CITYWIDE — It’s hard to get Joe Trujillo, who was a Marine for 24 years before getting into the business of municipal code compliance, to say he needs more hands, but the numbers tell the story.
Since October 2011, when Trujillo took the head spot in the Code Compliance Division, he’s been enforcing the municipal code cover to cover, not just building and zoning violations as was the focus previously. He’s added a detail on Saturdays and hopes to soon add one on Sundays. And, in a division that currently employs 13, he’s short three members: two officers and a supervisor.
That means that Code Compliance is performing more duties while at 81 percent capacity. And remember that ordinance that will limit fitness trainers in public parks in 2014? Somebody has to enforce it, so more duties are coming.
“When I came in here, I knew we were going to be biting off a big chunk,” Trujillo said. “I knew there was going to be a point where we were going to be running low on gas, and we’re at that point now, but I see the gas station down the block.”
Planning Director David Martin, Trujillo’s supervisor, said that they are currently recruiting two officers to fill the vacancies.
Building and zoning code enforcement is still the division’s bread and butter, Trujillo said, but the other duties are adding up.
Some of the items added to the plate come from new ordinances, like the ban on plastic bags and Styrofoam, as well as leaf blowers. Others are a result of the division’s shift toward community policing; taking on tasks previously performed by the police, the Office Sustainability and the Environment, or no one at all.
The division is also getting new threads and a name change to go with its new roles. Soon, they’ll ditch their tan polos and black trousers for distinctive badged uniforms with “Code Enforcement” (not “Compliance”) emblazoned on them.
Officers now patrol the beach, checking food vendors for the requisite county food permits. They perform more stings, going undercover at the Palihouse hotel to try and order booze or flagging down bandit cabs, previously a job of the police department.
A new staff assistant, one gain from the 2013-14 budget, is surfing the web for illegal short-term vacation rentals and helping to reorganize the way Code Compliance tracks violations.
His superiors, Martin and City Manager Rod Gould, are receptive to his needs, he said.
Up to this point he’s been focused on doing little things to make the division more efficient: if an officer needs to check a restaurant’s business license, they also check for polystyrene and signage while they’re there. But, he said, he’s getting to the end of the line with what he’s able to do using his given resources.
“You always do the most with what you have and you don’t ask for more unless you absolutely need it,” he said, giving an example of something he learned as a Marine. “That’s where we’re at now. We’ve done the most we can with what we have and maybe now it’s time to ask.”
Once he’s fully staffed he’ll reevaluate the division’s needs to see if perhaps Code Compliance must grow to meet all the additional tasks it has taken on.
“For the amount that we’re doing, to do it effectively, the way this city deserves, I would certainly say that we’ll either need to shift some things around or to possibly tell people that there’s things that we just can’t do because we don’t have the resources,” he said
Martin said that they will assess the needs of the division and determine if the additions are necessary.
“If so, we will make such a request to City Council in the context of their budget review,” he said in an e-mail. “At this point I’m not sure if additional resources will be needed or requested.”
Trujillo won’t point to a single most significant code enforcing victory from his first two years on the job but he’s most proud of the division’s attitude shift.
“To be honest with you, code enforcement, when it started, it was a dumping ground for people, it was a place where you would put people that you couldn’t get to do anything else or didn’t want to do anything else,” he said.
Now, he said, his officers are constantly on the street, partially because they’ve got so much to do, but also because they’ve come to value their role in the community.
He relayed a story of a woman who called his office on the first day of school this year, worried that the Doubletree’s shrubs were encroaching on a sidewalk often used by students. His officer, instead of simply sending a generic notice, got hold of a Doubletree worker who trimmed the vegetation before school the next day. The woman sent a simple thank-you card, which Trujillo said meant a lot to the officer.
“I know there’s a lot of thankless jobs in this city, but this has got to be one of the most thankless jobs that are out there,” he said. “Nobody likes to see us. Nobody is sending us a box of See’s Candy at Christmas. But sometimes there are these small thank-yous that come through.”