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Audit finds flaws in code enforcement

Original post made on Nov 10, 2018

Palo Alto's ever evolving and much maligned code-enforcement program will face fresh scrutiny from city leaders next week after a new audit from the office of City Auditor Harriet Richardson uncovered a rash of problems and inconsistencies with the ways the city accepts and resolves complaints.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, November 10, 2018, 8:12 AM

Comments (29)

Posted by Sally
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 10, 2018 at 10:24 pm

What problem what problem are we trying to solve here? We need much more force, clarity, and purpose out of our audit function


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 10, 2018 at 10:40 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Remind me again why our city managers are the highest-paid in the state.


Posted by R.Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 11, 2018 at 8:50 am

R.Davis is a registered user.

Wow. This is like a 'Who's watching the store?' scenario. While city employees are not known for being the most industrious workers on the planet, the municipal bureaucracy along with its various unenforced 'gray zone provisions' have created an ineffective operating system.

QUOTE: In some cases, the city has neither the will nor the resources to enforce what appears to be a violation...the council “made a conscientious decision to implement regulations based on their community value rather than an intent for active enforcement.” (from the PA Weekly article)

>> AKA 'lip-service'?

QUOTE: However, the Municipal Code generally does not allow city staff to immediately issue a citation unless certain criteria are met, according to the audit. “Issuing a citation could also result in costly and time-consuming administrative hearings or legal proceedings,” the audit states. (from the PA Weekly article)

>> For something like a leaf-blower (noise abatement) violation?

QUOTE: Remind me again why our city managers are the highest-paid in the state.

>> Because they are highly-skilled/visionary administrators who are adept at running a city and its various divisions while addressing the needs and concerns of the residents. They also work in conjunction with the mayor and city council to implement critical concepts...like suggesting school children risk life and limb handing out 'idling reminders' to countless cars lined-up along our city streets while waiting for the lights to change. Since there is no actual traffic congestion in PA as per the mayor's insights, random automobile idling is a serious concern.

At over $300K per annum + generous CALPers benefits, the City Manager role is a very attractive and challenging professional position. Need we say more?



Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 11, 2018 at 9:19 am

From the article:

"Similarly, the city does not actively enforce the city’s 2017 ban on smoking in multi-family buildings."

----------

Of course not. That doesn't stop the city, however, from boasting about winning awards for this fictitious smoking ban, see Web Link

Everyone who lives here knows the city does not enforce the ordinances it spends our tax dollars to formulate and enact.

The real question is whether or not this formal audit will make any difference. So far, citizen complaints and journalistic investigations have failed to pressure city leaders to do the jobs for which they are so abundantly rewarded, again, thanks to our tax dollars.


Posted by Venturan
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 11, 2018 at 12:09 pm

Venturan is a registered user.

I discovered weed abatement complaints (as shown in photo above) are handled by the Santa Clara County NOT the City.

The link to report weed hazards: Web Link


Posted by pares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2018 at 12:55 pm

There is a neighbor in our area who has had many violations over the years and code enforcement seems hesitant to enforce the codes. So a neighbor can do whatever once he/she figures out that the city's citations won't really be enforced. Shame!


Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2018 at 2:30 pm

Posted by pares, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> There is a neighbor in our area who has had many violations over the years and code enforcement seems hesitant to enforce the codes. So a neighbor can do whatever once he/she figures out that the city's citations won't really be enforced. Shame!

Violations like ... ? Can you be more specific? I ask because I enforcement should be proportionate and correctly prioritized. In another realm, for example, I'm not looking for handing out a lot of tickets to people for going 26 in a 25 zone, when, there are so many who go 40-45 in a 25 zone with elementary school kids nearby riding their bikes. Lets hand out tickets for recklessly going 45 before we hand out tickets for going 26.


Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 11, 2018 at 10:55 pm

"Similarly, the city does not actively enforce the city’s 2017 ban on smoking in multi-family buildings."..."Of course not. That doesn't stop the city, however, from boasting about winning awards for this fictitious smoking ban."

Getting those awards is the whole point. Achieving the purpose of the law is not required for getting an award, so enforcement is unnecessary and bothersome.


Posted by Awards
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2018 at 11:03 pm

Curmudgeon

“Getting those awards is the whole point. Achieving the purpose of the law is not required for getting an award, so enforcement is unnecessary and bothersome.”

That’s definitely been a useful distraction for Keene’s tenure.




Posted by R.Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 12, 2018 at 8:48 am

R.Davis is a registered user.

QUOTE: That doesn't stop the city, however, from boasting about winning awards for this fictitious smoking ban.

