riverside City Attorney is mentioned in section 1113 regarding an independent audit:

As soon as practicable after the end of the fiscal year, a final audit and report shall be submitted by such accountant to the City Council, one copy thereof to be distributed to each member, one to the City Manager, Controller, Treasurer, and City Attorney, respectively . . . .

Riverside Municipal Code section 2.08.020(D) creates the City Attorney’s Office:

The following departments and department heads are established:

. . .
D. The City Attorney’s Office, the head of which shall be the City Attorney;

Collectively, the powers of the City Attorney and the City Attorney’s Office derive from the Charter and the Riverside Municipal Code.  The City’s website is not particularly informative about the City Attorney’s Office.  At one time, the website had an organization chart, and information about the individual deputies and assistants.  I will summarize what is on there now: a recap of the Attorney’s duties above and a mention that the City Attorney is also General Counsel to the City of Riverside Redevelopment Agency; the standard disclaimer that the City Attorney’s Office  “does not provide legal advice to the public,” that the City Attorney’s Office doesn’t prosecute state misdemeanors, and contact information for Code Enforcement.  There is also a link to a document prepared for the 100th anniversary of the City Attorney’s Office detailing the history of the City Attorney’s Office and the City Attorneys of Riverside.

 

It is in that history that the average person can find information about the current City Attorney of Riverside:

Gregory Priamos received his undergraduate degree in political science from the University of
Southern California and his Juris Doctorate degree from Loyola Law School.
Before coming to Riverside he was a senior associate with Burke, Williams & Sorenson, a
municipal law firm in Los Angeles. While at Burke, Williams & Sorenson, he represented
numerous public entities.
Mr. Priamos began his career as an Assistant City Attorney III with the City of Riverside in
1993. In 1995, he became the Supervising Deputy City Attorney in charge of the Litigation
Services Section. On July 24, 2001, he was appointed Interim City Attorney by the City Council
and began his duties on August 3, 2001. On July 23, 2002, Mr. Priamos was appointed City
Attorney.

The State Bar of California’s website states that the Riverside City Attorney was admitted on December 7, 1988.

In the 2011-2012 preliminary budget, the latest available online at the time of this post, the requested 2011-2012 budget for the City Attorney’s Office was $3,451,041  The total personnel is 26.5 positions.  That consists of seven Legal Support Specialists, four Legal Assistants, eleven Deputy City Attorneys, one Legal Services Manager, and two Supervising Deputy City Attorneys, the City Attorney, and one half time Law Clerk.

Additionally, the City retains outside legal services, which can be found in the preliminary budget.  The requested amounts for FY 2011-2012 are $20,000 for Human Resources, $4,000 for Community Development-Planning Admin, $5,000 for Community Development Planning-General Planning, $10,000 for Community Development – Code Enforcement, $80,000 for the Police Department, $5,000 for Development/Development Administration, $2,500 for Development/ Development-Redevelopment, $1,500 for Development/Development-Housing, $8,000 for Development/Arlington Project Area, $8,000 for the Casa Blanca Project Area, $8,000 for the Magnolia Center Project Area, $20,735 for “Univ Corr/Syc Canyon” Project Area, $24,000 for the Downtown Airport Project Area, $6,750 for the Development / La Sierra/Arlanza Project Area, $15,000 for the Arlington Project Area, $5,000 for the Auto Center Project Area, $14,800 for the Development/Casa Blanca Project Area, $12,500 for the Development / Magnolia Center Project Area, $17,250 for the “Development / Univ Corr/Syc Canyon,” $49,250 for “Development / Downtown Airport Project Area,” $13,250 for the “Development / La Sierra/Arlanza Proj Area,” $25,000 for “Public Utilities-Admin / Pub Util Admin-Mgmt Service,” $25,000 for Public Utilities-Admin / Legislative & Regulatory Risk, $629,000 [sic] for “Public Utilities-Electric / PU Elec Power Supply Operation,” $155,000 for “Public Utilities-Water / Water-Production & Operations,” $25,000 for “Public Utilities-Water / PU Water Engineering,” $125,000 for “Public Utilities-Water / Water-Water Resources,” and $10,000 for “Public Works / Public Works-Sewer Sys-Admin.”

