CIVIC CENTER — In Joe Trujillo’s office, everything goes by the book.

The former Marine leads the Code Enforcement Division, City Hall’s newest branch which officials expect to breathe new life into the policing of the city municipal code.

Code Enforcement split off from the Building and Safety Division after the City Council approved the biennial budget in June 2011. It was given a $1.4 million budget for the current fiscal year, and $1.5 million for the next.

The reason was two-fold, said Planning Director David Martin.

“One was to be able to focus on code compliance issues, and having a manager in charge of that division who could focus entirely on code compliance,” Martin said.

The second was freeing up the Building and Safety manager, who had previously overseen code enforcement, so he could focus on permitting and the inspection processes.

The new arrangement allows the division the flexibility to branch out beyond building and safety concerns to get out in front of problems that pop up in neighborhoods and business districts.

Trujillo calls it “community policing.”

“We will be more proactive rather than waiting for a complaint to happen. Everything was complaint-driven in the past,” Trujillo said.

That means two teams of three code enforcement officers each led by a separate higher-ranking officer are organized like beat cops perusing neighborhoods, business districts and even taxi stands to keep an eye out for the violations that City Hall has always known about, but only sporadically enforced.

“We enforce the municipal code,” Trujillo said. “Twenty-four seven might be difficult, but we’re matched up well.”

Trujillo was brought to Santa Monica in October to lead the new division, which is couched under the wider umbrella of the Planning Department.

Since his arrival, code enforcement officers have become a more visible part of the community, creating a third point of contact to City Hall alongside the Santa Monica Police Department’s neighborhood resource officers and the Fire Department’s fire inspectors.

They’ve also been given new uniforms consisting of tan shirts and black pants for easy recognition.

One of Trujillo’s first tasks was to meet his new team and spend the last months of 2011 parsing out what the new division had the manpower to adequately enforce.

The answer, as it turns out, is quite a bit.

Although his team hasn’t expanded its numbers, they have already moved their focus beyond building and safety violations to include illegal sales on public property, the long-contentious issue of signs on sidewalks in business districts and “problem properties” in neighborhoods and beyond.

That definition stretches from bars that don’t shut their music down by the time stipulated in their permits to homes of hoarders whose surfeit of belongings overflow from their houses and into yards and public space.

Since redeploying in the neighborhoods, his teams have identified eight hoarding homes within city limits.

In the business districts, officers have focused on signage and illegal sales set up on public areas.

Approximately two weeks ago, a sweep targeted A-frame signs favored by businesses to draw in customers, and sales held on the grass in front of the California Heritage Museum stopped.

As with many new projects, there was some confusion.

“They didn’t know that sandwich board signs or A-frame signs on private property in the Main Street district are legal,” said Gary Gordon, executive director of the Main Street Business Improvement Association. “They were talking to businesses about those as well as ones which are illegal. It caused quite a stir.”

As of February, Code Enforcement will help police the taxi franchises, a system which allows 300 cabs from five different companies to operate within city limits in exchange for set fares and strict safety requirements.

Trujillo and his team helped inspect over 300 cars to ensure they were in good enough shape to operate on Santa Monica’s roads, and the division will be the point team for violations of the franchise.

If Code Enforcement’s scope of work has changed, so has its hours.

The team spent two weekends keeping an eye out for illegal sales at the intersection of California Avenue and 14th Street, and then walked the streets to the wee hours of the morning to watch out for late-night noise disturbances.

Because the step-up in enforcement is dramatic, Trujillo and his team are focusing on three goals.

The first is to educate the public on who code enforcement is and what they do. Second, officers help those in violation of the municipal code to get into compliance. Finally, they ensure that the individuals or properties remain in compliance.

Trujillo hopes the emphasis will be on education, and that Code Compliance will be the first stop for those searching for information from City Hall.

A website is in the works. Until then, residents can call (310) 458-4984 to reach the new division.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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