Last meeting, Lieutenant Geddings gave us a presentation of the work done by our Community Service Officers, enforcing our nuisance codes. It was heavy on abatement of public safety hazards caused by neglect of properties; once a property is obviously vacant and neglected, it attracts all sorts of trash, dumped by neighbors who are too cheap to use the trash service, and too lazy to haul it to the dump themselves. It also attracts homeless people who carefully do not pick the place up and thereby give away their presence. When neglected long enough, it becomes a fire hazard.
I asked Mr. Geddings by e-mail if the CSOs really like cleaning up health and safety hazards, since they don’t enforce the nuisance weed and litter portions of the code that would keep properties from getting to the hazardous stage. He said that the City can only abate hazards; they can’t enforce neatness and cleanliness. He seemed to be totally unaware of the nuisance weeds and litter portions of our code; he talked about noxious weeds, while the code forbids unsightly and seeding weeds and noxious growth.
I suppose that the CSOs do prefer cleaning up health and safety hazards; as Geddings said, the neighbors greet them as saviors. It has to feel a lot better to be treated as a savior than a nag. But we don’t hire them to allow hazards to develop until they are ripe for salvation. We hire CSOs to be our professional nags between us and our neighbors, to do the necessary evil of telling people to love their neighbors and clean up their mess.
Nuisance codes exist to keep peace between neighbors while nipping health and safety hazards in the bud. To enforce them on a complaint-only basis leads to resentment of neighbors and hazards, since most people won’t complain until it becomes a hazard. It leads to what we have: a town that is a seedy, weedy, littered mess.
The CSOs didn’t decide to stop enforcing the nuisance weed and litter ordinances on their own; it was a management decision. City Managers have come and gone over the last twenty years, but two key figures have been in office the whole time our town has been trashed and gone to seed: Laurel Sampson as Assistant City Manager, now City Manager; and Joe Henner, our Public Safety Chief. Being appointed by the Manager, Mr. Henner enforces what the City Manager wants enforced, so it all comes down to our City Manager, who has been insufficiently concerned about this problem to enforce our ordinances.
Selected Grants Pass Nuisance ordinances:
5.12.050 Weed, Grass, Snow and Ice Removal.
1. No owner or person in charge of property, improved or unimproved, abutting on a public sidewalk or right of way adjacent to a public sidewalk may permit:
A. Snow to remain on the sidewalk for a period longer than the first two hours of daylight after the snow has fallen.
B. Ice to cover or remain on the sidewalk, after the first two hours of daylight after the ice has formed. Such person shall remove ice accumulating on the sidewalk or cover the ice with sand, ashes, or other suitable material to assure safe travel. (Ord. 2901 §9, 1960)
C. Weeds or grass from growing or remaining on the sidewalk for a period longer than two weeks or consisting of a length greater than 6 inches.
2. Property owners and persons in charge of property, improved or unimproved, abutting on right of way adjacent to a public sidewalk shall be responsible for the maintenance of said right of way, including but not limited to: keeping it free from weeds; watering and caring for any plants and trees planted herein; maintaining any groundcover placed by the City; maintaining any groundcover as required by other sections of the Municipal Code or the Grants Pass Development Code. (Ord. 5380 § 18, 2006)
5.12.060 Weeds and Noxious Growth.
No owner or person in charge of property may permit weeds or other noxious vegetation to grow upon his property. It is the duty of an owner or person in charge of property to cut down or to destroy weeds or other noxious vegetation from becoming unsightly, or from becoming a fire hazard, or from maturing or going to seed. (Ord. 2901 §10, 1960)
5.12.070 Scattering Rubbish.
No person may throw, dump, or deposit upon public or private property, and no person may keep on private property, any injurious or offensive substance or any kind of rubbish, (including but not limited to garbage, trash, waste, refuse, and junk), appliances, motor vehicles or parts thereof, building materials, machinery, or any other substance which would mar the appearance, create a stench, or detract from the cleanliness or safety of such property, or would be likely to injure any animal, vehicle, or person traveling upon any public way. (Ord. 2901 §11, 1960; Ord. 4397 §1, 1981) (Ord. 5379 § 18, 2006)