City Council Revisit $10,000 Code Enforcement Case


Imperial Beach Councilmember Lorie Bragg


City Council Revisit $10,000 Code Enforcement Case

Councilwoman Lorie Bragg said city staff need to back off and give property owners more time in a particular code compliance case.

By Albert Fulcher | Email the author | 3:06pm

With almost $10,000 in citations and a lien on the property, City Council discussed what to do next for a home on Hickory Court struggling to meet IB code enforcement commands at last week’s meeting.

In siding with property owner Donna Musick, Councilwoman Lorie Bragg instructed city staff to follow “the spirit of the law verses the letter of the law” at last week’s City Council meeting.

Councilman Brian Bilbray said Bragg was “absolutely right” and supported giving Musick more time.

“At this time, during a recession, you can’t really go after somebody as hard as we are going after them. I feel it is wrong,” he said. “I drove by today and there has been definitely a good amount of strides made to clean up the property.”

Council unanimously approved a resolution which provides Musick and co-owner Miguel Del Rosal a further abeyance of $1,350 in civil penalties.

A deadline has been set for August 15 to fix all code violations, or city staff or contractors will do it themselves. The topic will be revisited by City Council in October.

Greg Wade, the city’s Community Development director, said this case dates back to March 17, 2010, after staff received two separate citizen complaints of property conditions. Citations were then given in May, June, July and November 2010. Late payments carry penalty and interest charges, and make up nearly half of the $9,900 fine.

He said staff advised the property owners of three violations: visual blight, inoperable vehicles on the property and property maintenance.

Following a Council meeting last month, Musick said she was told by code enforcement officer David Garcias to keep him informed of any progress, have three licensed contractors do estimates for what it will cost to fix the roof, provide a timeline on how long it will take to come up with the money and allow him to inspect the property in the near future.

“I do not believe that I have to do all of the stuff that Mr. Garcias was strong-arming me to do,” she said. “It’s a little bit more than I can do right now. I need time. I need to know whether he is within his rights to require a licensed contractor. But, meanwhile, I would just like a little breathing space.”

In her appearance before the Council last Wednesday Musick provided new pictures of her home and other houses within a block of her own with abandoned vehicles, debris and storage along the side of the home.

“My house is not the worst out there,” she said.

“I don’t know why I am being set out from everybody else,” Musick said, who is currently unemployed. “I don’t feel that I am being treated as fairly as I should be.

If I don’t have the money and I got one contractor to loosely say it would cost about $8,000 to replace the roof, how am going to be able to pay the $10,000 in fees.”

“In this case, coming before Council is what we call egregious cases,” Wade said.

“The property maintenance conditions are substandard, constitute public nuisances and we bring it to the Council for assessment and civil penalties.”

Musick said she did not understand why she could not fix the roof herself with proper permits rather than get three estimates from three licensed contractors.

“I need to have the roof fixed. I was told that my tent trailer and the Corvair needed to be removed and I needed to let him know the progress in getting those removed from the property. And since then, Mr. Garcias has come on to the property at least three times taking pictures.”

Wade said citations went ignored, and according to municipal code, staff had no other option then to seek compliance with direction from City Council.

Bragg said this is a tough case, but in her opinion, not egregious. She said Musick came to last month’s Council meeting and there were personal issues the city was previously unaware of.

“To her own admission, she is going through a divorce,” Bragg said. “Her property is going up for sale. She is going to have to come up to code at that time. She is unemployed.”

Bragg said there comes a time when you can operate in the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law and in her observation she perceived that Musick was dealing with all of this own her own.

Musick nodded in agreement.

“I think she needs more time. I think we need to back off on this,” she said. “And I think we need to have a little sympathy. I would like to extend the time, keep the fines in abeyance and give her possibly until September.”

Property owners have removed most of the trash and debris, Wade said, but roof and property maintenance conditions are substandard and do not comply with code.

“You can’t see the tarp from the sidewalk and I have cleaned up the items,” Musick said. “I got rid of the van. I am doing a title search on the trailer now so I will get rid of it as soon as possible.”

