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City to revamp nuisance laws
Citizen prompts discussion about RV parking in front of homes
The city will be updating its Municipal Code dealing with eyesore, such as this outdoor accumulating of junk shot near Lucas School. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/ Courier file photo

City leaders don't foresee a change to the complaint-driven process of bearing down on eyesores and public nuisances but will soon begin cleaning up the Ceres Municipal Code to clarify what's illegal and what's not when it comes to use of private property.

On Monday City Manager Toby Wells held up the thick book that contains the 19-section Municipal Code and explained that there "is a quite a bit of overlap." He said the city wants to overhaul the code to make sure it's "internally consistent and vertically consistent, being consistent with our new General Plan that we're working."

The plan is to begin tackling the code update in January with workshops in the summer and finalized by October. He said the work would accelerate once the General Plan update is done this March or April.

Wells spent some time talking about RV parking in residential zones. The matter was brought up in August by Ceres resident John Warren who has been critical of the city's posture on RVs being parked on residential lots. The city developed its current RV parking restrictions in 2001 after considerable debate and public input, said Wells. The code attempted to strike a balance between private property owners and neighborhood aesthetics, said Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra. Since that time the city crafted regulations about new lots in Planned Community zones havinbg adequate side yards to accommodate RV parking behind a fence. Wells said as a result Eastgate lots were designed and zoned differently.

The city permits RV parking on R-1 lots as long as they are parked perpendicular to the primary street or parallel to the side street. Boats may be parked as long as the trailer tongue does not hang over the sidewalk.

The city's code enforcement unit uses the Public Nuisance section of the code in chapter 9 which contains very broad definitions, said Wells. The chapter covers a lot of topics and gives the city tools to gain an upper hand on problems in neighborhoods. Since the city does not have enough manpower to proactively enforce the code, a complaint driven process will be in effect for a long time, he said. The city then prioritizes complaints which are investigated in an attempt to work with the person for whom the complaint is lodged - all subject to due process.

"We seek compliance rather than citations," said Wells. "We've got a number of examples where we've cited people over and over, four or five times before they take care of an issue. We want compliance. We want folks to get their properties in a good state of repair and be good neighbors. Sometimes citations work and sometimes they don't. We've found the best customer service is working with those offenders to get them to compliance."

On Monday Wells showed slides of various storages of RVs, boats and trailers to clarify what is legal and what is not. He said ideally the city would like to see motorhomes parked behind a fence. But he noted RV parking in front is allowed as long as it does not encroach into the sidewalk.

The city does not require an RV or trailer be parked over solid surfaces, such as a paved driveway but the city also does not permit more than half of a front yard to be cemented over. The city has not sought the abatement of covered vehicles, said the mayor, unless debris and weeds are allowed around them.

Wells showed a slide picture of a boat parked in a driveway which is allowed but noted it was illegally being used to openly store a pile of goods.

Another common violation seen in Ceres is storing garbage cans in public view on days when refuse collection is not taking place.

Wells also showed a portable RV cover structure which is not allowed within the setback area and certainly not without a building permit.

Mayor Chris Vierra said he feels the city's RV parking law is "stringent enough already." He said when the city crafted its RV ordinance it became apparent that "for as many people who think (RV parking) is a nuisance, there are as many people who think that it's a property rights issue and so I think this is not something that just a few of us should decide here. I think it should be something should be vetted through the public and that process. Again, those of you who were around when it happened, it was a very, very heated and very, very long process."

Vice Mayor Mike Kline said with small lots, "it's very hard to dictate to individuals on their property."

Councilman Ken Lane said the city should do something about RV parking if it involves public safety problems, such as if an RV is blocking windows or doors that would prevent access by emergency personnel.

"I know some of that is happening today," said Lane.

Wells said there are "other ways" to tackle such problems rather than use the RV parking section.

Councilwoman Linda Ryno showed the members a photo she snapped of a Mockingbird Drive property which has a front yard full of various trailers and RVs and said the public has the perception that the city is not doing something.

Ceres resident Len Shepherd, who helped craft the city ordinance in 2001, shared that he felt the city stepped on too many property rights.

"I'm a firm believer that government is best handled when it's small and doesn't get into my face and into my space," said Shepherd. "How can you tell a person who paid $350,000 for a home that they can't put concrete in their lot? What business is it of government's where you are not supposed to be the aesthetic police?"

He said neighbors should deal with problems with neighbors, including taking them to court.

Ryno agreed in some part but asked Shepherd about the rights of the neighbors who suffer from blight in their neighborhood and have approached offenders who "pretty much blows them off." She said few people have the funds to go to court.

"I don't think that it's not in our right to try and help those people out," said Ryno.

Wells said the city's Municipal Code is accessible on the city's website.