Landlords who have been cited by Fresno inspectors for health and safety violations on their rental properties now face significantly higher penalties if they fail to make the required repairs.
Fresno City Council members unanimously approved the revised fines for code enforcement citations at their meeting Thursday morning. But the council also pushed off the approval of a comprehensive update of the city’s Master Fee Schedule for two weeks because of concerns about how some fee increases for bus service, parks and recreation and other city departments may affect some residents, including low-income families and students.
The Master Fee Schedule sets the charges that the city imposes for everything from admission to major parks to green fees at municipal golf courses and from bus fares to zoning and tract-map fees paid by developers.
The updated code-enforcement fines take effect immediately. The schedule now makes a distinction between nuisance violations, such as overgrown weeds or trash on the property, and more serious health and safety violations. In the new schedule, fines for lesser violations now cost from $250 for a first citation for failing to correct a problem and increase to $1,000 for third and subsequent violations.
For the more serious violations, and the ones of immediate concern to the city, fines start at $800 for a first citation, $1,200 for a second and $1,600 for a third. Additionally, changes to Fresno’s ordinances approved by the City Council two weeks ago allow for those fines to be doubled for landlords who are deemed “egregious violators” with three cases of building or safety code violations on any of their properties within a 12-month period.
“We are finally putting a match that those health and safety violations are being penalized appropriately,” Councilman Lee Brand said of applying higher fines for more serious problems. “That’s a fundamental fairness I think we have to have.”
Some of the other proposed fees, however, prompted concern for some council members.
Councilman Sal Quintero said he thought a new $35 annual pass for senior citizens to drive into regional city parks such as Roeding and Woodward parks could pose a hardship to a population that is growing older as the baby boomer generation ages into retirement. “That $35 is going to be somewhat costly for them,” he said.
Manuel Mollinedo, the city’s parks and recreation director, said the charge represents a lower cost to seniors because there is now only a $50 charge for the annual vehicle pass without any discount for seniors. Still, Quintero asked Mollinedo if the department has analyzed how much demand there is for a senior pass. “If there aren’t that many people taking advantage, I don’t see why we don’t just do away” with a charge for seniors.
Councilman Oliver Baines said he concurred with Quintero’s concern and added his own questions about proposed increases in the cost of swimming lessons for low-income residents at the city’s swimming pools. The city’s staff has suggested raising the price for swimming lessons for children ages 3 and older from $40 per session to $50. For residents who meet low-income qualifications, the charge would rise from $32 to $40.
“I’m a little leery about that much of a fee increase for low-income families,” Baines said. He asked Mollinedo for additional statistics on the numbers of swimming lessons that have been provided under the low-income fees in recent years.
Mollinedo said he would research those figures, but added that “we are so under the market” in terms of what other swim-lessons programs charge in the Fresno area. “Other places charge over $100,” he said.
A new $328 fee for a tree-removal permit caught Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria’s attention. Development and Resource Management Director Jennifer Clark said the fee is aimed primarily at tree removal for commercial developments on private property. Clark said individual homeowners seeking a tree-removal permit would be charged under an hourly formula instead.
But Soria pointed out that the proposed fee schedule doesn’t make a distinction between commercial developers and homeowners who need to remove a tree on their property.
“If we’re going to be imposing a new fee on residents – we didn’t have a permit fee (before),” Soria said. “In terms of charges, it’s a little unfair” to residents. Soria at first asked for a change to the fee program to differentiate between charges for commercial and homeowner projects.
But City Manager Bruce Rudd chimed in that he agreed with Soria and, after a brief conversation with city staff, said “there’s no need for a permit for a private homeowner to remove a tree on their property.”
As council members queued up with additional questions about various fees, Councilman Clint Olivier sought to head off a protracted discussion and suggested approving only the code-enforcement penalties. A two-week delay, he said, would give the council time to meet with department staff to address specific concerns about the proposed fees.
“I think we have enough questions and concerns as council members, I’d like to see this put off for us to discuss these with staff,” he said. “I think that could change this in a positive way.”
The soonest the proposed fee schedule could come back for consideration is the council’s next meeting on Nov. 17.