Tom Butt for Richmond City Council The Tom Butt E-Forum About Tom Butt Platform Endorsements of Richmond Councilmember Tom Butt Accomplishments Contribute to Tom Butt for Richmond City Council Contact Tom Butt Tom Butt Archives
E-Mail Forum
Richmond Loses Will to Keep City Safe, Clean and Solvent
October 18, 2002

Like many cities, Richmond has a bevy of ordinances designed to compel property owners to keep up their property in a manner that will make for a safe, clean and attractive city. The costs of enforcing these ordinances, typically, are intended to be recovered through fees and penalties. Many cities do a pretty good job of his, but Richmond appears to be uniquely challenged.

Indeed, it is not only the responsibility of the administration to enforce the ordinances, which are explicit manifestations of public policy ordained by the City Council, but also to regularly adjust the fees to pay for the cost. Failure to enforce has resulted in a City that is dirtier, scroungier and less safe than it should be, and failure to adjust fees has lost millions of dollars or diverted dollars from other priorities.

The City’s attention, however, is apparently focused on more important things, such as international terrorism, and as a result, both fee adjustment and enforcement have languished. Some examples are:

  • Richmond Municipal Code Chapter 9.48, Vacant Property, is no longer being enforced or implemented. This Chapter was first adopted in 1993. The reason given for non-enforcement was that the City was “fully deployed,” apparently meaning neither staff nor funding was available. This ordinance, however, was intended to be self-funding through fees to be adjusted as needed according to RMC 2.34 and 13.45. The ordinance was also intended to be an effective tool in ensuring the safety and appearance of our neighborhoods. Indeed, the purpose, as declared in the ordinance, is as follows: “The City Council finds, determines and declares: that lots which are unimproved, or which contain structures or improvements which remain unused, vacant or unoccupied for any appreciable period of time frequently become an attractive nuisance to children, a dumping site for garbage and trash, a fire hazard by reason of the overgrowth of weeds, a harborage for rodents, an invitation to derelicts, vagrants and criminals as a temporary abode or as a place to engage in illegal conduct; that such vacant property contributes to the growth of blight within the City, depress market values of surrounding properties, thereby reducing tax revenues, necessitate additional governmental services, including the constant monitoring of such lots, significantly interfere with the use and enjoyment of neighboring properties, create an unhealthy and unsafe condition affecting the public and constitutes an unreasonable use of property and a public nuisance. Protection of the public health, safety and welfare requires the establishment and enforcement of the means by which such nuisance conditions may be promptly identified, prevented and abated.”


  • Richmond Municipal Code Chapter 6.40, Residential Dwelling Unit Inspection is no longer being enforced or implemented. This Chapter was first adopted in 1995 and amended in 1997.  It was supposed to have been reviewed by the City Council in 2000: “After this chapter has been in effect for five years, the Council of the City of Richmond shall review the administration of this chapter in order to determine and assess whether it has achieved its purpose. The Building Official shall refer this matter to the Council for its review within a reasonable time after the chapter has been in effect for five years.” The reasons given for non-enforcement included staff shortages, budget reductions and hiring freezes. I would note, however, that the ordinance was intended to be self funded, and the fees were to be adjusted as needed according to RMC 2.34 and 13.45. We have probably 18,000 to 20,000 rental units in the City of Richmond. Many are the subject of complaints regarding violations of nuisance ordinances. Many are simply illegal units. Others may be unsafe or unfit for occupancy. The ordinance provides for inspection every three years which means we should be processing about 6,000 units per year. In 2001, only 211 units in two buildings were inspected, raising fees totaling $6,710, of which only $2,780 was actually collected. This ordinance was intended to be an effective tool in ensuring the quality of our rental housing stock and the appearance of our neighborhoods.


  • Richmond Municipal Code Chapter 9.50, Weed and Rubbish Abatement, is only being sporadically enforced, and fees and penalties have not been changed in years.


  • Richmond Municipal Code Chapter 9.42, Graffiti, is not being enforced. The City is supposed to charge property owners for graffiti abatement, but instead he total cost comes from the General Fund. The ordinance states: “Assessment and collection of costs. The owner(s) of the property upon which the graffiti has been abated shall become personally indebted to the City for the total costs of abatement as determined by the City Council. If such costs are not paid, the Director of Finance shall have the costs entered upon the assessment roll to be collected at the same time and in the same manner as ordinary municipal taxes are collected. If such costs are not paid, the City Council may, at its option, by resolution, order that all of the costs of abatement shall constitute a lien upon the property from which such abatement occurred and shall direct the Director of Finance to record a certified copy of such resolution in the Recorder's Office of Contra Costa County. The City Attorney shall thereupon proceed for foreclose upon such lien and to collect all of the amounts owing to the City in the manner provided by law.”


In addition to loses on fees for enforcement of inspection, nuisance and abatement ordinances, the city is losing millions for failure to update other fees. For example, the city has not updated business license fees since 1989 and does not fully enforce the licensing requirements, probably costing over $1 million per year in lost revenue. Following are excerpts from some of the Richmond Municipal Code provisions for setting and updating fees and penalties.

2.34.010 Intent.

Pursuant to Article XIIIB of the California Constitution it is the intent of the City Council to require the ascertainment and recovery of costs reasonably borne from fees and charges levied therefore in providing the regulation, products or services hereinafter enumerated in this chapter.

2.34.020 Delegation of authority and direction to City Manager.

The City Manager is hereby delegated the authority and directed to adopt and adjust fees and charges to recover the percentage of costs reasonably borne in providing the regulation, products or services enumerated in this chapter. In adopting and adjusting fees and charges, the City Manager shall act in an administrative and ministerial capacity and shall consider only the standards and criteria established by this chapter.