Wade said the suggestion for her to get three bids was in her response of inability to pay for the improvements so she could get the best price. He also said getting three estimates was a suggestion, not a requirement.

He said permits are available for homeowners to do it themselves, but that roof repair can be dangerous for homeowners and professionals alike. Wade said staff could only speculate what is required in repairing the roof, as the city has not been able to do an official inspection.

“I would also like to respond to the fact that at no point in time has Mr. Garcias gone on the property in this case,” Wade said. “Pictures were taken from the right of way. Pictures from adjacent properties had expressed permission and authorization from those property owners.”

Wade said there was no contact with Musick until staff encountered them at the property.

“Once we encountered them, we gave them additional time to comply,” he said.

“We then never heard from them again. There may be cases like this on or around the block but we have not had citizen complaints on them.”

Wade said allowing the property owners may give the appearance of uneven enforcement, but that it’s up to the Council to prioritize citizen complaints.

“We are bound to follow up on them, enforce the code and are directed by City Council to do so. That is why we are doing it in this case,” he said.

Mayor Janney said he had seen little progress and supported the resolution until Wade said the resolution included city staff taking over repairs after August 15 if violations still exist. Janney said he was not sure on June 15 to make that decision and say “go” on August 15 is the right thing to do. He said everything other than that in the resolution was appropriate.

“But to give that kind of authorization at this moment, I am not sure I can support that part of it,” he said. “I think we should strike that from the resolution. That is more invasive on the properties and in my eight years on the council we have not done that very often. It should not be taken very lightly. There is a lot of cost and there could be legal ramifications. I would like to see this case again before we authorize that.”

Councilmember Ed Spriggs said that even in a sympathetic case like this, if you pull that provision there is no incentive to accomplish it in the next two months.

“We are leaving it wide open essentially for no effort or no action. I think that is my concern–there is no penalty or risk to inaction.”

King said he supported Bragg and it is unfortunate when these cases drag out for a year or more.

“We spend a lot of staff time and money on this,” he said. “I appreciate the efforts on the part of the owner. I think she has shown good faith moving forward.”

How much of an incentive is $50 a day, per violation in civil penalties, for homeowners to fix code violations? Do you think code enforcement is an effective city management tool? Tell us in the comments.




Pow Wow by the Sea-photos

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Celebrations begin with The Gourd Dance at Imperial Beach’s Annual Pow Wow by the Sea

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Amid State Budget Uncertainty, City Council Plans for Worst in Passing New Budget


Imperial Beach City Manager Gary Brown


Amid State Budget Uncertainty, City Council Plans for Worst in Passing New Budget

Redevelopment agencies, reserves and general fiscal stability were the subject of Wednesday night’s meeting as City Council approved proposed budgets for the next two fiscal years.

ByAlbert Fulcher|Email the author|June 16, 2011

One hour before the Imperial Beach City Council sat down to pass a budget plan for the next two years, Sacramento lawmakers approved a state budget but offered little specific information.

Soon after, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a budget plan passed by state Democrats, sending the legislature back to the drawing board and leaving budgets for Imperial Beach and California uncertain.

Should threats by state government to get rid of redevelopment agencies come to fruition in a final budget for the coming fiscal year, the city of Imperial Beach may have a $300,000 hole in its operating budget for years to come, said Finance department DIrector Michael McGrane.

“Characterizing this budget, it is status quo,” McGrane said. “The same budget we have had over the past four years will continue for the next two years. There is nothing new or different in this budget.”

McGrane said revenues and expenses for the next two years are based on fiscal history, but not as conservative as in the past.

“That is a big hit to our city,” he said about RDA funds. “It curtails making capital improvements and attractions to our city. It causes a $300,000 operational gap that we have to address.”

McGrane said the problem in addressing RDA elimination is that until a final deal is reached, it’s hard to tell exactly how much it will impact city funds.

The proposed operating budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year is $33.2 million.

The proposed budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year is $33.6 million.

Of those totals, general operating costs represents $16.96 million in 2011-2012 and $17.12 million in 2012-2013. City council passed the budget with four ayes and Councilman Ed Spriggs abstaining.

There is currently $7.4 million in city reserve or contingency funds.

