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Council nears end of the Municipal Code update
• Citizen calls for more restrictions on the parking of inoperable vehicles in driveways
ceres city seal

Nearing the end of the long process of updating the Ceres Municipal Code, last week the Ceres City Council held public hearings on proposed changes to Titles 3, 5, 12, 15, 16, 17 and 18.

City Manager Toby Wells said the city is “at the bottom of the hill” in the process before first tackling Title 5 (Buildings and Construction) and Title 12 (Streets and Sidewalks). 

Wells explained that a new chapter has been added regarding sidewalk vending while the section on mobile food vending has been changed substantially to jive with SB 946 passed by the California State Legislature. The new state law ties the hands of cities in controlling peddlers selling items on the street. The state does allow the city to require a business license and insurance. Food street vendors still are required to have a permit from the county Health Department.

SB 946 dictates what cities can and cannot charge for a business license, Wells noted. 

Earlier this year the council decided to not treat the business license section as a regulatory function and leave it solely for revenue purposes. As it was drafted, the changes would have taken on a more regulatory function.

Another change allows the city manager discretion on giving the number of yard sales permitted at a single residence. In the past the law has been no more than two yard sales in a calendar year. Wells said there’s been situations were a tenant used up their allotment of two sales, the owner took occupation in the house only be rejected on a request to hold a sale. He said the two per year limit has been problematic in situations where a homeowner has had his quota of sales, died and then the surviving family been unable to have an estate sale at the same residence that year. The new change gives leeway if unique situations can be demonstrated.

The code was also clarified to make it clear that outdoor marijuana cultivation in Ceres is not allowed.

John Warren wondered how the law will prevent a vendor he saw blocking most of the sidewalk on Hatch Road opposite the closed Kmart building. He was told the city has a list of requirements that coincide with state law.

The changes were approved 5-0.

The next grouping looked at Title 15 (Buildings and Construction), Title 16 (Benefit Assessment Districts), Title 17 (Subdivisions) and Title 3 (Revenue and Finance).

Many of the changes to the building code were caused by changes to the California Building Code.

Under Title 17, the council is allowing the Ceres Planning Commission to approve lot line adjustments.

With the approval, the changes will be formally adopted on March 23.

Title 18 received the most attention of the evening. Before reviewing the changes, Wells commented: “I feel like I need to have a celebration once this is done because it’s just been a ton of work.”

Some of the key changes:

• The city is inserting changes to require future proposals for methadone clinics to seek a conditional use permit before they can operate in any zone. (They already cannot be located in residential zones).

• An update of the Sign Code to reflect the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert. Specifically, cities no longer have the ability to restrict signs for cultural, non-profit organizations or religious events or purposes as a free speech right.

• Increasing the allowable height of freeway oriented monument signs from 50 to 85 feet and the allowable size of the face of such signs from 180 square feet to 500.

• Allow someone to build a seven-foot-tall fence not to exceed eight feet from the lowest lot side.

• Allow smaller lot sizes for corner duplex lots in newer subdivisions. The minimum lot size is dropping from 9,000 square feet to 8,000 square feet.

• Defines limitations on PODs. A portable outdoor storage unit shall not exceed eight feet in width, 16 feet in length or eight feet in height. A shipping container shall not exceed eight feet in width, 20 feet in length or eight in height. The council, however, said it is willing to “grandfather” in existing units which exceed that size. PODs are permitted in the front yard on a 30- to 90-day basis while shipping containers are allowed in the back yard all the time.

Warren criticized the council over a more lax treatment of non-operable cars sitting in a driveway versus the city’s treatment of PODS as an eyesore. Wells said the city’s laws do not satisfy all problems that neighbors may have with one another.

“What we’ve found this whole process is trying to find balance,” said Wells.

Mayor Chris Vierra agreed, remembering the time years ago when citizens protested proposed RV parking restrictions on private property.

“For every complaint Mr. Warren has, there are just as many people that say, ‘Get out of my business, government.’”

Vierra then said it was apparent that Warren has an issue with the aesthetics of his neighbors, to which Warren said “It’s not necessarily with any of my neighbors; it’s with this entire city. You go over there on Rose Avenue south of Garrison and take a look at those properties there with three of those up on jacks and doing mechanical work and when someone reports that to the city code enforcement nothing gets done.”

Wells reminded everyone that the city was adding new restrictions which outlaw anyone from major mechanical work on vehicles in public view. Such work can take place in a closed garage or behind a fence.