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Volunteers soon to go after code violations
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Volunteers may be key to helping the city keep the streets clean of illegal signs and other signs of blight. On Monday the Ceres City Council gave its blessing on a program to put volunteers in charge of keeping on top of nuisances such as excessive illegal yard or garage sale signs.

City Fire Marshall Bryan Nicholes, who is in charge of the city's code enforcement program, updated the council on the program, which will be starting soon.

Mayor Chris Vierra stated that he feels it's a great idea to focus on code enforcement efforts with volunteer help without "straining the general fund."

The rest of the City Council agreed.

Volunteers could help the city search and cite for "certain aspects of code enforcement ," said Nicholes, such as excessive amounts of yard sales, illegally placed yard sale signs, trash accumulation on properties, illegal auto repairs being conducted in neighborhoods and general conditions of blight.

Many cities use volunteers for code enforcement but it's never been tried in Ceres. Nicholes said volunteers could provide a "huge benefit," including helping Ceres maintain a "sense of pride and maintain the city's neighborhoods in the best condition possible.

Currently the city budget has allowed only one code enforcement officer in Frank Alvarez, who also has time tied up in paperwork. Nicholes said some volunteers could assist in reducing his time spent on paperwork to actively go after violations.

The cost of a volunteer program would run about $3,500, including $1,500 to cover background checks, and $1,000 for uniforms.

Nicholes noted that the city would need to rewrite local law to allow volunteers to cite persons for placing signs on stop sign poles, which is a violation of the California Vehicle Code. Currently only police officers can write such a citation.

As Nicholes proposes, volunteers must possess a high school diploma, and a valid drivers' license, offer references and undergo a background check before training would commence. Applicants would be matched up with jobs to their skill set. He expects a minimum of a four-hour shift be required for efficiency.

"Once up and running I think it will be a tremendous success," said Nicholes.

Volunteers would not be enforcing in their own neighborhoods and not be going inside of any building, Nicholes noted.

College students would be welcome to apply for community service credit.