OAKLAND -- City leaders say they are well on their way to cleaning up the department responsible for handling inspections and code violations after a scathing review last year by the Alameda County civil grand jury.
"We have fundamentally changed our Building Services operations to provide fair, transparent and accountable services that Oakland residents deserve," Mayor Jean Quan said in advance of a Tuesday news conference about the city's reform effort.
Code enforcers have been retrained and ordered to focus on major public health and safety problems and nuisances caused by foreclosures. The city also has revamped how code enforcers interact with city residents and reformed the process for appealing nuisance findings and hiring contractors to address blight.
Next year the city intends to roll out an online data management system, accessible to both residents and inspectors, that will make the work of inspectors more transparent.
The reforms are in response to a 2011 grand jury review that faulted Oakland for slapping excessive liens on properties, denying residents a fair opportunity to appeal blight findings and awarding a disproportionate number of blight abatement contracts to a contractor, who had ties to the city's former Building Services manager.
The grand jury found similar problems with the department in a review 11 years earlier.
This time around, city leaders say they are committed to reforming the department. The city spent nearly $150,000 on two consultant reviews and initiated a task force that included contractors, architects and residents to help with reforms.
Code enforcement officials can no longer record liens against properties before issuing abatement notices or before property owners have a chance to appeal the blight abatement order. All appeals are now being heard by third party hearing officers, rather than city staffers. And the city is rotating blight abatement contracts among several contractors to prevent any favoritism.
Antoinette Renwick, the former Building Services Manager who had taken out a personal loan from the contractor who landed the majority of hauling and demolition business, resigned in 2010.
City officials said Tuesday that no one has been fired over the grand jury report, although a few other employees are still under investigation.
Assistant City Manager Fred Blackwell said that while code enforcement officers took most of the blame for the report, many of the issues stemmed from systemic failures, such as the lack of midlevel supervisors that are now being addressed.
"When these reforms really start to be felt at the community level," he said, "I think they will show that this is not about mistrust or not being able to work with inspectors."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6345.