Thursday, January 31, 2013

Clean Streets make Clean Stormwater

Speech to Grants Pass City Council, 7/20/2011

            Not long ago, this Council passed new regulations regarding development codes aimed at keeping stormwater runoff into the Rogue River clean.  We now have bio-swales built into new construction projects to settle the sediments from pavements before the water runs off into the river.
            But those codes only affect new development.  Most of our city cannot be readily renovated to clean the water running down the storm drains.  But those streets and gutters can and should be cleaned by the people who live next to them.  This would keep our runoff clean now, not decades down the road.
            Our nuisance code forbids depositing grass clippings and other detritus on streets and sidewalks, but it does not require residents to clean up the leaves and such that naturally fall from trees.  In many places, the residents allow them to build up inches deep; they figure the streets are the city’s responsibility to clean.  They are given this impression by the cleaning trucks that regularly run the main streets and occasionally go down side streets, but many streets never see a street-sweeper.
            As those leaves rot in the gutter, they soak up pollutants from passing cars and other sources.  They eventually rot down to humus, which readily runs down the storm drains to the river with the runoff, along with their attached pollutants.
            Not only streets and sidewalks contribute to the pollution of our runoff; private pavements also run into the streets and eventually to the river.  Leaves on public and private pavements are a safety hazard as well, becoming slippery when wet. 
The place for dropped leaves is covering soil; on pavements they are a nuisance, and the City should designate them as such in its code.  It should encourage people to use those leaves to cover their bare soil, reducing erosion into our streets and river as well as stopping many weeds from sprouting.
Of course, the Council should first pass a resolution telling the City administration to enforce all of our nuisance code as a matter of course, not in response to complaints.  The administration seems to believe that City codes are mere suggestions by the City Council, not law that they are bound to enforce. 
Even in response to complaints, our officers only recognize the safety hazard code, not the weed and litter nuisance code.  Nothing has been done about the various properties complained about in an e-mail to the administration and the police several weeks ago, regarding vegetation hanging over curbs and into the street.

These are our presently unenforced nuisance codes, with the proposed amendment included in parentheses and italics:

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.
(D. Leaves, detritus, or litter from remaining on public or private pavements for a period of longer than 2 weeks, or long enough to begin to decompose or become slippery when wet.)

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)

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