2.34.030 "Costs reasonably borne" defined.

"Costs reasonably borne," as used in this chapter, shall mean and consist of the following:

(a) All applicable direct costs including, but not limited to salaries, wages, overtime, employee fringe benefits, services and supplies, maintenance and operation expenses, contracted services, special supplies and any other direct expense incurred;

(b) All applicable indirect costs including, but not restricted to, building maintenance and operations, equipment maintenance and operation, communications expenses, computer costs, printing and reproduction, and like expenses when distributed on an accounted and documented rational proration system;

(c) Fixed assets recovery expenses, consisting of depreciation of fixed assets, and additional fixed asset expense recovery charges calculated on the current estimated cost of replacement divided by the approximate life expectancy of the fixed asset. A further additional charge to make up the difference between book value depreciation not previously recovered and reserved in cash and the full cost of replacement, which also shall be calculated and considered a cost so as to recover such unrecovered costs between book value and costs of replacement over the remaining life of the asset;

(d) General overhead, expressed as a percentage, distributing and charging the expenses of the City Council, City Manager, City Clerk, Elections, City Treasurer, Finance Department, City Attorney, unallocated nondepartmental expenses, and all other staff and support service provided to the entire City organization as now organized and as it may be reorganized at any time in the future. Overhead shall be prorated between tax-financed services and fee-financed services on the basis of said percentage so that each of taxes and fees and charges shall proportionately defray such overhead costs;

(e) Departmental overhead, expressed as a percentage, distributing and charging the cost of each department head and his or her supporting expenses as enumerated in subsections (a), (b), and (c) of this section;

(f) Debt service costs, consisting of repayment of principal, payment of interest and trustee fees and administrative expenses for all applicable bond, certificate or securities issues or loans. Any required coverage factors of added reserves beyond basic debt service costs also shall be considered a cost if required by covenant within any securities ordinance, resolution, indenture or general law applicable to the City.


2.34.040 Schedule of fees and service charges.

The City Manager shall review the fees and charges based upon the review schedule set forth below in this section and shall set and adjust the fees or charges so as to recover up to the listed percentage of costs reasonably borne necessary to provide the listed regulation, products or services. The City Manager shall take such other actions as may be necessary to accomplish and to carry out the policy of the City Council established by this chapter.

This document requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.

The hereinabove services as listed in this section shall be as defined in that certain document entitled "Cost control system for the City of Richmond" dated February, 1989, as produced by Management Services Institute, Inc. a copy of which is on file with the Finance Director of the City.

All fees and charges adopted or adjusted pursuant to this section shall take effect after: (1) the City Manager certifies in writing that all provisions of this section have been complied with; (2) the City Manager has published and posted the notice of adoption or adjustment of fees and charges as set forth below; and (3) the time in which an appeal to the City Council has expired or the appeal has been resolved by the City Council, whichever is later.

The schedule of frequency of rate adjustments may be changed by the City Manager: (1) to adjust revenues sufficient to meet debt service coverage requirements of any bond, certificate, ordinance, resolution, indenture, contract or action under which securities have been issued by the City which contain any coverage factor requirement, and (2) if, in the City Manager's judgment, a gross inequity would be perpetrated by the existing rate schedule due to a new or unanticipated event.

(Amended by Ordinance No. 47-89 N.S., 3.91 N.S., 6.91 N.S., 16-93 N.S., 41-95 N.S., and 2-97 N.S.)


2.34.050 Publication and posting of fees and charges.

Upon the adoption or adjustment of any fees and charges hereunder, the City Manager shall have a notice of adoption or adjustment of fees and charges published twice in a newspaper of general circulation within the City, with at least five days intervening between the dates of the first and last publication, and posted in two conspicuous locations in the Richmond City Hall. Said notice shall provide a general explanation of fees and charges and shall provide notification of the right to appeal under Section 2.34.060. The City Manager shall make available to the public appropriate data indicating the cost, or estimated cost, required to support the adoption or adjustment of fees and charges.

2.34.060 Appeal to City Council.

Any person who feels that any fee or charge determined and set by the City Manager is in excess of the percentage of costs reasonably borne to be recovered as set out in Section 2.34.040 may appeal in writing to the City Council within ten days after the date of the last publication of the notice of adoption or adjustment of fees and charges. Upon the filing of an appeal, the City Clerk shall set the matter for hearing before the City Council. Such hearing shall be held within thirty days after the date of filing of the appeal. Upon the conclusion of the hearing, the City Council shall declare its findings based upon the testimony and documents produced before it. The City Council may confirm, modify or reject any adoption or adjustment in fees and charges by the City Manager. The decision of the City Council shall be final.

(Source: Ordinance No. 38-89 N.S.)

13.45.010 Consumer Price Index adjustments.

The Finance Director of the City shall adjust all city levied taxes, fees and charges provided for in the Richmond Municipal Code on a fiscal quarter basis, in accordance with any increase or decrease in the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all urban consumers during the preceding fiscal quarter. The said CPI on January 1, 1978 shall equal 100.

13.45.020 Approval of adjustments by city council.

Each quarter, the finance director shall submit to the City Council a report listing all proposed adjustments for approval. No proposed adjustment shall take effect until it is approved by the City Council. The council may reject, but may not modify, any one or more of the proposed adjustments in any report before approving the adjustments.

(Source: Ordinance No. 20-78 N.S.)