At its Jan. 17 meeting, the Winters City Council closed a missing link in the city’s municipal code, officially adding a California Government Code-aligned schedule of fines for violations of the municipal code. In addition, the Council declared a local emergency along with other Yolo County cities in response to the damage brought by this month’s stormy weather.
The meeting, shortened in length due to the three new councilmembers would undergo training in Sacramento, had two principal discussion items. The first, as described in the City Staff recommendation, proposed establishing a schedule of fines for violations of the city code where the city had previously left the fines unestablished. Police Chief John P. Miller presented the proposed addition to the municipal code.
Miller reminded the council that the Winters Police Department recently assumed responsibility for code enforcement and that as they were sorting through the code enforcement laws, noticed a gap in the code. Specifically, the Winters Municipal Code authorizes the city to make violations of the code subject to a fine. The exact amounts for the fines need to be established in a schedule of fines by a resolution of the City Council. However, no administrative fine schedule had been established up to this point for certain code violations, and the police department and city staff suggested the City Council should establish a schedule of fines.
Miller laid out the amounts for the fines — in accordance with the amount for California Government Code violations — with the city staff report providing details on the exact amounts that these fines may cost.
For infraction violations of city ordinances, the first violation would not exceed $100, $200 for a second violation of the same ordinance within one year, and a fine to not exceed $500 for each additional violation of the same ordinance within one year.
For infraction violations of local building and safety codes, a first violation would result in $130, $700 for a second violation of the same ordinance within one year, and a fine to not exceed $1,300 for each additional violation of the same ordinance within one year.
For infraction violations of short-term rental ordinances that pose a public health/safety risk, a fine of no more than $1,500 would be issued for a first violation, $3,000 for a second violation of the same ordinance within one year, and a fine to not exceed $5,000 for each additional violation of the same ordinance within one year of the first violation.
In addition, for violations of short-term rental ordinances that aren’t public health/safety risks — such as failure to register or pay a business license fee — the fine for a first violation is $100, $200 for a second violation of the same ordinance within one year, and a fine not to exceed $500 for each additional violation of the same ordinance within one year would apply.
The staff report included a reminder that “administrative fines or penalties enforced under these sections shall constitute civil debts owed to the City and shall be collectible, and bear interest or penalties for late payment.”
Following the presentation, Miller and City Manager Kathleen Salguero Trepa answered questions from the council.
Councilmember Richard Casavecchia asked Miller how compliance was enforced prior to the fines.
“Truth of the matter is, there wasn’t enforcement,” Miller answered. “We would seek compliance, and when there wasn’t compliance the matter was basically dropped.”
Trepa expounded on his answer adding, “we do try and seek compliance without going to the citation level, this (schedule of fines) just means we have corrected our code.” Trepa noted that code enforcement first contacts the offending party to correct the problem before issuing a citation, so the city could enforce compliance when there weren’t citations and that warnings and time to comply will still be given before citations once the schedule is approved.
Mayor Bill Biasi clarified the point as “we make all due diligence to let the people know they are in violation, and the fine is more of a last resort to enforcement” to which Miller confirmed.
In response to concerns about communicating the change in policy to the residents and the bilingual community, Miller assured that the enforcement notices will be in both English and Spanish.
The proposal was passed unanimously.
State of emergency declaration
Winters City Staff advised the City Council to have the city, along with the three other Yolo County cities, preemptively declare a local emergency in response to the atmospheric river storms that have hit the state.
Trepa explained the declaration would align with a series of emergency proclamations, with Yolo County being included this week in the federally recognized state of emergency area that affects more than 40 counties in the state emergency. The City Staff report notes that declaring this state of emergency is the first step in receiving federal aid and funding for disaster relief.
“I would like to readily admit that we within the city of Winters have not experienced some of the damage and difficulties that other areas have,” Trepa clarified. “However, we are making this recommendation as really a preemptive action, so that should we experience anything within the next 60 days, we are ready.”
Trepa said the city has had costs for dealing with the damage and that FEMA will decide if the costs are high enough to be reimbursed. This measure is retroactive starting from Dec. 27 and that if nothing should go wrong for the remaining time in the declaration, it will simply expire.
The Council adopted the resolution unanimously.