The question is...who (or what) agency was responsible for handing out this award?

Maybe it was simply a 'participation' award for perfunctory measures.


Posted by wayne douglass
a resident of another community
on Nov 12, 2018 at 12:42 pm

wayne douglass is a registered user.

It's finally happened. To use a phrase much quoted by Black people in the deep South, "The chickens have come hoe to roost." Decades of stupid policy,inadequate funding, lack of staff. bad management, no co-ordination, and general incompetence, have ganged up on the city to make it unworkable on some of the simplest tasks.
For me the cream of the jest is to see my old house on Matadero as the centerpiece of city incompetence AGAIN (the first time, it was a COVER illustration to the Weekly's story about how new code inspectors were going to clean up the backlog of code violations. Yeah, right. How'd that work out?) OTOH, I did get cited by the city for blocking the sidewalk because the back bumper of the car my wife drove (she had died) protruded onto the sidewalk by about 2 inches. For the first time months, I unlocked her SUV, released the break, and pushed the SUV forward so that
the bumper no longer protruded onto the sidewalk space. To the city's credit, when they reinspected the "violation" they noticed that I had "moved" the SUV and was no longer was a scofflaw. For this apparent violation it took a city employee to write up the warning (cop or somebody else, I don't know) and another one to verify the rectification of the "violation." For this reason, I understand @Anon's point completely.
And I also understand @Venturan's point also, but I sold my house about 4 years ago to somebody offshore (Hong Kong or Shanghai), who paid cash for a place that was never something for House Beautiful, but kept the rain off my head. I needed the money, honey, so I could pay for my studio in a senior residence in Los Altos. I tried living at a similar place in Palo Alto, but the rent was too rich for my blood.


Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 12, 2018 at 12:59 pm

R.Davis wrote:

"QUOTE: That doesn't stop the city, however, from boasting about winning awards for this fictitious smoking ban.

The question is...who (or what) agency was responsible for handing out this award?

Maybe it was simply a 'participation' award for perfunctory measures."

----------

A valid, if somewhat cynical point. Well, it's hard to say.

Lately, our fair city is touting recognition from the American Lung Association.

In previous years, the American Lung Association consistently gave Palo Alto a "D" for Tobacco Control. In their most recent ratings, however, they gave Palo Alto an "A" with perfect scores for Smokefree Housing citing Nonsmoking Apartments, Nonsmoking Condominiums, and Nonsmoking Common Areas.

In reality, *nothing* has changed. I know, because I own a condominium, and when my requests for enforcement of the smoking ordinance were ignored, I contacted then Director of Planning Hilary Gitelman who wrote me, "We do not have the resources to enforce the no smoking ordinance."

Now, I'd like to think the American Lung Association is serious about their mission to prevent lung disease and takes it in good faith that laws are actually enforced, but I don't have any real insight to their operations.

Unfortunately, the evidence shows that Palo Alto city leaders are clearly *not* serious about this mission. When the council was discussing potential priorities for 2018, former nurse and current Mayor Liz Kniss commented that since Palo Alto has received a couple of awards for healthy cities, the category may no longer need to be a priority.

Thanks, Mayor Kniss. Mission accomplished.


Posted by neighbor
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 12, 2018 at 4:42 pm

@wayne, yes that's your old place all right. County tax assessor shows ownership change mid-2015, and values the house at a whopping $7392, not worth insuring. The land itself is more of course. I'll let others here risk chiming in on the merits of offshore ownership in our fair city.


Posted by yeh right
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 12, 2018 at 9:05 pm

Palo Alto has code enforcement?? I never woulda guessed.
From the number of times I've filed a complaint, gotten a receipt from the city, and then never saw any action whatsoever .. I had to conclude there's no code enforcement.

These were on situations that I know were code violations because a CPA code inspector told me. Back in the days when they actually did their work.


Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 13, 2018 at 8:14 am

I hold the City Manager Jim Keene responsible for the state of this City! In the 10 years he has been City Manager, he had eliminated traffic enforcement, pretty much ignored code enforcement and pushed his pet projects spending huge amounts of general fund monies on "Sustainability" and growing Palo Alto into an office park city under the pretense of being environmently friendly.

Then there’s the City Attorney, Molly Stump, who is incompetent and can’t write an agreement without loopholes. Perfect example is Edgewood Plaza where Stump screwed up regarding penalties.

Also, Greg Scharff for trying to get rid of the Auditor’s Office by outscourcing it and his bromantic mate, Eric Filseth following along.

