LIVERMORE -- The city is moving ahead with a plan to crack down on drug houses and labs in rental homes and apartments.
The City Council on Monday voted 4-1 to introduce the new law classifying properties used for illegal drug sales, storage and manufacture as public nuisances.
It would give the city attorney authority to take legal action against landlords who refuse to abate drug activities that affect a neighborhood's "quality of life" -- including eviction of the tenant, fines or property closure, at a judge's discretion.
"We need to be able to get these drug dealers out of our community," Mayor John Marchand said. "If you've got the right tool at the right time, it makes things a lot easier."
The action would be initiated by a referral from police. Following a drug arrest, the landlord would be notified and have 30 days to curb the behavior -- including evicting the tenants -- or provide a written response to the city disputing the accusations. If the police determine "an immediate threat to health, safety and welfare," the response time is reduced to 10 days.
Livermore police Chief Mike Harris said the ordinance would be a highly effective tool in uncommon cases when arrests alone don't solve the problem.
"Drug activity ... is detrimental, causes fear, disrupts the community and keeps people from enjoying a quality of life," he said.
Harris said police had issued 126 drug-related search warrants in the past year, and offered up two "egregious" examples of homes police had visited dozens of times in the past year.
Councilwoman Laureen Turner cast the lone dissenting vote, saying she supported the ordinance's intent, but she was concerned the language gives the city too much power.
"I have a tremendous problem with this triggering on an arrest and not a conviction," Turner said. "I strongly believe in innocent until proven guilty."
Harris said the ordinance, patterned after others in Los Angeles, Oakland and Modesto, would be used as a "last resort," adding that waiting for convictions could prolong drug activity.
The meeting drew close to 40 residents. The night's only public speaker, Livermore property manager Ken Bradley -- who handles more than 200 units in the Tri-Valley area -- accused the city of "authorizing a vigilante committee" targeted at landlords.
"It's not there to punish criminals, it's to go around the law when you haven't been able to convict somebody," Bradley said. "The law is already there to take the action that's needed."
Outside the council chambers, Bradley engaged in a spirited debate with North Livermore resident Rebecca Ferris, who said she has spent 30 years trying to break up drug houses in her neighborhood.
"The only thing that has changed anything is going after the landlords," she said. "I look at the ordinance as another tool. Give us all the tools we can get."
The council will make a final decision on the ordinance at its Oct. 28 meeting. If adopted, it would take effect 30 days later.
Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.