Monday, February 25, 2013

Wildfire Danger in Grants Pass

Comment to the Grants Pass City Council, 8/15/12.  Council meeting cancelled for the Fair.
Honorable Councilors, Mayor, and Manager:
          Yesterday, I took an early-morning drive to verify reports that the weeds covering the lot behind Burger King on 7th Street were grown back, dried out, and had not been cut.  I took pictures.
          That’s where the fire started last year that burned up the hill into a little patch of forest and had to be put out with helicopter water drops, a forest fire in our city.  Outside the City, if a fire starts on a property, the owner of the property is liable for up to $100,000.  But after that fire, we didn’t hear anything from the City or the Courier about who owns that property where it started, or how much it cost to put it out. 
The County Commissioners and City Council did hear from me about how it started and why it spread: because the City had not enforced its code against mature and seeding weeds.  It appears that it’s a large property and the fire stayed on it, nearly burning out the residents.  And yet, the City has done nothing to prevent a repetition of that fire, or to prevent another like it.
The other day, we had a garage fire on Rogue River Highway that caught a 75-foot pine on fire, which rained embers all over the neighborhood and caused spot fires in dry grass.  The pine was only a few feet from the garage, but the weeds that were apparently around it helped it catch and then spread the fire down a steep slope to 3 Boys Towing’s fence, where their gravel stopped it.  If our code had been enforced on that property and the surrounding neighborhood, the pine might have burned, but the fire would not have spread far or caused spot fires in dry grass, because there would have been no dry grass.
Our police have their hands tied on lesser crimes of theft and violence; the only power they have is citations since the levy failed.  Give them a job where warnings and citations are the only proper response: enforcing our nuisance codes against weeds and litter.  Such citations take no prosecutors or jail space, and most residents will respond to warnings and not need to be cited. 
Their department is called Public Safety, and combines police and firemen, and yet fire danger is almost completely ignored.  Cutting the weeds on a lot here and there does not decrease fire danger much; our code needs to be enforced on everyone.  Please get our officers out of their cars, walking our neighborhoods, telling people to clean up their act. 

Riding Mowers Spread Goatheads

Speech to the Josephine County Commissioners, 8-8-12. 

Honorable Commissioners:
          I take my dog to Schroeder Park’s dog park most Sundays.   I kill goatheads, AKA puncture vine, while I’m there.   Last year and this year, I have pulled them first in the large dog pen and then around the parking lot.  Very few show up inside the pen any more, but they sprout all summer long, and, I understand, can sprout every summer for years.
          Sunday being my day of rest, however, I can’t pull all of it outside the pen.  Overdoing weed pulling and cutting has been giving me repetitive motion pain.  But I spend about a half-hour on it, because I hate that weed so much.
          Not only does it appear that nobody else is pulling goatheads; park workers are spreading them by ignoring them as they mow.  The vines spread under the mower blades and the seeds are picked up by the wheels and transported to new ground.  I found new seeding plants over in front of the small dog pen, across the turn-around from the main infestation behind the ball diamond.  They were also inside and outside the fence at the entrance to the small dog pen.
          This is happening not only in Schroeder Park; it appears to be a problem anywhere that mowing is done by contract or government workers on riding mowers.  They ride along on their machines and never look at what they are running over and spreading around.  I’ve watched it for years inside the fence at the City’s Water Reclamation Plant, with some seeds washing down the hill onto the walking path outside the fence and spreading around the property.  In some places, such as the empty lot behind Wal-Mart, workers run over massive amount of litter blown onto the property without thinking about the mess that they are multiplying by dividing the trash.
          People who are walking behind mowers are more likely to see and pull the weeds, especially if they are walking on goatheads.  They are more likely to see and pick up the litter before they mow, especially if they care about neatness.
          But government and contract workers, especially Community Corrections slaves, don’t much care about neatness or caltrops underfoot.  They care as much as their boss does, and their boss cares as much as the people hiring them.  You, the people hiring them, need to make sure that they first remove the goathead plants and pick up the trash.
          Our new City Manager, Aaron Cubic, has finally gotten the goatheads mostly eliminated from above the south fence at the Water Reclamation Plant.  Please do something about Schroeder Park.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Can’t See Small Litter from Carts

