Creighton Urges Upland Council To Nix Administrative Citation Ordinance

(March 22) A member of Upland’s city council advisory committee said he will not support the administrative citation ordinance his panel has been tasked with evaluating prior to an upcoming vote.
On March 27, the city council advisory committee, chaired by Tom Mitchell, is scheduled to reconsider a redrafted form of the administrative citation ordinance that was considered by the city council on July 30 and again on August 13 last year, and provide a non-binding recommendation on whether to go forward with the ordinance. That ordinance in its original form was given initial approval but later abandoned when a firestorm of protest manifested at the city council meeting on August 13, when the ordinance was scheduled for a required “second reading,” i.e., final approval.
Prior to, and at, the July 30 meeting when the ordinance was first considered, neither the ordinance itself nor its language were made available to the public.  Only after direct appeals by the public and the press did City Hall relent and release the text of the ordinance six days before the council was scheduled to approve it on August 13.
The ordinance as originally drafted substantially intensifies City Hall’s bureaucratic power and increases the amounts of the fines that can be levied. Moreover, the ordinance also sets up a policy similar to that utilized in other municipalities that empowers the city to not only issue citations but adjudicate them and set the penalty, precluding, at least in the first three phases of the administrative process, the individual who is cited from having the matter heard and the fine set by an independent arbiter, such as the municipal or superior court. Only upon being adjudged guilty and assessed with the fine, can a resident or business entity that is cited appeal the matter to an actual court, and then only upon posting the amount of the fine as a bond.
One of the more controversial provisions of the ordinance is its empowerment of the city’s community development director to levy, entirely at his or her own discretion, fines of up to $1,000 per day.
On August 13, the council chambers  filled with residents and local business owners who came to weigh in against the ordinance after it was approved by a first 4-0 vote on July 30. Also present were Mayor Ray Musser and city manager Steve Dunn, both of whom were not in attendance at the July 30 meeting. Several residents and business owners questioned Community Development Director Jeff Zwack’s assertion that the ordinance was not intended to generate revenue for the cash-strapped municipality. Zwack and the council also found themselves under attack for withholding the text of the ordinance from the public.
The council at that point tabled the ordinance, and referred the matter back to staff for further evaluation.
In January, at Musser’s urging, the city council advisory committee took up active consideration of the administrative citation ordinance. City staff, particularly Zwack, insist that the city needs administrative citation authority to deal with intractable code enforcement problems. While acknowledging that in the neighborhood of 95 percent of residents and businesses cited under the current code enforcement process readily come into compliance, Zwack maintains that the city needs the administrative citation ordinance as a tool to force the roughly five percent of those who after being cited do not cooperate and comply with the city’s codes and standards and refuse to come to heel.
Ironically, Musser, who did not vote for giving the city’s code enforcement division added power the first time the matter was considered, appears to be the member of the city council most supportive of instituting the administrative citation ordinance now. Musser’s appointment to the city council advisory committee, Mitchell, likewise appeared to be ushering his fellow committee members toward making a recommendation that the city council adopt the ordinance. After examining the ordinance in October, the committee took the matter up again in February, at which time Mitchell said the committee would “hopefully” endorse the ordinance at its meeting next week.
Mark Creighton, the member of the city council advisory commission appointed by councilman Gino Filippi, however, told the Sentinel he is not favorably disposed toward the ordinance and infusing in city officials any more citation and fining authority than they already have. “This is not an ordinance that is going to breed community goodwill,” Creighton said. “I did not see a need for this when they proposed it six or seven months ago and I don’t see anything that has changed so that we need to give our code enforcement crew any more power than it already has. We have the ability to impose fines on people. What this does is give the city more power to hurt people and businesses, to bully them. They may have redrafted the ordinance slightly, but that doesn’t alleviate my fear that this could be or will be abused.“
Creighton said he was not convinced the city had benign intent in drafting the ordinance.
“I sense there is an ulterior motive here,” he said, suggesting that in addition to being a revenue source the ordinance could be selectively applied “the next time somebody wants to drive what they consider to be an undesirable business out of town.”
In several ways,  Creighton said, “This is more of a weapon than a remedy.” Moreover, he suggested, it will inadvertently turn the code enforcement division into a cat’s paw that residents can use against neighbors they dislike or business owners can use against competing interests. “Something like this can be very easily abused. It can be used for the exact reasons you don’t want it used for. The little old lady who didn’t mow her grass will get cited. We shouldn’t be citing her. If she is too old to mow her lawn and is living on a fixed income, then we should mow her lawn for her. We’re a community, not an enforcement agency.
“I don’t see this as a way to improve our city,” Creighton continued. “With this we will be dragging Upland into the gutter. What this will do is institute new ways to screw with people. This will give your neighbor the ability to make trouble for you and potentially cost you money. What are we going to do when two neighbors who don’t get along start going back and forth and they bring the city into it? No one has proved to me that we need this ordinance. Yes, we have some problems with properties or businesses that do not meet our code. But we already have ordinances. Mr. Zwack said we need to be doing this because Ontario does it. Is that the justification? Because Ontario does it?  Ontario is in far worse repair than Upland is. I don’t see any glaring problems where we need to start fining people a thousand dollars a day.”
Creighton said he did not know whether he would be able to sway the committee from supporting the ordinance and would not venture a prediction about whether the city council would enact it.
“All I can tell you is I am not supporting it,” he said.

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