By my calculations, that’s $119,000 for General Fund Departments, $203,535 for Redevelopment, and $994,000 for public utilities, for a total of $1,316,535 preliminarily budgeted for outside counsel, on top of  the $3,451,041  requested by the City Attorney’s Office. That’s assuming no department is using the professional services line item to cover outside legal services.

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.

A: 1255 W. Colton Ave. Suite 104, Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 708-6055

When is a Government Claim (formerly Tort Claims) required in California?

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

When I became an attorney in December 1998, government claims were referred to as “tort claims”.  That all changed with these words by the California Supreme Court  in late 2007:

We also adopt the practice of referring to the claims statutes as the “Government Claims Act,” to avoid the confusion engendered by the informal short title “Tort Claims Act.”   City of Stockton v. Superior Court (2007) 42 Cal.4th 730, 734.

The reason was the change is that the Act involves things other than torts, including contract actions.  When in doubt, file a timely claim with all the required information.

California Government Code section 900 et seq. governs the claim requirements against California public entities (the State of California and local public entities).  This is an overview of the requirement for a government claim, and is not an exhaustive look at the process. Seek appropriate legal assistance for your particular circumstance.  I will explore some areas in depth at later times.

Certain causes of action do not require a government claim to be presented   The following do not require a government claim to be presented to the public entity as a prerequisite to a civil action.  False Claims Act (qui tam) do not require a Government Claim.  Wells v. One2One Learning Foundation (2006) 39 Cal.4th 1164, 1213 (as modified on denial of rehearing).  Federal civil rights actions under the Civil Rights Act do not require a government claim.  Williams v. Horvath (1976) 16 Cal.3d 834, 842.   Government Code section 905 exempts claims under the Revenue and Taxation Code (subsection a); claims related to a “filing of a lien, statement of claim, or stop notice is required under law relating to liens of mechanics, laborers , or charges related thereto” (subsection b); claims  “by public employees for fees, salaries, wages, mileage or other expenses and allowances” (subsection c); workers’ compensation (subsection d); public assistance (subsection e); public retirement or pensions (subsection f); principal or interest on warrants, bonds, notes, or other indebtedness (subsection g); claims related to special assessments as a result of a lien (subsection h); claims by the state or by a state department or by a local public agency or judicial branch entity (though the public entity can require a claim) (subsection i); unemployment insurance (subsection j);  recovery of penalties and forfeitures under Labor Code section 1720 et seq. (subsection k); claims regarding the Pedestrian Mall Law of 1960 (subsection l); claims for the recovery of Civil Code section 340.1 damages regarding childhood sexual abuse regarding conduct occurring on or after January 1, 2009 (subsection m); claims for the recovery of money pursuant to Government Code section 26680 pursuant to Civil Code section 701.820 (subsection n).  Government Code section 905.1 specifically exempts inverse condemnation cases from the presentment requirement of Government Code section 905, except that the entity should process the claim if presented.

A big warning:  local agencies are allowed to adopt their own claims requirements pursuant to Government Code 935 with certain preemption by state law.   For example, the City of San Bernardino’s claim ordinance is found at Chapter 3.16 of the San Bernardino Municipal Code. The City of Highland’s procedures are found at Chapter 3.08 of the Highland Municipal Code.  The City of Riverside’s claim ordinance is found at Chapter 1.05 of the Riverside Municipal Code.  Ontario’s is found at Title 3, Chapter 2 of the Ontario Municipal Code.

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.

A: 1255 W. Colton Ave. Suite 104, Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 708-6055

Can a public agency make a California Public Records Act Request?

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Can a public agency make a California Public Records Act Request?   This question has been popular on this blog lately.  People have searched for it on two separate days a few days apart.

When I was a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, I handled a number of Federal Civil Rights cases against the City and the San Bernardino Police Department.  One case involved a man who had earlier had a 42 U.S.C. section 1983 civil rights case against the City of Riverside.  I called up a Deputy City Attorney for the City of Riverside I knew and asked how to get the depositions in the case.  She suggested that I make a California Public Records Act request.  I did so, and I received the depositions.

