Subject: Ordinance Amending the Santa Monica Municipal Code Relating to Penalties for Violations of Certain Sections of the Municipal Code, and Authorizing Additional Job Classifications to Make Arrests and Issue Citations
Tonight Santa Monica City Council has the first reading of an ordinance to change riding on the sidewalk from a misdemeanor to an infraction. See text below
*the item is listed as 7b on the agenda and follows the taxi cab resolution so it won’t be early.
Staff recommends that the City Council introduce for first reading the attached ordinance authorizing certain violations of the Santa Monica Municipal Code to be prosecuted as either infractions or misdemeanors and authorizing additional job classifications to make arrests and issue citations.
Unless otherwise specified, any violation of the Santa Monica Municipal Code is a misdemeanor. This ordinance would allow Santa Monica Police Officers to issue citations as either infractions or misdemeanors for the following violations: 3.12.540 (prohibiting persons from riding bicycles on public sidewalks or in public parking structures); 3.12.370 (prohibiting persons from leaving property or items unattended for longer than ten minutes on certain public property); 3.36.280 (prohibiting persons from being present in public parking structures unless engaged in permitted activities such as parking or unparking a vehicle); or 4.55.130 (relating to the use and enjoyment of the public parks).
City officers and employees occupying specific job classifications are empowered to issue criminal and/or administrative citations to enforce various local laws. This ordinance would expand the list of job classifications to include: Public Works Inspector, Code Enforcement Officer, Code Compliance Officer, and Office of Sustainability and the Environment Inspector.
The City Council received a complaint from a resident who received a misdemeanor citation for riding his bicycle on a public sidewalk. The resident was willing to pay the fine for the citation, but felt that the inconvenience of going to court was disproportionate to the violation. Based on that complaint, Council directed staff to prepare an ordinance modifying the penalty language to allow violations for riding bicycles on public sidewalks to be cited as infractions.
Staff requested input from the Criminal Division of the City Attorney’s Office regarding whether any other sections of the municipal code would be more appropriate as infractions. Based on their experience in court, the Criminal Division suggested revisions to sections 3.12.370, 3.36.280, and 4.55.130 to enable violations of those sections to be cited as infractions.
Currently, Santa Monica Police Officers must issue citations as misdemeanors for any of the above violations. When a person is charged with a misdemeanor, he or she must appear in court to answer the charges. The person does not have the option to pay a fine online or by mail, as is the case with traffic violations.
This ordinance would give officers discretion to issue citations as either misdemeanors or infractions. Treating these violations as infractions will allow the person charged with the offense to resolve the matter in the same way as a traffic violation, by simply paying a fine. This will eliminate the need for the person charged with the offense to appear in court to resolve the matter. This will also eliminate the need for the City to appear in court to prosecute the charge as a misdemeanor.
This ordinance further clarifies the enforcement roles of certain City enforcement staff. It expands the list of persons authorized to issue administrative citations to specifically include Office of Sustainability and the Environment Inspectors, License Inspectors, and Animal Control Officers. It further clarifies that Code Enforcement Officers and Office of Sustainability and the Environment Inspectors and Traffic Service Officers, among many other City enforcement staff, are authorized to issue criminal citations in appropriate situations.
Financial Impacts & Budget Actions
Staff anticipates that making it easier for people charged with an infraction to simply pay the fine, rather than appear in court, will result in an increase in fines collected; however, the amount of fines that will be collected as a result of this ordinance cannot be estimated at this time. Staff further anticipates that the City will have reduced costs associated with personnel time required to prosecute misdemeanor charges.
Prepared by: Roger C. Rees, Deputy City Attorney