Mad River Union
BAYSIDE – The clean-up of a nuisance property on Golf Course Road in Bayside was highlighted as an achievement by county code enforcement staff during a report to the Board of Supervisors.
Differing views on the performance of the county’s Code Enforcement Unit were presented to supervisors at their July 14 meeting. The validity of cannabis-related enforcement actions was questioned by some residents but general nuisance abatement hasn’t triggered controversy.
One of the notable actions detailed by Karen Meynell, the county’s code enforcement supervisor, involved a litany of high-profile nuisances at the Bayside property.
The problem site hosted “junk vehicles, solid waste, burning of household garbage and toxic materials, vicious dogs, drug activity, an unpermitted second dwelling unit, an unpermitted shop, people living in an unpermitted travel trailer, an unpermitted septic system and numerous subjects living on the property with traffic in and out at all times of the day and night,” said Meynell.
Sheriff’s deputies had been called to the property several times to respond to “assaults, firearms, stolen vehicles and drug sales,” she continued.
“Near-complete abatement” was accomplished by working with the property owner over the last two years, she said.
The effort included over 20 inspections and the removal of 31 junk vehicles and “tons of solid waste, including a 30-yard dump truck filled with waste.”
Supervisor Mike Wilson credited code enforcement staff with “doing an amazing job in an extremely challenging space there, with all kinds of dysfunctions occurring from an environmental perspective and a public health perspective.”
He said that “the whole neighborhood has been really traumatized by a lot of the behaviors and things that were occurring.” Code enforcement staff handled the challenging situation “in a really compassionate way,” he continued, doing outreach to the property’s residents and referring them to social service programs.
Homeless camps had also been mentioned as a code enforcement issue. Supervisor Steve Madrone said the county’s Department of Health and Human Services has been “really active” in distributing tents and sleeping bags to people during the COVID-19 crisis.
“And when people come to the McKinleyville Family Resource Center to get their tents and sleeping bags, they often ask, ‘OK, so where do I set it up?’” he related. “And there simply is no place that’s legal for them to set it up.”
A similar situation is also seen in Arcata, he continued. “So unless we do start providing places for people, I don’t know what we expect these folks to do in terms of surviving,” Madrone said. “They’re either going to be in the woods, on abandoned or vacant parcels, or they’re going to be in storefronts.”
The discussion also included debates on cannabis-related code enforcement. The most controversial enforcement activity has been from the Humboldt Environmental Impact Reduction (HEIR) Team, which carries out enforcement in response to cannabis-related violations.
Meynell broke down the numbers on the team’s enforcement.
Since August 2017, HEIR team served notice on 972 violations, 136 in collaboration with law enforcement agencies.
The HEIR team has referred 83 properties to law enforcement, 27 of them within the last month.
Law enforcement has acted on 21 of the referrals, serving search warrants.
Meynell said her department is “aware of citizens concerns about” false positives” but she said out of 972 HEIR cases, there have been fewer than 20 cases where “we have rescinded notices (of violation) due to false positives.”
She added, “At worst, our error rate was 2 to 3 percent which means that 97 percent of the time we have a very good success rate.”
Enforcement of HEIR cases, including liens, has led to about $35 million in penalties. Meynell said most of it is due to property owners ignoring violation notices.
But during a public comment session, Southern Humboldt residents took issue with the presentation, describing their knowledge and experience with what they described unfounded code enforcement actions.
Planning Director John Ford disputed the accusations of edgy enforcement, suggesting they’re inevitable even when carrying out valid code enforcement.
“To a certain extent, code enforcement has been effective and that is causing people to be uncomfortable and so we become the villain,” he said. “But I don’t think the way we go about our job is in a villainous way and I don’t think it’s been heavy-handed.
Southern Humboldt residents had also questioned why there haven’t been code enforcement reports in recent years. Supervisors agreed the reports should be annual and voted to direct staff to make them so.