This is an easy question to answer because there is a published case on the subject.  “Our conclusion that the City is a “person” entitled to request documents from another governmental entity is the only rational and reasonable interpretation of the statute.”  Los Angeles Unified School District v. Superior Court (2007) 151 Cal.App.4th 759, 771.  The confusion comes because the statute  (California Government Code section 6252(c) reads: “(c) “Person” includes any natural person, corporation, partnership, limited liability company, firm, or association.”

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.
A: 1255 W. Colton Ave. Suite 104, Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 708-6055

Gourmet Food Trucks in Riverside County and the City of Riverside

My post on Gourmet Food Trucks in San Bernardino County and the City of San Bernardino continues to be popular, so I thought I would add a follow-up about Riverside County and the City of Riverside.  The County’s Code, according to this Riverside Press-Enterprise story, prohibits food from being prepared on a truck, except for things like hot dogs (such as those outside the Riverside County Courthouses).  In effect, it allows “catering trucks” instead of gourmet food trucks.  The Council adopted Ordinance 7112 (an uncodified, unsigned version here) in January 2011 adding Chapter 5.36 of the Riverside Municipal Code.

There is an exception for special events.  Riverside Municipal Code section 5.36.090.

Cities often get pressure from bricks and mortar restaurants to prohibit gourmet food trucks, because they argue that gourmet food trucks are unfairly competing, because they do not have to pay expensive rent.  However, any argument that they do not have to pay a business license tax or registration tax is not correct.  Each truck must pay the proportional share in each jurisdiction it is doing business.  They have to collect and pay sales tax, too.

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.

Copyright 2011 Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

A: 1255 W. Colton Ave. Suite 104, Redlands, CA 92374

T: (909) 708-6055

E: michael@michaelreiterlaw.com

W: http://michaelreiterlaw.com

What Riverside County and San Bernardino County Public Entities Should Do To Promote Open Government

I have worked for three California cities:  The City of Santa Clara when I was in law school, the City of San Bernardino as a Deputy City Attorney and as the Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands.   Each City was different: Santa Clara is a full-service charter law Northern California city (including its own electric utility) with an in-house City Attorney’s Office.  San Bernardino is a full-service charter law Southern California City with an elected city attorney.  Redlands is a full-service general law city with an in-house City Attorney’s Office.   Since I have started my own firm, I have seen California’s good government laws from a different perspective.  Some cities use the California Public Records Act as a shield, instead of fulfilling the transparency requirements of the Act.  Some cities see the Public Records Act as burden because of the rare cases of alleged abuse.

Based on my more than a decade experience in municipal law, I make the following recommendations to Inland Empire cities, towns, counties, special districts, school districts, and water districts:

1. Have an open government or specifically a California Public Records Act section on your website.

2.  Archive your minutes, agendas and agenda reports online in an easily searched database (good) or make the files available to search engine robots (better).

3. Post the things that most people care about online such as employee salaries, pension information, agreements, Fair Political Practices Commission Form 700s.  If anything needs to be redacted, or can be redacted under the California Public Records Act, it can be done.  Posting this information online will both provide transparency to the public and keep staff from having to respond to different requests for the same information.

4. Let the public know how to make California Public Records Act requests on your website, and train staff regarding their obligations under the Act.  Provide an online and printable form for records.

Today, I searched the City of Riverside’s website for “Public Records Act.”  What were the top results?  This verbiage on Council agendas: “SPEAKER CARDS–If you wish to address the City Council please complete and submit a speaker card to the City Clerk before the scheduled meeting time. Speaker cards can be found at the east entrance to the City Council Chamber and City Hall lobby. Speaker cards will be accepted until the agenda item is called. In accordance with the Public Records Act, any information you provide on this form is available to the public.”   Here, they are using the Public Records Act as a club:  They are warning that if you put information on a speaker card for a City Council meeting, it is a public record.

I also searched the City of San Bernardino’s site today.  The results were more disappointing then those in Riverside.  There was only one mention of the Public Records Act, in the site’s disclaimer and privacy policy.

Cities need to stop making the process so adversarial.  Yes, Public Records Act requests take time and money.  However, with out residents, most cities and other local governments would be out of business.  Elected officials need to realize that keeping residents happy is in their best interest, and making Public Records Act requests is in the best interest of their entities.

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.

