The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday received a presentation on the city’s new prosecution and enforcement team and provided direction on enforcement priorities, with an emphasis on how the city deals with public nuisance violations.
The city prosecutor enforcement overview was presented by new Assistant City Prosecutor Denny Wei, along with City Attorney Ariel Calonne. The presentation introduced new staff, explained the unit’s current and estimated case load, and reviewed the tools available for enforcement and prosecution of city code violations.
“Now it seems that we’ve got a clear direction. We’ve got the personnel to go after and actually put some teeth behind what we said we intend to do as a community,” said Councilmember Randy Rowse.
Mr. Wei began the presentation by defining the mission statement for the new enforcement unit.
“The objective of our prosecution unit will be to have fair, reliable, and effective code enforcement; to be accessible to and communicate with a diverse community with diverse needs; to act as a liaison with the police department and other city enforcement staff, courts, and county agencies to provide training for city enforcement staff, and provide public education,” said Mr. Wei.
According to Mr. Wei’s presentation, the enforcement unit has a number of cases open across four categories. There are currently 86 code enforcement cases open, 248 vacation rental cases, 37 criminal cases, and two nuisance abatement cases.
Mr. Wei laid out the tools available to the enforcement unit, such as mediation, public education, and criminal protective orders. The priority for the unit will be to enforce compliance rather than prosecute violations, said Mr. Wei.
“Prosecution should be really reserved for when we’ve really exhausted all the other potential workable tools,” Mr. Wei told the council.
The unit currently has four enforcement priorities: safe housing standards, including nuisance abatement and receiverships as appropriate; nuisance behaviors to protect public spaces for common enjoyment; short-term vacation rental laws; and consumer protection, including landlord-tenant issues regulated on the city.
Councilmembers zeroed in on nuisance behavior enforcement as a major concern for their constituents.
“Everything’s important, but I think, once again, our general public would look at nuisance behavior as the number one priority for what we do in the city, and that’s what I would encourage us to focus on,” said Mr. Rowse.
Councilmembers Jason Dominguez and Oscar Gutierrez asked about specific violations and what is being done to stop them, such as people sleeping in vans and on the street, encampments on public property, and parking enforcement.
City staff responded by naming four ordinances in consideration that deal with shopping carts, personal goods storage, sidewalk vending, and on-street vehicle vending. The proposals will be vetted by the Ordinance Committee later this month.
Mr. Wei told the council that if someone is violating a nuisance behavior ordinance, the unit will prosecute as long as it is permitted based on current case law and in compliance with constitutional requirements.
“We understand that the quality of life is important to a community. It’s something we hold and we value greatly in our office and we will ensure that public space be accessible to people, but we also have to balance that with people’s rights,” said Mr. Wei.
Mayor Cathy Murillo reminded the public that the best way to report non-emergency violations is to call 805-897-2300.
Other agenda items were postponed until next week’s City Council meeting.