But mostly, I hold Jim Keene responsible. He has made Palo Alto a city that has no diversity except to cater to the tech industry and it is disruptive. Palo Alto becomes an office park and Keene retires to Bainbridge Island, WA, population 25,000 with clean air and no traffic congestion.


Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 13, 2018 at 8:15 am

Years ago, we were adding on to the house with the resultant bombed out front yard. Building materials, scrap pile, piles of dirt. We get tagged.

Called the city to demand why they don't use common sense and see if there's a building permit issued before a citation is written. No clear answer.

Meanwhile, the dump across the street has piles of pallets in the front yard and nothing is said. Maybe the inspector had a degree in shipping and receiving.


Posted by Simple Math
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 13, 2018 at 8:52 am

Just think...if there actually was code enforcement, maybe we would see fewer tax propositions and bond offerings/announcements.

Imagine the amount of municipal revenues that have gone uncollected due to the various oversights and lack of code enforcement.

YOUR PACC and City in action...or rather inaction.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 13, 2018 at 10:03 am

Online Name is a registered user.

""Also, Greg Scharff for trying to get rid of the Auditor’s Office by outscourcing it and his bromantic mate, Eric Filseth following along."

Don't forget Adrian Fine.

Otherwise Echoing all of "Disgusted's" comments with a plea that the city beef up the auditor's office. How ludicrous that the city can't run their computerized feedback system any better than they can handle outreach and/or incoming handle calls, emails and petitions.

Maybe the auditor's office can focus on PA Utilities and its $19,500,000 "surplus" last year when it was managed by the new city manager Ed Shikada. That "surplus" -- ie over-charges -got siphoned from our pockets into the General Fund.

When asked about it on NextDoor, the utilities spokesperson kept hedging; fortunately it was a matter of public record. I wonder what the figure is for THIS year.


Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 13, 2018 at 10:59 am

My pet peeves are
o the useless *expensive* bollards that obstruct Middlefield traffic

o the over-4.5 Million$ renovation of City Hall lobby and unneeded uglifying and re-upholstering of council chambers, but:

o No update or improvement of the inadequate sound system in council chambers (just look at other cities on TV, how much better sound they have.)


Posted by BlackbeardsMom
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 13, 2018 at 3:59 pm

BlackbeardsMom is a registered user.

"Also, Greg Scharff for trying to get rid of the Auditor’s Office by outsourcing it and his bromantic mate, Eric Filseth following along."

"Don't forget Adrian Fine".

It never ceases to amuse and disgust me that whenever ANYTHING is to the dislike of a particular group of residents in this city, your "go to" for attack is Scharff, Mayor Kniss, and now Fine. There was more than met the public's eye in this situation, (as happens in MANY difficult working situations). Decisions are made for good reason and never without merit or appropriate evidence to back them up.

What will Councilmember Scharff do now that he won't be plagued by vicious and unsubstantiated attacks from this online rag and it's supporters? As for Mayor Kniss and Councilmember Fine, I wish them strength and support as they face 2019 as the sole markers of intellect and professionalism on this new council.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 13, 2018 at 9:31 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Unsubstantiated attacks? What's unsubstantiated? The attempt to gut the auditor's office was widely covered in May of this year. Here's just 2 of the articles.

Former city auditor slams plan to gut office
Finance Committee proposal would cut five of the six positions in Office of the City Auditor

"The entire review of the Office of the City Auditor budget lasted seven minutes and concluded with the committee unanimously adopting a proposal by Chair Greg Scharff to eliminate five of the six positions in Office of the City Auditor and to start outsourcing performance audits"

Web Link

Committee opts not to slash auditor positions

"Though the committee agreed at the May 15 discussion to outsource auditing work, one committee member had second thoughts even before hearing from Richardson. Councilwoman Lydia Kou said at the beginning of the Wednesday meeting that after giving this matter more thought and hearing from the community, she'd like to rescind her vote to eliminate the positions.

The office, she noted, was created in 1983 by a vote of the people.

"To eliminate it and to cut it out without any discussions with the auditor herself -- that was not wise at all," Kou said. "

Web Link


Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2018 at 6:14 am

Posted by resident, a resident of Downtown North

>>My pet peeves are
>> o the useless *expensive* bollards that obstruct Middlefield traffic

I don't like that setup either, however, they are in keeping with a "trend" in the city to try to protect "wrong-way" bicycles near schools. In the more distant past, they used to tell students at Terman not to do it. I recall police occasionally stopping student bicyclists at various locations near schools and citing them for riding dangerously.

