Council Approves Moratorium On Code Enforcement

Residents line up to voice their opinion on the code enforcement issue during the public comment period of Tuesday’s Council meeting. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/ladailypost.com
 
By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
kirsten@ladailypost.com

A range of emotions was on display at the Los Alamos County Council meeting Tuesday night in Council Chambers. Yet despite the anger and frustration expressed, the meeting concluded with applause.

Attendees showed appreciation toward the Council’s unanimous approval of a resolution for a 60-day moratorium of the County’s code enforcement program. The approval was passed 6-0, with Councilor James Chrobocinski absent.

The resolution was passed with several amendments:

  • Adding that the Community Development and code enforcement staff will address complaints placed by residents irrespective of this moratorium;
  • Excluding from the moratorium any notice of violations or citations that were enacted before the effective date of the moratorium;
  • Adding to the section of the resolution, which states “WHEREAS, CDD and Code Enforcement shall continue to enforce Article II of Chapter 18, where such alleged violations directly and immediately affect the public’s health, safety, and welfare or create a public nuisance” so it also states appropriate action will be taken to address any situations perceived to have an increased fire risk; and
  • Adding that upon lifting the moratorium, any notice of violation or citation shall clearly identify the conditions of the alleged violations and the actions needed to resolve them. Additiona
  • lly, the issuance of more than one citation for a single issue will stop.

The resolution was created by Chrobocinski and Councilor Antonio Maggiore. Maggiore presented it at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I feel the current animosity between citizens and CDD … as a whole, especially toward the code enforcement staff is creating a hostile work environment and the hope is we can take 60 days, have everyone take deep breath, and restart,” Maggiore said.

He thanked his fellow councilors for finding common ground on the issue and said he felt that the amendments to the resolution only made it stronger.

Others on Council expressed similar sentiments.

Councilor Susan O’Leary told the attendees who stated they felt the Council was ignoring them and that their thoughts and opinions on the code enforcement were unheard, “You were heard. You were heard in November.” She apologized for the length of time it took to address the issue.

Council Chair David Izraelevitz said it seemed all parties involved in the code enforcement issue have gotten stuck between a rock and a hard place. He urged those in the community with questions about the code enforcement to give councilors a call. They are not just representatives to the community on the dais, but also out in the community itself and available to help individual residents, he said.

Izraelevitz also called for everyone to cut each other some slack on this issue; noting code enforcement officers seemed to be getting a bad reputation but they are just doing their jobs.

Councilor Pete Sheehey said he felt the resolution was a good first step.

“The moratorium is a start,” he said.

Council Vice Chair Christine Chandler said she thought the 60-day moratorium will help lower the tenure of discussion and focus on what needs to be changed in the code.

“I feel the code needs to be improved significantly,” Chandler said.

Several County staff had questions about the moratorium.

Los Alamos Fire Chief Troy Hughes said he is strongly against any reductions in code enforcement that deal with fire hazards. With an extremely mild winter and dry conditions expected to continue, the threat of wildfires is a big concern. He said that the hope is to get voluntary compliance. He added that the fire department is willing to offer assistance in educating the public about making their homes safe from fires.

“As long as there is an opportunity to make the community safer, we’re fine with that,” Hughes said.

When asked by Maggiore about his thoughts on the code enforcement program, CDD Director Paul Andrus said the Los Alamos code enforcement is similar to other municipalities.

“Is it perfect … no,” Andrus said. He mentioned that clarifications between specific violations and descriptions of the code process could be improved. He said two weeks ago code enforcement officers started writing detailed information on the forms to help people understand their violations and citations.

Andrus added that as far as the public’s attitude toward code enforcement, most people seem ambivalent. It is not like the fire department, library or recreation department, code enforcement carries some controversy, he said.

Chief Building Official Michael Arellano said staff feel like they are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“We’re trying; we are making changes ourselves to make it easier and better for the community,” he said. “Is it hard? Yes.”

Members of the public voiced their opinion about the code enforcement program during Tuesday’s meeting.

Mark Voss said when a notice of violation is handed to a property owner, their personal circumstances do not seem to be taken into account. Plus, tax dollars are used to pay enforcement officers who are interpreting what is right and wrong for property owners to do.

“It’s absolutely just bureaucracy,” Voss said.

Heather Ortega said she felt by allowing residents to submit complaints regarding any perceived violations to the code, the County is pitting neighbors against each other. She said the community does not have a problem with a code enforcement program but there is a problem with people policing each other.

Another woman urged the council to respond to citizen concerns and ideas regarding code enforcement.

“I want us to be taken seriously,” she said. “I think that is a fair thing to ask.”

Council candidate Helen Milenski said she hoped the 60-day moratorium would provide “an opportunity to get back to common sense”. 

Community Development Department Director Paul Andrus, left, and Chief Building Official Michael Arellano speak about the code issue during Tuesday’s council meeting. Photo by Maire O’Neill/ladailypost.com
 
Los Alamos Fire Chief Troy Hughes, front, and Wildland Division Chief Kelly Sterna speak about the code issue at Tuesday’s council. Photo by Maire O’Neill/ladailypost.com
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