Thursday, July 7, 2011
Council Set to Take Up Code Enforcement Proposal
City Attorney’s Office Says Measure Not Effort to Revive Failed Grand Jury Plan
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
A controversial proposal that would significantly change the way the city of Los Angeles enforces administrative regulations has been sent to the City Council by the City Attorney’s Office, a top official said yesterday.
Chief Deputy City Attorney William Carter said the motion was forwarded to the full council last week, and a hearing is anticipated to take place “very soon.” The proposal would revise the Los Angeles Municipal Code to decriminalize certain violations, which would be resolved by an administrative hearing process.
Although many in the blogosphere have cast the proposal as a power-grab by City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, and a veiled attempt to revive his failed attempt last year to create a municipal grand jury, Carter yesterday dismissed such concerns.
“There is no Area 51, no waterboarding,” Carter said, insisting programs such as the proposed Administrative Code Enforcement Program, known as ACE, are of long standing in other cities.
He explained the program is intended “to reduce the number of citizens charged with criminal violations for minor code violations,” such as having a too-tall fence, loud party, or trash in the front yard.
In the past, Carter said, “you had two options, do nothing, let the problem continue...or you charge these people criminally,” but prosecuting offenders for such low-level offenses “created a huge backlog in criminal court.”
ACE, the prosecutor said, provides a third alternative, where a law enforcement officer who sees a violation can issue a citation on the spot to the offender, which is a “cost-effective way to deal in real time with violations and allow us to focus our resources on more serious crime.”
Penalty assessments from the citations are proposed to start at $200 and be used to pay for the administrative costs of the ACE program, with any excess monies going to the city’s general fund, Carter said.
A person who receives a citation can also seek a hardship waiver, or, if desired, contest it, Carter added.
The terms of the proposal state that an individual can submit a written request to the City Attorney’s Office, which will determine whether dismissal is appropriate. If the City Attorney does not dismiss the citation, the individual can request an administrative hearing.
This hearing, the proposal provides, shall be presided over by an “Administrative Hearing Officer,” whose authority shall be determined by the city attorney. Carter emphasized that this will be an administrative law judge—“not a city attorney employee” as was widely speculated in several blogs.
The ALJs, Carter said, will be “volunteer attorneys… people in private practice sitting as judges pro tem,” and the City Attorney’s Office will “have no involvement” in their selection and appointment. He said the office is planning to work with the superior court and “see if we can have access to their ALJs to come in and oversee these hearings.”
Another provision in the proposal which gave rise to concern that Trutanich was attempting gain grand jury-like powers was its allowance for the hearing officer to have the ability to subpoena witnesses and documents.
Carter said “it’s ludicrous for anyone to make that kind of allegation,” since the administrative process created by ACE is “not even close to a grand jury.”
The grant of subpoena authority, Carter said, comes from the Government Code, and he emphasized that this power is granted to both the accused offender as well as the agency which issued the citation.
Carter also insisted the program “is not novel,” and several other cities, such as San Diego, Santa Monica, Sacramento and Santa Ana have similar code enforcement policies.
It was Trutanich, however, who initiated the idea of creating such a program for Los Angeles, Carter said, recalling that the city attorney “tasked us right away, in the first few months of coming into office, to research and develop a proposed administrative code enforcement program.” In doing so, Carter said, “we saw other cities were already doing it,” but it was “one of the first things [Trutanich] said we need to develop.”
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company