Planning Commission Preview - Code Enforcement

Dr. Jim Gardner
Dr. Jim Gardner

The newly constituted Planning Commission (PC) will hold its first meeting Thursday night at 7 pm and there are a few items of interest. Code enforcement will discuss their results for 2013 and the City staff will report back on the issue of residential parking, a carryover from the October 24th meeting. In addition, the PC will reorganize, provide a review of the past year, and select new officers. Visitors are encouraged to wear black during the “Year in Review” part of the meeting, because it was the worst year in the history of the PC with more resignations, more overturned decisions, more cancellations and absences, etc.  

(BTW – there is no truth to the rumors that all future meetings of the PC will take place at Lake 2.)

Today we’ll discuss Code Enforcement since there is a wealth of information in that report. Tomorrow we’ll discuss proposed changes to residential parking regulations. Both of these issues impact our daily lives which is why I’m devoting more than one article to the PC meeting this week.


Code enforcement handles all the nasty business that makes the City a less pleasant place to live. Unkempt properties, abandoned cars, noisy parties, illegal construction, over-sized signs, graffiti, and shopping carts left on your lawn all fall to the code enforcement section of the City.

According to the City, in 2013 there were 751 new cases added to the 137 left over from 2012, and during the year the City closed 659 cases. By my reckoning that’s a 74% clearance rate, which looks pretty good, although we started 2014 with 229 unresolved cases which is an increase of 67% over the 137 that we had left over from the previous year. Nonetheless, 74% clearance looks pretty good. Compare that to the clearance rates for the Sheriff in Lake Forest which is only 26% for Part 1 (more serious) crimes and 72% for Part 2 (less serious) crimes.

Bear in mind, the City's criteria for "closed" cases doesn't necessarily reflect the City's efforts, as often times problems are resolved anyway (e.g., a unlicensed car gets sold, a home business moves, etc.), but nonetheless, 74% looks pretty good.


Based on the City data here is the distribution of the code enforcement problems by type.

  • Property Maintenance – 51%
  • Shopping Carts – 12%
  • Signage – 13%
  • Public Nuisance – 7%
  • Illegal Construction – 7%
  • Zoning – 5%
  • Other – 5%



The overall trends (2009-2013) are fewer cases in each category, with more dramatic reductions in Shopping Cart violations and Signage, and the least changes in Illegal Construction.

It's been suggested by one person that the decline in cases over time may not be due to a better job, but less enforcement. There is no way to tell from the data what the cause is. Hopefully it is doing a better job.


In terms of geographic distribution here are some interesting observations I made (which are not reflected in the City’s narrative, but which can be gleaned by looking at the City’s mapping data)

  • “Public Nuisance”, “Illegal Construction”, and “Zoning Cases” tend to occur West of the railroad tracks and are rare in FHR and PH.

  • “Signage” tends to occur everywhere.

  • Most “Shopping Cart” problems happen around Towne Center and along El Toro.

  • “Property Maintenance” cases appear to happen in most places in proportion to the population.

In general, with some exceptions, the tracts with the most code violations are the tracts closest to the railroad tracks. The areas of the city with the least code enforcement problems are Foothill Ranch and Portola Hills.

In terms of overall geographic analysis, Code enforcement looks at only two areas – the area East of the railroad tracks (called “Area 1”) and the area West of the tracks (called “Area 2”). Why they look at only 2 global areas is not explained. Indeed, Area 1 contains 13 census tracts and Area 2 contains only 3 census tracts, so any comparisons must take into account the differences in size, population, density, and the demographic differences (e.g., household size, income, education). IOW – comparisons are impossible.

Doing the impossible, the City nonetheless notes that Area 1 contains 42% of all cases (317/751) while Area 2 contains 58% (434/751). In Area 1 non-residential exceeds residential (52% vs. 48%) while in Area 2, residential is far in excess of non-residential (71% vs. 29%).



The City’s report is chock full of data, but there are some data that are missing that would be instructive. For example –

  • What is the clearance rate by census tract? If there are differences, why? It may well be that some techniques will be more effective in different tracts, and knowing the base rate for each tract would allow Code Enforcement to do an even better job (although 74% is not shabby).

  • What are the trends by census tract? The City only looks at overall trends, but overall trends may mask significant differences in specific tracts. This analysis would be useful in identifying those tracts where violations are increasing, and hence might require more attention.

For the City it’s a pretty good report. You’ll recall I severely criticized some recent city reports (e.g., CNF Fueling, Traffic Signal, and Traffic Committee) but this report is more than adequate. Kudos to Lou Kirk (Code Enforcement Supervisor), Jim Wren (Public Safety Manager) and Dave Belmer (Assistant City Manager) who are responsible for the report.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the proposed changes in residential parking regulations. Parking impacts all of us. You won’t want to miss this report.



Finally, it’s appropriate give a big “THANK YOU” to Chairperson Jerry Verplancke who is the only veteran left on the Planning Commission, following the removal by the Council of Dave Carter and Terry Anderson and the subsequent resignation by Tom Hughes and Jerry Zechmeister. Jerry is now the lone veteran, sitting through meetings with people who have little if any training or background in Planning, many of whom put the interests of businesses above the quality of life for our residents. Jerry is the voice of wisdom and experience and the City is lucky to have him. He manages to weight business interests and the welfare of residents in a thoughtful and measured manner, and while we don’t agree on every issue, it’s clear where his priorities are.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jim Sparks February 27, 2014 at 12:05 PM
Dr. Jim, How is the city manager selected and have you ever considered applying for the position? Keep up good work.
Jim Gardner February 27, 2014 at 12:34 PM
Hi Jim. The City Manager is selected by the Council, as is the City Attorney. Everyone else is selected by the City Manager. And no, I have never even vaguely considered applying for the job. BTW - while I criticize Mr. Dunek whenever he makes what I considered to be decisions not in the best interests of the City, or fails to properly conduct a meeting, or fails to supervise some of the terrible reports which the City staff create, there are many things he does well. I am always advocating for making the City a better place to live. It's not a "bad" place to live and some of that credit must go to Mr. Dunek. I am trying to hold him to a higher standard of performance, so most of my comments are constructive criticism. I believe when I identify problems or highlight failings I simultaneously suggest better ways to do things. Mr. Dunek is a bright, educated, and dedicated man, but like most of us, he could do a better job and that is what I usually urge him to do.


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