Budgets for the city and state for the 2011-2012 fiscal year begin July 1.

City staff and Councilmembers expect the amendable budget to be back before Council soon, possibly by its next meeting July 6.

Mayor Jim Janney said the city’s total budget will be $1.5 million in the hole for the next two years and have no money for capital improvements without RDA funds.

Council has to figure out what is best in services for the community and to look towards harder solutions now, he said.

“At what time are we going to break down and say we can’t afford as many Sheriffs as we have had in the past,” Janney asked. “When do we do something similar to Lemon Grove and say we have to outsource our Recreation Department?”

At more than $5 million annually, aside from paying city personnel, the city’s contract with the Sheriff’s Department is the single largest expense on the budget. Increases in Sheriff costs may rise more than $450,000 above current rates by the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

Janney said though consequences of the loss of RDAs in unknown, the city has to start planning now with the idea that it is going to get tough, with or without RDAs.

“It’s just going to get worse, the $300,000, right off the bat is from redevelopment. I believe there is a lot more in there. We do not know how earlier agreements with the RDA is going to hold up, what the consequences of those are,” he said.

He asked City Manager Gary Brown to come back with ways to broaden Council’s scope. He said the city’s reserve funds are rarely used and for good reason. “Even though it looks large, it won’t last long,” he said.

Councilman Brian Bilbray said the city relies too much on outside money. That dependency is like playing “Russian Roulette,” he said, and it is finally catching up. Council had to look at how the city got in this position in the first place, he said.

“There was more importance on their pet projects instead of really thinking about what my generation is going to have to sit up here and do,” to figure out how to keep the city afloat, the 26-year-old Bilbray said.

“I don’t see where we can cut a whole lot. It’s a shame. Hopefully, we can deal with it in the future, but it’s not looking too good.”

McGrane said making choices with so many unknowns now would be ugly.

“I would recommend that you adopt the budget,” he said. “You have a budget in play. Should this happen, you have plenty of reserves. I have trouble taking real decisive actions that would hurt when the government does not yet know what will happen.”

Included in the plan is authorization to pay the Public Employment Retirement System (PERS) side fund balance that will reduce interest costs and could save up to $110,000. McGrane said the budget is balanced with the PERS side fund payment and more realistic, but there is a trade off with the PERS payment. There are savings over time, but it reduces city reserves.

“In the budget resolution, if you adopt it tonight, is language that we control the budget at each department level,” McGrane said. “There are 27 general fund programs. We will be back if in fact redevelopment goes away.”

“I believe what happens with the RDA is the gorilla in the room for our budget,” said Councilman Ed Spriggs.

Spriggs suggested Council look at contingencies in a different way, and the trade-off from PERS should be reevaluated.

“$110,000 savings versus a significant chunk of our contingencies going into a fairly uncertain time period. We have to look at ways that don’t require the consumption of our contingency funds that we may very well need in the near future,” Spriggs said.

The long-term impact threatens the city’s financial infrastructure, said McGrane.

In contrast to PERS savings, he said, state level COPS grant and jail-booking fees are in question. Imperial Beach receives $100,000 a year for public safety from these funds. He said the state has been paying this fee for the past few years and if lost, the city will have to start paying somewhere between $30,000 to $80,000 a year.

McGrane said he reviews the city general fund twice a week, after every payroll and in the budget cycle, and staff will come before council frequently, he said.

“Department heads are extremely aware of the budget, and responsible,” McGrane said. “There is more money saved here by department heads than I have seen working with other cities.”

Councilwoman Lorie Bragg said that as a former coordinator of the Imperial Beach Senior Center and employee of the City of Imperial Beach, she had to go through the budget monthly, line by line.

“So the controls are there,” Bragg said. “They have done a superior job with what little money they have to deal with.”

City Manager Gary Brown said this budget does not anticipate layoffs. He said that as much as possible they are not backfilling positions.

“My department has already absorbed the position of assistant city clerk,” said Brown. “That has not been filled and we are trying to make do with what we have. The assistant city manager position is at half its level with part-time.”

“I think we have to figure out where our value is and go back to a city government that basically goes back to core services, and that is it,” Janney said. “And it’s going to get tough on employees and on what people expect to see when they walk out their door.”

