The lengthy process of updating the Ceres Municipal Code –expected to take months – began last week and consisted of mostly mundane language changes and cleaning up ambiguous terms.
Because of its large size, the council has decided to update the Ceres Municipal Code sections at a time.
There were a few takeaways from the Aug. 26 discussion as the council focused only on updates to: Chapter 1, Generation Provision; Chapter 2, Administration and Personnel; Chapter 3, Revenue and Finance; Chapter 4, Public Welfare, Safety and Health; Chapter 6, Health and Sanitation; Chapter 8, Animals.
The next discussion will focus on updating Chapter 9, Public Peace, Safety and Morals; Chapter 10, Vehicles and Traffic; and Chapter 19, Code Enforcement.
The Ceres Planning Commission will be asked to weigh in on the update efforts.
Vice Mayor Linda Ryno posed most of the questions about the sections, including rearranging sections for better flow.
There were a few takeaways from the discussion.
Ryno asked why the city manager removal procedure called for offering any fired manager another 30 days of employment and pay before termination when they are given severance pay. City Attorney Tom Hallinan stated that it was modeled after other cities’ practice.
“I would not like to see that in there,” said Ryno.
Councilman Mike Kline agreed.
The council chose not to require department heads to live in Ceres, calling instead for a “reasonable” proximity to Ceres. Hallinan said state law does not allow cities to discriminate against manager candidates because they don’t reside within the city limits.
“My take is, there are three (councilmembers) who don’t want it in there so don’t put it in there,” said Kline.
Ryno also desired keeping the student Planning Commissioner – a non-voting member – in the code. City Manager Toby Wells explained that the program was abandoned following a lack of interest. Ryno wondered if the city was promoting the issue.
When she came upon a new change to place term limits to the Ceres Planning Commission, Ryno balked. Wells said it was modeled after other cities who found it as “best practices.”
“I think if we don’t have term limits for the City Council we shouldn’t do it for the Planning Commission,” said Ryno. She cited the control the council has in not re-appointing individual felt not to be doing a “good job.” Councilman Channce Condit voiced a desire to place term limits on both the City Council and Ceres Planning Commission. He was reminded that council term limits would have to be voted on by the electorate and Condit said he favored it on the ballot. No other member supported his idea.
There was some discussion relating to zoning and change the way the city allows methadone clinics in commercial zones. Earlier in the meeting citizens took nearly an hour of the council’s time to express concerns about a clinic on Mitchell Road which is a permitted use.
Members seemed to agree that methadone clinics should be subjected to a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) which would trigger public hearings and give power to the City Council to reject such an application.
Ryno inquired about the policy set in 2016 to give local firms an advantage in bidding for some goods and services. Years ago the council set a local bidder preference but the wording of the code said preference would be given to firms with business licenses issued in Ceres. Wells said the council needed to define what local is.
“’Local,’ to me, is the community you live in,” said Ryno.
Others who agreed were Condit, Kline and Bret Durossette. Mayor Chris Vierra argued that local firms should include businesses in Stanislaus County.
The city has discretion where to make purchases of under $2,000 since it does not need to go to multiple bids. Contracting for services are a different matter, Wells said, noting local preference cannot legally be applied to public works contracts.
The policy allows the city to give a local bidder 3 percent leeway if they submit a bid higher than a firm outside of Ceres.
When it came time to discuss the discussion on a new section titled “Weed Abatement,” Mayor Vierra got tough on the city itself. The new section calls for “all weeds or other rank growths located upon private property located within the city, or upon sidewalks and streets, and alleys abutting private property within the city, which constitute a fire menace or which are otherwise a menace to health or safety, are a public nuisance and may be abated as provided in this chapter.” Vierra said the city should add itself to the list.
“We shouldn’t sit here and tell people that it is the duty of every owner of private property within the city of Ceres to keep their property clear if we can’t keep our own clear,” said Vierra. “We want a big stick and beat everybody up with it yet we don’t do it ourselves. I just have a problem with it. If we want the city to look nice we have to lead by example and if we’re holding everybody else accountable but not our selves I have a problem with it. I could cite many examples.”
Ryno wondered about consequences and was told it was a citable infraction.
When Vierra pressed for the city to be added, Durossette asked if he was joking.
“No I’m not joking,” replied the mayor. “I’ll show you down our major thoroughfares. It looks terrible yet you’re going to beat up these guys. Sorry, I’m being honest.”
Vierra asked briefly about public nuisances related to cannabis odors. He said some neighbors are reporting odors of pot plants growing in backyards. Wells said Proposition 64 allows cities to determine whether it allows the outdoor cultivation of marijuana and the Ceres Municipal Code prevents that activity.
“Anybody cultivating cannabis for personal use – typically six plants or less, there’s exceptions there – but it has to be indoors under a permit process,” said Wells.
The permit allows the city to regulate any odors escaping from indoor grows.
At times, Ryno appeared to be nitpicking sections of the code. On the section calling for pet owners to pick up their animal waste, she questioned who picks up police canine feces in citizens’ yards while on duty.
She also read aloud a section saying the keeping of chickens “supports our local sustainable food system by providing an affordable and nutritious source of protein through fresh eggs.” Ryno said the council talked about the issue years ago and determined no chickens are allowed.
Hallinan said the new section follows a trend of other cities.
“I think we should leave it the way the code is,” said Ryno.
“No chickens, no goats,” said Vierra.
Wells said the exception is animals grandfathered into annexation areas. That prompted Ryno to suggest that there be a way to document animals so when they die they cannot be replaced.
The mayor brought up the matter of barking dogs, saying Animal Control won’t act on complaints unless the problem is documented. Wells said the city has the option of enacting fines and citations for owners who don’t stop their pets from incessant barking. When the mayor suggested that barking is a problem for many and wanted to see something in the code, Wells said he would research what other cities are doing.
Many cities classify barking dogs as a public nuisance, which is a citable offense. Some city websites seek to educate dog owners on ways to deal with the problem. The city of San Jose, for example, suggests keeping dogs inside the house and that many dogs bark out of boredom and because owners aren’t socializing with it.