Copyright 2011 Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

A: 1255 W. Colton Ave. Suite 104, Redlands, CA 92374

T: (909) 708-6055

E: michael@michaelreiterlaw.com

W: http://michaelreiterlaw.com

How to Read a Riverside County or San Bernardino County Town or City Council Brown Act Agenda Closed Session List

The Ralph M. Brown Act codified at Government Code section 54950 et seq., California’s open meeting law gives the public the opportunity to know what their elected officials are doing, and requires their meetings to be open and public.  Certain items can be discussed in closed session only if they meet the criteria set by the Brown Act.  I will take an example from the recent agenda of two local agencies, one in Riverside County, and one in San Bernardino County and examine what they tell us.

From the City of Riverside’s April 12, 2011 City Council Meeting, from the City’s website, a portion of the closed session agenda.

“3 P.M.

MAYOR CALLS MEETING TO ORDER

. . .

CLOSED SESSIONS – Time listed is approximate. The City Council/Redevelopment Agency may adjourn to the below listed Closed Sessions at their convenience during this City Council/Redevelopment Agency meeting.

3. City Council – Pursuant to Government Code §54956.9(a) to confer with and/or receive advice from legal counsel concerning Paul Wilkerson, et al. v. City of Riverside, et al., Riverside Superior Court Case No. RIC 484376

4. City Council – Pursuant to Government Code §54956.9(c) to confer with and/or receive advice from legal counsel concerning one case of anticipated litigation”

From this agenda, we see that Closed Session will not start before 3 p.m.  That doesn’t mean it will start at 3 p.m.

The first item on the closed session agenda, is existing litigation.  We don’t know from the closed session agenda item what is being considered.  It could just be a status update, or Council could be approving a settlement offer.  We could go to the Riverside County Superior Court website and see what we can find out about the case.  We find from the Riverside Superior Court Public Access site that this is a personal injury, non-motor vehicle case.   A thirty day (!) jury trial is set for 9/23/2011.  The City is one of many defendants, including what appear to be businesses, including downtown bars.  The Riverside Police Department was erroneously sued.   A Motion for Summary Judgment is set for May 16, 2011.  Perhaps there has been a demand by plaintiff to settle in the shadow of the Motion for Summary Judgment hearing.  You could purchase the pleadings online or go to the courthouse to see the original records if you were curious about the case.

The second closed session agenda gives very little information.  The section of the Brown Act cited reads: “(c) Based on existing facts and circumstances, the legislative
body of the local agency has decided to initiate or is deciding whether to initiate litigation.”  Government Code section 54956.9(c).   This is in substantial compliance with the requirements of the Brown Act in listing this item:which requires ” Initiation of litigation pursuant to subdivision (c) of Section 54956.9: (Specify number of potential cases).”  Government Code 54954.5(c).   The idea behind this limited information is that you don’t want to tip off the person or people that the agency wants to sue, just in case they don’t sue, and to keep the element of surprise.

Moving on to San Bernardino County, here is a recent agenda from the City of Chino Hills.  On the Council Agenda of the City of Chino Hills for the April 12, 2011 meeting, item 1:

“1. Conference with Real Property Negotiator, pursuant to Government Code Section 54956.8 – City of Chino Hills and Chino Valley Unified School District relating to the purchase or lease price/terms regarding property known as Assessor Parcel No. 1028-481-02 (Bird Farm Property).”   You can go to the San Bernardino County Tax Collector’s site  amd enter the APN (Assessor’s Parcel Number) and find out information about the property.  The San Bernardino Tax Collector’s site says that the property belongs to the Chino Valley Unified School District and has since 1988.  From the assessor’s parcel map, we see that it is along Bird Farm Road and Rincon Road and is a 17 acre property.  Putting those terms in Google  we find a map and we find that it is Chaparral Elementary School.  Whatever is going on with the City of Chino Hills, it is not apparent what is going on in this closed session (other than the City is trying to purchase or lease the property from Chino Valley Unified School District and the are only going to discuss the amount or the terms of the purchase or lease.   Did this description substantially comply with the Brown Act?  This is what the Brown Act requires:

“CONFERENCE WITH REAL PROPERTY NEGOTIATORS
Property: (Specify street address, or if no street address, the
parcel number or other unique reference, of the real property under
negotiation)
Agency negotiator: (Specify names of negotiators attending the
closed session) (If circumstances necessitate the absence of a
specified negotiator, an agent or designee may participate in place
of the absent negotiator so long as the name of the agent or designee
is announced at an open session held prior to the closed session.)
Negotiating parties: (Specify name of party (not agent))
Under negotiation: (Specify whether instruction to negotiator will
concern price, terms of payment, or both)”  Government Code section 54954.5(b).