Spriggs questioned if City Council was in a position to adopt the tentative budget. It’s difficult for him to comprehend approving a budget that already shows a negative balance, he said.

“If we have this $300,000 hole or larger, aren’t we going to be back here in a couple of weeks looking at our budget,” he said.

Janney said it was not negative today and the results of state laws are unknown. Brown said he would not be surprised to see city redevelopment agencies come together in a class action lawsuit against the state, but there are still too many unknowns.

“The way I am looking at it is we have to approve this budget, we do have money in the reserves depending on how this all plays out in Sacramento,” said Councilwoman Bragg.

She said the city needed to proceed with caution, and mentioned that other cities are doing programs through volunteers when it comes to services the community wants to keep.

“I think the time is here to put the brakes on a lot of things and looking at programs such as graffiti removal,” she said. “We have a ton of money in that. The community is going to have to get used to the fact that some of the services are gone,’she said.

“Graffiti is removed in 24 hours. Well maybe it’s not going to be removed. Maybe you are going to have to get out there and paint it over yourself.”

What do you think should be the city’s top priority right now in dealing with so many unknown factors to the city and state budget?Tell us in the comments.

City Council to Vote on $33M Budget Wednesday

Imperial Beach Mayor Pro Tem Brian Bilbray


City Council to Vote on $33M Budget Wednesday

City Manager Gary Brown will present the council with a balanced budget but warns the city faces “sizable financial challenges arising from the economy and the State of California.”

ByAlbert Fulcher|Email the author|3:03pm

The Imperial Beach City Council is expected to vote Wednesday on a proposed $33.2 million operating budget that is balanced but may need revisions if the economy worsens or California eliminates redevelopment agencies statewide, said the city manager.

Based on a five-year outlook and a two-year history of actual expenses, the city’s proposed general fund budget is balanced over the next two years, according to a staff report. However, the situation could change due to factors out of the city’s control.

City Manager Gary Brown said both the city budget and general fund are in a “precarious” balance for the the next two years under current economic conditions. A further decline in property tax revenue, renegotiation of the contract with the Sheriff’s Department, elimination of redevelopment agencies statewide, changes in Port of San Diego contracts, and replacement of city infrastructure could tip the general fund out of balance.

“Again this year the city is faced with sizable financial challenges arising from the economy and the State of California,” stated Brown in the staff report.

Though he said a key challenge is that the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown is “threatening the elimination of redevelopment agencies, a very effective tool to revitalize” cities statewide.

If California’s budget eliminates the Imperial Beach Redevelopment Agency, the result will be a $300,000 gap each year in the operating budget. Included in the budget is a resolution authorizing the two-year appropriation of redevelopment agency funds for 2011-13.

The proposed operating budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which begins July 1, is $33.2 million. The proposed budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year is $33.6 million. Of those totals, the general fund represents $16.96 million in 2011-12 and $17.12 million in 2012-13.

Staff reports project Imperial Beach to end the current 2010-11 fiscal year on budget.

Brown said the cost saving proposals are already incorporated into the budget and city staff will continue to propose additional measures throughout the year. Currently projected savings come from fewer jobs, increased cell tower revenue, and using centralized purchasing to lower office supply cost.

City staff estimates that residents of Imperial Beach pay $0.53 per capita, per day for the general fund services “such as law enforcement, fire protection, park maintenance, animal control, code enforcement, recreation, senior and other programs.”

A mid-year financial report, prepared by city staff is scheduled to include a revised estimate of conditions, revised revenues and expenditures.

City Council members will meet Wednesday at 6 p.m.

What can Imperial Beach do to cut costs and balance the city budget?Tell us in the comments.

Government, The Neighborhood Files

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Ban, Two-Year City Budget on Wednesday City Council Agenda

This week City Council will review ordinances to approve a ban on medicinal marijuana dispensaries, the ECO Bike Parkway and taking city code enforcement for local residents to the next level.

By Albert Fulcher | Email the author | 11:57am

On June 15 at 6 p.m., the Imperial Beach City Council will meet to discuss a range of topics that may greatly impact IB’s future.

