VALLEJO – The Vallejo Planning and Development department will hire a team of consultants to review the code enforcement division, streamline procedures and manage the division’s workload as the city works to transition the code enforcement division out of the police department.
The City Council voted unanimously to approve the contract with the firm 4LEAF at its regular meeting Tuesday. 4LEAF will provide two consultants who will conduct an assessment of the division's current practices and provide procedural recommendations. One of the consultants will serve as interim code enforcement manager to ease the workload of the division, which is operating with a skeleton staff.
“We just lost a code enforcement officer this week, that leaves us with only four existing staff members and eleven positions that are left vacant,” Planning and Development Director Christina Ratcliffe said.
4LEAF will provide the consultant services from March 20 to July 31 for not more than $205,960. City staff said the funds will come from salary savings from unfilled positions. The city is planning another round of recruitment for the code enforcement division and city staff said they hope to fill some positions by June.
In January, the council voted to move the code enforcement division from the police department, which councilmembers said they hoped would help with the recruitment efforts.
Councilmember Rozzana Verder-Aliga said that she was originally skeptical about hiring outside consultants but after looking at the proposal from 4LEAF she realized that,“anytime you restart or move a division to another department there are totally different requirements and laws that govern what you do because you are reinventing the program.”
“I think that the biggest mistake was to put them [Code Enforcement] under the police department,” Councilmember Mina Loera-Diaz said. “That’s when I noticed that things started to go downhill.”
The 4LEAF assessment will examine compliance rates, enforcement action, customer satisfaction, innovation and communication and outreach. The assessment will be used to develop streamlined procedures to allow better coordination between departments and more efficient use of staff and resources.
4LEAF director of code enforcement Cecilia Muela, who will be conducting the assessment, said that she will often use what she calls “knock and talk” visits to create a sense of caring. “That builds a sense of community which means that your enforcement capabilities increase because you have gained community trust,” she said.
Communication between departments will also be one of the focal points of the new policies because several departments have roles in code enforcement, Ratcliffe said. Some operations such as removing a homeless encampment require coordination between the code enforcement division, the city’s legal department, the public works department, and the police department.
Councilmembers Cristina Arriola and Diosdado “JR” Matulac brought up the need for code enforcement of commercial properties after Ratcliffe noted that the code enforcement division had stopped enforcement of commercial properties because of their current staffing limitations.
“The old Walmart looks like a billboard for graffiti,” Matulac said. “I am hoping that we can address that because it is the last thing people see as they leave Vallejo.”
Councilmember Peter Bregenzer added, “We have many owners that have vacant properties and they realize no penalty, we need to have their buildings filled.”
Mayor Robert McConnell said that he hopes that the department can be restructured in a way that can balance enforcement with compassion for those who may be living in unregistered vehicles or for homeowners who cannot afford repairs or heavy fines.
McConnell also proposed reaching out to the federal government to see if they can find a way to free up the city’s legal authority to police the camping activity along the railroad. He said that he is concerned that standing water could breed public health issues.
The code enforcement division is not the only area of city government that has been struggling to fill positions. According to a staff report, the city’s housing manager position has been vacant for over a year. On Tuesday, the council also voted unanimously to change the administrative structure in the city’s municipal code in the hopes of attracting more applicants by making the heads of the economic development division, the information technology division and the housing and community development division full department heads.
City staff said they believe that the change more accurately reflects the city's current operating structure and hope that elevating the vacant housing manager position to a director-level position will allow the city to be more competitive in the recruitment process.
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THE VALLEJO SUN NEWSLETTER
Investigative reporting, regular updates, events and more
- Vallejo City Hall
- Vallejo City Council
- Vallejo Police Department
- Christina Ratcliffe
- Rozzana Verder-Aliga
- Mina Loera-Diaz
- Cecilia Muela
- Cristina Arriola
- Diosdado “J.R.” Matulac
- Peter Bregenzer
Ryan Geller writes about transitions in food, health, housing, environment, and agriculture.
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