I didn’t see the name of the agency negotiator on the agenda.

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.

Copyright 2011 Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

A: 1255 W. Colton Ave. Suite 104, Redlands, CA 92374

T: (909) 708-6055

E: michael@michaelreiterlaw.com

W: http://michaelreiterlaw.com

Dealing With Code Enforcement Agencies in San Bernardino County and Riverside County

What should you do if you are faced with a code enforcement notice, an administrative citation or a criminal citation?

A lot of the response depends on the conditions of the property and the city or county involved.  I worked in two very different code enforcement environments.  When I was a Deputy City Attorney in the City of San Bernardino, almost fifty percent of my time was spent on code enforcement, (the rest was municipal law and civil litigation)  as was at least fifty percent of the time of another Deputy.  Additionally,  another Deputy had primary responsibility for Animal Control, and land use was generally separate, though for a period of time I reviewed every inspection notice involving mobile home inspections.  Code Enforcement is a priority for the City of San Bernardino.  Later, when I was Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands, code enforcement had been shuffled between three departments.

The official mantra of code enforcement is that cities and counties are looking for compliance, not fines.  Your results may vary in the wild.

What to do if you have a code enforcement notice (such as a “10 day Notice”)?

Do not ignore the notice, it will not go away.  Always try to comply with the notice, if possible.  A notice is much better than a citation.  Open a dialogue with the code enforcement officer.  Typically, the notice has a phone number.  If it doesn’t search for the main code enforcement number on Google, and then ask for the noticing officer.  If you complete the work within the time frame established on the notice, ask for a reinspection.  If you need more time, most reasonable code enforcement officers will give you more time if you are making progress.  They do not have to, but they typically will.

However, do not give the officer free reign to inspect your entire property.  You have a right to refuse a code enforcement officer’s request to enter your property.   Typically, they should be able to view the conditions on your property from the public right-of-way, or from adjoining property (if they have permission from the property owner).   If the code enforcement agency has an administrative warrant, you need to comply.

What should you do if you have an administrative citation?

Read the citation.  It should tell you how to contest the citation.  It may tell you that you need to correct a violation.  Generally, you should correct the violation before you meet with the hearing officer.  In the City of Riverside, you must pay to contest.  Additionally, the City of Riverside as of the writing of this post contracts out their code enforcement processing to an Orange County firm.  In the City of San Bernardino,  you can pay or contest.  San Bernardino Municipal Code section 9.92.070(A) and (B).  Either way, it probably makes sense to contest the citation.   You have an opportunity to ask the hearing officer for a reduction, particularly if you have corrected the situation.

What should you do if you have a criminal citation?

If you have an infraction or misdemeanor citation, you need to attend court at the arraignment.  You can plead guilty to the judge at the arraignment or if the agency sends an attorney, you can enter into a plea bargain agreement.  Or you can plead not guilty, and either a trial or a pretrial can be set.  Some cities will give you time to allow compliance, and then either dismiss the case, or have you plead guilty and pay a lesser fine at the end, or enter into a civil compromise.  You also have the option to contest the charges by having a trial set.  If it is an infraction, you do not have a right to a public defender or a jury trial.  If it is a misdemeanor, you do have the right to a public defender if you are sufficiently indigent, and a jury trial.

When should you hire a code enforcement attorney?  When the stakes are sufficiently high, or if you are being pushed around by a city or county.  For example, if you face multiple misdemeanors, you may face jail time.  If you are facing thousands of dollars in fines, or if the city or county is prosecuting you for the wrong reasons, hire an attorney skilled in code enforcement matters.

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.

Copyright 2011-2 Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Michael Reiter

Attorney at Law

1255 W. Colton Ave., Suite 104

Redlands, CA 92374 (909) 708-6055

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