The meeting convenes at 6 p.m. At 7 p.m., Council will hold its first reading of business and zoning ordinances to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

The proposed ordinances state the city is sympathetic with medical marijuana patients, but believes existing facilities just across Imperial Beach’s border can serve patient’s needs.

It also states this ordinance will not interfere with current state laws concerning the rights of medical marijuana patients. This is agenda item 3.1.

Attached is a 62-paged Drug Enforcement Agency document explaining the federal agency’s stance on marijuana.

Before theordinance is read memeber of the public will be allowed to voice their opinion on the subject.

Also on agenda is approval of the city’s operating budgets for the next two fiscal years.

The total proposed 2011-2012 operating budget, which begins July 1, is $33.2 million for fiscal year 2011-2012 and $33.6 million the following year.

This is agenda item 6.1. A detailed breakdown of city expenses is included as an attached document in the agenda packet.

No new programs or increased service levels in programs are planned.

City staff is also asking authorization to pay the Public Employment Retirement System side pension fund and to adjust for variances. Savings from PERS interest rates is more than $100,000 per year, the city Finance Department said.

The Imperial Beach Firefighters’ Association (IBFA) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 221, city managements and unrepresented employees in closed session before the meeting.

Several concerns with the state budget required to be approved by June 15 includes elimination of redevelopment agencies, further property tax declines and contracts with the Sheriff’s Department and Port of San Diego.

A Code Compliance case is item 5.1 on the agenda regarding property conditions at 741 Hickory Court.

After two citizen complaints, the city cited owners with visual blight, property maintenance constituting a public nuisance and inoperable or abandon vehicles stored on the property.

City staff reports after notices and citations from May 13, 2010 to May 9, 2011 with no response from property owners, abatement of violations occurred.

To date, charges due by property owners are $9,990, including $4,590 in penalties and interest charges as of May 9. Staff recommends extending compliance before August 15.

If not corrected, city staff recommends city manager authority to cause the abatement, completed by city or through private contract.

Property owners Del Rosal and Musick-Del Rosal began negotiations with the city and went on record they could comply with part of the violations, but are unable to complete it all in time allowed and could not commit to a work plan.

This resolution orders property owners to remove all junk, trash and debris, repair roof, remove tarps and remove all inoperable vehicles from the property.

Any work performed by the city is at the expense of the owner and can constitute a lien against the property. Civil penalties, $50 a day per violations accrued between May 9-18 “shall be held in abeyance until further decision or order by the City Council.”

In an attempt to minimize market risk, the city is looking to amend its current investment policy allowing floating rates and step up rate investments with maturities longer than five years.

This change minimizes market risk and reduces the high frequency of called bonds. City reports 14 bonds purchased with 15 called over the past year. Calls normally occur due to declining interest rates. In fiscal year 2010-11, interest-earning bond revenue totaled approximately $1 million. This is agenda Item 2.3.

Originally submitted November 2008, The Potter’s House Christian Fellowship Church is processing an application to occupy 808 13th Street near Palm Avenue.

Project area is in a medium-density residential zone. This building formerly was the Pinkham Mitchell Imperial Beach Mortuary from 1967-2008. This is agenda item 5.2.

A one-year time extension for a Coastal Development permit for Imperial Beach ECO Bike Traffic Calming Project on Palm Avenue from 7th Street to 3rd Street expired. Estimated total project cost is $2.2 million.

The City Manager recommends adopting a resolution to approve Administrative Coastal Development Permit for the ECO Bikeway Palm Avenue Traffic Calming Project. This is agenda item 5.3.

The City Council will appoint one its members to serve on the Otay River Management Plan Policy Committee.

A chapter of city code related to affirmative action will be repealed.

Reports and more detailed language about each of these issued to be decided by Council Wednesday is included in the agenda packet.

What position do you take on medical marijuana dispensaries? Will the loss of redevelopment agencies drastically effect the budget and IB? If you have your own code enforcement tale to tell, email this story’s author. Tell us in the comments.


Blue Heron in Tijuana Estuary National Reserve

Blue Heron forages for crabs at low tide.

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