CEOSF Winter Newsletter: Written byValerie D. Escalante Troesh, J.D. & L.L.M.
On October 7, 2021, California’s Governor signed into law Senate Bill 296 requiring each local jurisdiction that employs code enforcement officers to develop safety standards appropriate for the code enforcement officers employed in their jurisdiction. Since then, many local jurisdictions in the State have been developing, augmenting, and/or refining their code enforcement officer safety standards in anticipation of the January 1, 2022 effective date. This legislation is groundbreaking in the State and a model for other jurisdictions across the nation looking to adopt legislation expressly protecting local code enforcement teams
(or a model for individuals or code enforcement interest groups in other jurisdictions to push for such legislation).
The text of the new law is key—short, simple, and offering local jurisdictions the discretion needed to create safety standards that meet their specific needs and abilities. Adding a new section to California’s Penal Code—Section 829.7—the new law reads: Each local jurisdiction that employs code enforcement officers shall develop code enforcement officer safety standards appropriate for the code enforcement officers employed in their jurisdiction. This newly added section falls within Chapter 4.2, Title 3, Part 2 of the California Penal Code covering additional provisions regarding criminal procedure related to code enforcement officers.
Its neighboring section in Chapter 4.2, Section 829.5, defines a “code enforcement officer.” This definition section, which was adopted years ago, offers a clear and broad definition of who is a considered a code enforcement officer in the State: “any person who is not described in Chapter 4.5 [relating to Peace Officers in the State] … and who is employed by any governmental subdivision, public or quasi-public corporation, public agency, public service corporation, any town, city, county, or municipal corporation, whether incorporated or chartered, who has enforcement authority for health, safety, and welfare requirements, whose duties include enforcement of any statute, rule, regulation, or standard, and who is authorized to issue citations, or file formal complaints” and “any person who is employed by the Department of Housing and Community Development who has enforcement authority for health, safety, and welfare requirements pursuant to” various provisions under the California Health and Safety Code.
The new safety standard law does not proscribe the safety standards that must be used, rather it leaves that up to each local jurisdiction. As code enforcement officers across California’s numerous local jurisdictions are faced with different safety threats and as each public agency may have different approaches to safety standards for their jurisdiction, this new law accounts for this diversity in hazards and processes.
Consider: Code enforcement officers may be charged with dealing with one or more of the following: property maintenance; substandard housing; bed bug and rodent infestations; mold and lead abatement; illegal cannabis grows; and environmental hazards and discharges, among other issues. Code enforcement officers may deal with residential, commercial, industrial, and/or other types of land uses, including vacant lands. They may also deal with hostile violators—ranging from verbal threats to physical attacks—compliant violators, or any mix between. Code enforcement officers can serve a wide range of jurisdictional size and nature, e.g., rural, suburban, big city. Code enforcement officers may have a range of training and resources available. Penal Code section 829.7’s delegation of developing specific standards to local jurisdictions allows each local jurisdictions’ unique circumstances dictate what is developed—a tailored approach.
California’s new safety standards law is a huge accomplishment in the State in protecting code enforcement officers. For other jurisdictions across the nation without such law in the books, California Penal Code section 829.7 can serve as a great model to get started.
This article is not intended to provide legal advice. It is provided for informational purposes only.
About the Author
Valerie D. Escalante Troesh is a specialized code enforcement attorney and partner with Silver & Wright Law LLP in California. She has extensive experience litigating in California and Federal courts and has represented public agencies in matters ranging from affirmative nuisance abatement actions, receiverships, to defensive suits when code and law enforcement officers are challenged in their duties on the field. Valerie has also helped public agencies obtain WVROs in California State Court to protect employees from threats of violence in the workplace. She is also the Legal Director of Code Enforcement Officer Safety Foundation. The author can be reached at: VEscalanteTroesh@SilverWrightLaw.com.