By Edwin Folven, 9/29/2011
Council Will Decide Whether to Handle Some Violations Administratively
Barking dogs, loud parties and permitted construction noise are all annoyances many neighbors complain about.
They are currently infractions or misdemeanors, handled by the courts, but under a proposal by Los Angeles City Councilmem-ber Paul Koretz, 5th District, and the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, these disturbances may soon be resolved by citations.
Koretz has authored a motion, with the guidance of the City Attorney’s Office, that would create an Administrative Code Enforcement (ACE) program where some criminal offenses would be handled by an appointed panel. The motion was reviewed by the City Council Budget and Finance Committee earlier this week and will return to the committee next Monday for further review. Koretz said he hopes the full city council will eventually approve a pilot program that would be initially administered by the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles Animal Services. The councilmember said the program could potentially save the city and county millions of dollars in costs associated with prosecuting the violations in court.
“When I was first installed as a councilmember, I went around to a lot of community group meetings and met with constituents, and one of the main complaints they had was about how the City of Los Angeles enforces quality of life issues,” Koretz said. “We are looking to implement a pilot program that puts some teeth in the enforcement while also saving the city some money.”
The offenses that may be included in the program are still to be decided, but a list of potential violations includes making excessive noise, trespassing, possessing an open container of alcohol in public, creating excessive construction noise, smoking in restricted areas, gambling, having an unleashed dog on the beach, possession or use of fireworks, illegal vending, and littering. Other potential violations include loitering, being a spectator at an illegal street race, or washing a car on the street.
“There are many other violations that could be included, and we need to decide which ones,” Koretz said. “Barking dogs might not be included, but failure to renew a dog license would be likely included.”
Under the pilot program, police would issue violators a citation with fines of up to $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for a third violation. If the recipient wishes to contest the citation, it would be reviewed by an appointed panel overseen by the City Attorney’s Office. If the fine is paid, the violation would not go on the recipient’s permanent record, but if it is not paid, the City Attorney’s Office could place a lien on the recipient’s property. The program is based on similar programs in place in Sacramento, San Diego and Santa Monica.
City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and Koretz authored an editorial explaining the ACE program that recently ran in the Los Angels Times. It stated that the ACE is necessary because shrinking budgets and a reduction in staffing has forced the city to look at new ways to provide services. Koretz characterized the violations being reviewed as “minor”, and used the example of someone repeatedly throwing loud parties in a neighborhood.
“When people have loud parties until three or four in the morning, you can call the police, but there is usually little they can do,” Koretz said. “They can either issue a citation, which is usually laughed out of court because it is a low-priority offense that wastes a lot of time, or they can issue a warning, which does nothing. This would allow us to do something that would put some teeth in enforcement, and can permanently address the issue.”
Frank Mateljan, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office, confirmed that the ACE program is something that has been considered for a while as a way to fix “quality of life” offenses that affect residents. The pilot program would likely last six months to a year, after which the city council would review whether it should be expanded to other departments such as Building and Safety.
“It will save lots of court time, it will save lots of city attorney time, and will save money,” Koretz added. “It will be easier for people to pay the fine or straighten up the violation if that’s what they want to do, and will save time in reviewing the violations. It’s a win in twenty different ways.”