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Municipal Code update process is painstaking
• Meetings are long and the process will take months
Conditions of blight -- such as this overwhelming case of ugly -- are being addressed in the Ceres Municipal Code update. - photo by Jeff Benziger

The update of the Ceres Municipal Code has been a painstaking process which has lengthened council meetings by hours which have produced little in the way of ground-shaking changes so far.

However the Oct. 28 meeting will have the council making decisions about Title 6 of the code book and the controversial topic of garbage can placement will be finalized.

At a meeting in September only four members of the council were present with members split down the middle about relaxing the local law that residents keep garbage containers – called wastewheelers – out of public view on non-collection days. Vice Mayor Linda Ryno and Councilman Channce Condit favor keeping cans out of public view while Bret Durossette and Mike Kline want to do away with it. Mayor Chris Vierra – who has been absent lately tending to a family member’s medical emergency – is expected to attend and break the tie.

The four members of the council spent hours last week’s meeting poring over sections of the code, asking questions, wordsmithing and at times inserting or removing words and correcting typos, such as adding a space between words.

The council took on sections dealing with “Public Peace, Safety and Morals,” “Vehicles and Traffic,” and code enforcement. Few key changes were made.

Members were resistant to using some model ordinances from other cities that would burden different segments of society. For example, the council rejected the idea of homeowners applying for a permit through the police department in an effort to get a handle on false alarms to which officers respond. Ryno said such a program would punish all homeowners with burglar alarms for the actions of the irresponsible ones. Wells offered that the idea is to “get responsible ownership.” Members also were cool to the idea of the city charging for each time an officer is called out to a false alarm unless it occurs frequently.

She noted that the city of Manteca has a simple program for owners to register contact information at no charge.

Wells said the city’s current policy is in the middle to lax in terms of other cities’ policies.

“I think we should leave it the way it is and if there are three times a year (for false alarms) that they can be charged,” said Ryno.

The council also steering clear of a more onerous program that would have businesses with shopping carts develop a plan and inventory records in an effort to keep carts from leaving the premises. Councilman Mike Kline stated his opposition to forcing stores to buy carts with wheel locks to prevent people from rolling them out the a shopping center parking lot, noting there expense at around $600 apiece. The code already calls for stores to post signs near exit doors that states it is unlawful to remove carts from the premises – but the council didn’t want to go so far as to dictate the size of those signs.

“I would just like us to enforce it but not necessarily create all this additional work for the limited number of people we have in code enforcement,” said Ryno.

Kline agreed, saying more creating more paperwork would keep code enforcement from being in the field to do its jobs.

Wells said some merchants in other cities have successfully controlled carts through a coin deposit mechanisms to dispense carts and return the coinage when returned to the corral.

Ryno also added that the code needs some kind of modification “because we have a problem with shopping carts.”

Condit mentioned possibly charging a “finder’s fee” if the city has to retrieve and impound shopping carts scattered around town.

The municipal code makes it illegal for anyone to wheel off a cart from that store’s parking lot but enforcement is not a high priority and an officer has to witness the violation.

The subject of noise generated much discussion. Ryno expressed concern that wording of the existing code gives some residents the false notion that they may play loud music up to 11 p.m. That’s because, she said, the code gives a time that loud music cannot be played at any time between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. “in such a manner as to be plainly audible at a distance of 50 feet from the source. She wants to strike any mention of time to not give anyone a chance to argue for loud music up until 11 p.m.

“I believe that people have the misunderstanding that they can blast their music until 11 because it says right here ’11 o’clock.’ They don’t see the very beginning where it says ‘any time.’”

Ryno also had issue with the 50 feet distance for noise, saying that could be too close a distance from someone blasting noise. City Attorney Tom Hallinan suggested eliminating the distance, an idea that Ryno liked. Later the council came down to replacing 50 feet with “reasonable distance.”

Durossette suggested a more lenient approach when he said: “I’ll be darned if I’m a councilperson to say, ‘Listen, we gotta be quiet in Ceres.’ This is a vibrant community; a lot of things are taking place. And I get it: noise is a pain.”

Ryno retorted “obviously you don’t have neighbors that you try talking to and they continue to still blast their music at 2 in the morning and you’re left with no recourse to call the police.”

She added that she knows some officers who go out on loud music calls are confronted by citizens who refer to the time mentioned in the code.

With Ryno and Condit pitted against Kline and Durossette, the matter of the wording was directed to the city attorney to attempt to resolve the perceived conflict in wording.

A fair amount of discussion was spent on abandoned vehicle policy. Ryno and Condit favor code language that would make it unacceptable for owners to keep abandoned vehicles on their property covered up with a tarp. An answer they favored was a well-fitting car cover.

“A tarp, to me, is just as bad as a junked vehicle,” said Ryno, who is hoping for tools to curb the amount of “abandoned” vehicles sitting in driveways.

City Engineer Daniel Padilla suggested that the city end the practice of painting curbs blue to signify a handicapped parking space. Blue curbs make the city liable since the parking area may not necessarily by accessible by ADA standards, Padilla said. ADA stands for Americans with Disabilities Act which dictates measurements and ramp slopes and other laws to help the disabled move around.

City Manager Toby Wells said there are hundreds of blue curbs painted all over Ceres which don’t meet ADA standards. He said the city wouldn’t be removing existing blue curbs but wouldn’t be allowing new ones.

Because laws are changing at the state level, the city will be removing a section dealing with aggressive panhandling. Wells said a handful of cases will determine the legal fallout of laws against begging.

“As it stands today it’s very unlikely that our ordinance would hold up to any legal scrutiny with court cases that have already been settled,” said Wells.

 City Attorney Hallinan said cities have “a lot of these issues – the panhandling, the camping – that can be resolved in the next year or so.”

Cities are awaiting the California State Supreme Court to resolve legal matters surrounding those laws.

The council also is expected to clarify a section of code that forbids residents from parking cars on lawns. Wells said the code exists but is not as clear as it should be and will be rewritten as part of Title 19.

“We had some folks who have argued the language and the way the ordinance is written so we want to make it absolutely crystal clear,” said Wells.

The code will also be rewritten to clarify how much front yard may be paved over with concrete. Currently residents may not pave over more than 50 percent of the front yard.