I bring it up because someone apparently decided to cut enforcement and just accept the "wrong-way" riders, and try to make things safer through realignment. Sounds OK on paper. When you see it in action-- suboptimal. This was a major policy change that was driven, -I am guessing-, through the general budget/retiree cost issues and the high expense of public safety personnel.

I just don't recall that budget debates ever actually debated these trade-offs. But, we are left with practically no traffic enforcement.

Likewise, cuts to auditing and code enforcement, and even lifeguards at public pools. With all the program staff cuts and outsourcing, what do all the people at city hall actually do all day?


Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 14, 2018 at 10:50 am

Annette is a registered user.

This article points out quite a few shortcomings. They cannot all be new issues. This article also raises many questions. When was the last audit done? What recommendations were in that last audit? Have they been resolved? Does CC ask the CM to provide a progress report on this? And what is the established process for responding to audit recommendations?

As for the awards . . . going after those doesn't seem a great use of staff time unless there's some insurance break or other financial gain that attaches to an award. It is not unusual to hear CM Keene comment about the demands on his staff when CC is discussing a matter that will require staff time. Yet they have time to seek awards? Why not put a moratorium on that until the city achieves a passing grade on the audit? Would that not be the best award of all?

I doubt too many of us care about awards but I bet each one of us cares about having a well run, high functioning city.


Posted by wayne douglass
a resident of another community
on Nov 14, 2018 at 10:59 am

wayne douglass is a registered user.

Howdy @neighbor a resident of Ventura
It's good to hear from somebody in the 'hood, probably the last neighborhood in Palo Alto where there are real people living there to form a community, instead of poseurs, politicians, and other people who are only interested in money. Of course, I want money, honey, because I'm trying to make a buck go as far as I can before I cash in my chips, which is why I sold the house and don't live in PA anymore because the rent for old geezers is too rich for my blood. Let everybody else live with the rat race if they want to. I just turned 72 and I'm enjoying what is laughably called my "golden years."


Posted by Leaf Blowers before 9am
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2018 at 11:07 am

Did you know it’s against the law to operate any leaf blower before 9am? That includes electric leaf blowers. On my daily morning bike commute I see many gas and electric leaf blowers operated before 9am. The law is a joke.


Posted by Leaf Blowers Are Just a Part of PA
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 14, 2018 at 1:54 pm

> Did you know it’s against the law to operate any leaf blower before 9am?

The various [portion removed] gardeners in a our neighborhood have a schedule to keep and some residences are first on their morning 'to do' list. Can't be helped as the laws are unenforced [portion removed.]


Posted by wayne douglass
a resident of another community
on Nov 15, 2018 at 11:26 am

wayne douglass is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 15, 2018 at 8:16 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Maybe some of PA's computer systems could get fixed if our Chief Technology Officer stayed around? Just a thought.

Complaint accuses Palo Alto’s top tech official of taking 28 junkets paid by firms linked to city business
United Neighbors member files ethics complaint against chief information officer over trips

Web Link

"Palo Alto’s top technology official violated California’s gifts law by taking at least 28 all-expense-paid trips funded by companies tied to telecommunications firms that do business with the city, according to a complaint filed with the state.

In her filing with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, Jeanne Fleming of United Neighbors contends Chief Information Officer Jonathan Reichental took illegal trips totaling 114 days between 2013 and 2017. United Neighbors is a group of local resident who unsuccessfully fought the City Council’s approval last year of a Verizon Wireless project to install 11 cell towers in the Midtown, South of Midtown, St. Claire Gardens and Palo Verde neighborhoods....."


Posted by Alison
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 20, 2018 at 6:25 am

It takes endless hours, tax payer money to constantly put notices on cars/trucks/campers/trailers parked for longer than than the City of Palo Alto's 72-hour parking policy limit. After two notices, issue a ticket to the illegally parked vehicle... why doesn't this happen?

Vehicles and campers have been parked in the spot/location on El Camino Real between Los Robles and Maybell Ave for 2 weeks and there is no enforcement of the 72-hour limit.

VTA oversized/double-sized and Stanford Marguerite buses, UPS trucks, cement trucks, durt hauler trucks (due to all the construction), cars, etc., need to drive in TWO LANES TO GET PAST THE CAMPERS/TRAILERS PARKED ON EL CAMINO.

A number of pre-schools, elementary and high schools are located in the area from Matadero down past Maybell Avenue.

On this stretch of El Camino Real, bicyclists riding on El Camino, are squeezed between the campers parked on El Camino and vehicles traveling on this road. It's a dangerous stretch of road. Kids biking to school will not be so lucky, and only then will something be done to alleviate this problem.

Thanks.


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