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Council mulls controls on noise, junk vehicles
• Final decision on relaxing standard on garbage can storage delayed for full council
abandoned car
The City Council is poised to amend the Ceres Municipal Code to outlaw the parking of cars on grassy lawns and prohibit people from keeping non-running cars in public view like this one on Canyon Drive.

The City Council is looking into adding new language of sections of the Ceres Municipal Code which would restrict the ability of those living in residential neighborhoods to park inoperable vehicles in driveways as well as prohibit the parking of vehicles on lawns.

Last week the council began discussions to align local law with laws in other cities in California.

Ironically as the council looks into adding restrictions it wants to relax the current law regarding the storage of garbage cans out of public view. With Mayor Chris Vierra absent, the council found itself in a 2-2 split about relaxing the standard. Vice Mayor Linda Ryno and Councilman Channce Condit support keeping the law that states that garbage cans – called “waste wheelers” in Ceres – out of public view when it’s not during the time surrounding collection. Council members Mike Kline and Bret Durossette favor relaxing those standards to allow residents to place cans within public view as long as they are next to the house and not in the driveway nor anywhere in front of the home itself.

Because of the 2-2 split, the council put off approving Title 6 changes until a full council can make the final approval. Ryno expressed hopes that the mayor will change his mind about relaxing garbage can storage standards since siding with Durossette and Kline at the meeting on Oct. 14.

In Title 8, the council discussed limits to how many animals may be kept on a residential property. For the most part, Ceres’ laws pertaining to animals are based on the law established by the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency (SASA). The city contracts with the joint powers authority for animal control services. City Manager Toby Wells explained that SASA spells out that if a person has more than three dogs, it triggers the requirement for a kennel license. The ordinance also limits the number of cats to three per household. Because the city does not have a limitation on the total number of household pets, a person can, however, own three dogs, three pots and three potbelly pigs.

Wells said that generally the city hasn’t experienced much of a problem with too many cats or dogs at a single residence but when it does it usually comes with other nuisance issues such as odors.

“Personally I don’t see limiting the total number,” said Ryno. “I don’t think we’ve had an issue.”

Changes are being made to Title 13 regarding sewer and water service. Wells explained that state lawmakers in Sacramento as of Feb. 1 are not allowing cities to shut off water service for non-payment of bills.

The council also focused on Title 9 (Public Peace, Safety and Morals), Title 10 (Vehicles and Traffic) and Title 19 (Code Enforcement).

Wells touched on how state legislation has rendered the city’s ordinance against aggressive panhandling as “unenforceable.” He said City Attorney Tom Hallinan recommended eliminating that section for now and “wait for the legal minefield to be cleared and then bring some language that would pass the muster on solicitation.”

The council decided against a model ordinance from other cities that would require homeowners to apply for a permit for residential burglar alarms through the police department in an effort to get a handle on false alarms to which officers respond. The council felt such a program would punish all burglar alarmed homeowners for the actions of irresponsible ones. Members also were against the idea of the city charging for each time an officer is called out to a false alarm unless it occurs frequently.

Regarding the section on noise, the council continued to wrestle with how to restrict loud music played on radios, stereos and other sound amplification devices. While the change forbids anyone playing loud music to the point that it annoys neighbors, Ryno held to her belief any mention of time parameters from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. is confusing to anyone reading the section.

“If they can be turned in any time – even during the day – for loud music, then why do we have that time period in there?” asked Ryno.

Wells explained that loud music played between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. will automatically be deemed a nuisance while loud music played outside those time parameters will be a nuisance if it bothers others 50 feet away.

“It can’t be a nuisance any time of the day,” clarified Wells.

Kline said a person would have to read the code section three or four times to understand it but he said he liked the layers of protection against unwanted noise.

“The section is really clear – disturbing the peace is not allowed using a radio, period,” added Wells.

City Attorney Hallinan commented that noise and property rights are a delicate balance. He cited how the noise from kids playing in a backyard pool can be just as annoying as the guy playing the radio but that residents have rights.

The council resisted the urging of Ceres resident Paula Redfern to require grocery stores to install wheel locks on carts so they can’t be rolled off of the premises and left scattered throughout town. The council said such devices are expensive and won’t force businesses to take those actions.

Wells initiated a discussion about new code language that “is significantly more restrictive on the repairs that can be done in a residential district.”

“We do not have this level of restriction today,” Wells told the council.

Ryno said it makes sense to not want anyone working on a car in a driveway but Kline disagreed, saying he changes his car’s oil in his driveway.

The council ended up agreeing that car repairs can be made behind a closed garage or out of public view but routine maintenance like oil changes may occur in the driveway. The task before the city is adding a definition of “routine maintenance.”

Three members of the council also favored banning the parking of vehicles and boats on lawns. Durossette said parking on a lawn looks “tacky” but Kline said sometimes his family resorts to parking on his lawn.

Considerable time was spent on dealing with abandoned or non-operative vehicles in driveways. Previously the council determined that a person may keep an abandoned vehicle in their driveway with a fitted and maintained car cover as long as the vehicle is licensed and registered with the state Department of Motor Vehicles as non-op status.

Ceres resident John Warren, a retired California Highway Patrol officer, chastised the council about the proposed change.

“What this does is allows someone to put a piece of junk in their driveway, get a non-op permit, cover it and it’s (parked) forever,” said Warren. He said many people keep on their lot junkers “that’s never going to be repaired.” Warren suggested behind the fence. He suggested devices like requiring a permit at $1,000 to discourage people from leaving junk cars in the driveway “forever.”

Kline said he understands Warren’s concerns.

“I don’t want a rundown wrecked vehicle next to me that is going to collect cobwebs and everything else that comes with it, but again it goes back to what I discussed last time about a collector car,” said Kline. He suggested that cars which have no collector value or sitting in driveways without engines or transmissions “be disposed of.”

Ryno argued for a degree of latitude, citing the example of deployed military service personnel who wants to leave a vehicle in “mom and dad’s driveway” but doesn’t want to pay registration fees and opts to register it as non-op and not pay insurance until they return.

Warren lobbied for a “common sense approach” that bans vehicles that cannot be driven.

The council wrapped up its discussion by having staff come up with possible time limitations or permits for “abandoned” vehicles sitting in driveways.

On Dec. 9 the City Council will discuss Title 5, Business License and Regulations.