Speech to the Grants Pass City Council, 8/1/12.
Honorable Councilors, Mayor, and Manager:
          Yesterday, I started to walk through the Reinhart Volunteer Park with my dog when I realized that I had to be a glutton for work to do so, because I pick up litter as I walk.  It occurred to me that I had been avoiding walking in the park for just that reason, unconsciously avoiding work. 
          I have seen park workers driving around in golf carts, but never one walking with a bag and picking up litter.  When I saw one driving past the Water Reclamation Plant heading upriver, I decided to stop her on her way back and ask a few questions.
          The first question I asked was whether such workers are paid or volunteer.  They are paid.  There are nine temporary seasonal workers. 
What do they do?  “Everything:” the young lady said, “graffiti cleanup; checking trash cans…” It was quite a list, but I didn’t hear litter pickup, and asked about it.  “Oh, yes, that too.”  She passed by a bottle cap as she drove away.
          “Everything” is too much; something is bound to be neglected.  That “something” is small litter pickup, because the workers are driving around, not walking.           One can’t see much while driving.  Cleaning tree litter from pavements is also mostly neglected, and the leaves in the gutters help one ignore the cigarette butts, bottle caps, and bits of plastic among them.
          Please get your workers out of their carts.  The only reason to drive a cart is to drive to a particular job, carrying tools or trash.  When they don’t have a particular job that requires a cart, they should be walking with a litter bag.  Better yet, two litter bags, one for trash and one for returnables that the city can turn in, and a litter grabber for reaching into blackberries.  They should have cell phones on them so their supervisor can call one in to go out with a cart to do a particular job, and so they can call in and report problems.  Any worker without a phone can simply do litter duty all day.
          This is another good reason for the Council to pass a resolution asking the City Manager to order every paid public servants working for the city to pick up litter from public properties every day for one-half hour.  One unconsciously ignores problems like litter that one are not one’s job to fix.  Litter pickup is something every servant can and should do.  If they are told to look for it, they will see the problem.

Give Us Ordered Liberty

Comment to the Josephine County Commissioners and Grants Pass City Council, 7-28-12

Honorable Commissioners:
You asked for comment on what to do with the $4.65 million that the feds finally gave us after we'd already laid off most of our deputies, some prosecutors, and our juvenile jail crew. It isn't enough to hire them all back, and it's only for one year. Moreover, the voters of this county rejected paying for these employees themselves, at least with property tax.
The Chair has said that we should use about $3.5 million to refill our contingency fund that we are using to pay for the protection we have now, considering that there is no new revenue on the horizon. I agree. The people have not yet voted to fund our public safety.
Some people said that it would be foolish to do so, when the federal government has "always" come through with funding, and they "always" will. That funding has been hard to pass, and decreasing in both amount and length. First we had five years of "full" funding of about $12 million, which is not enough for us to jail petty thieves and minor assailants. Then we had 4 years of decreasing funding, passed just in time to stop the sheriff's tax district from passing as Obama was elected. Now we have one year of funding at about a third of the level we need to cite and release minor offenders. Any "renewal" will come after the election, not before it; it will therefore be unlikely to pass.
The message from Washington, DC, is clear: fund your own public safety; we won't do it for you anymore. Counties all over the nation do so as a matter of course; they don't see why they should pay for ours. And yet some who voted not to fund our public safety are saying that we should use this money to do so. It's not nearly enough and it won't be there next year; why should we use it this year to save people who won't vote to save themselves?
So we shouldn't use any of this money to fund the sheriff, prosecutors, or even the juvenile jail. The people and officers should "live with their means" for a year, as some people keep saying that we should, and learn how inadequate those means are. And the Board should present the people with the question of a sales tax, which you lately have said you will this November. Thank you. 2 cents could give us $12 million dollars; 3 cents could allow us to fill the jail, which we haven't been able to do since we built it.
Meanwhile, we have county properties that haven't been properly maintained for years, violating city codes by being a nuisance to neighbours with blowing weed seeds and gathering litter. Disorderly properties encourage disorderly conduct. Please use that last million dollars or so to clean up County properties in the City, starting with the fairgrounds, the defunct hospital on Dimmick, and Schroeder Park. Since you can't give us proper law enforcement, at least give us order.

Railroad is Not a No-Man’s Land

Speech to the Grants Pass City Council, 7/18/12.
An article in the June 23rd Daily Courier told us about the problems along the railroad track through the middle of town, with homeless people living in the bushes, and littering, stealing, and defecating along the tracks. One such man, Michael Walker, said "Tracks are like a strip of 'no man's land' in the middle of the world."
But the tracks are not a no-man's land; they belong to the Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad, according to the sign at the M Street crossing near Home Depot. This city has nuisance codes against weeds and litter. They can be enforced against that property owner, who should be made to keep their property clean.
According to Dennis Ward, the city has been enforcing our no-camping ordinance against the campers. Should we not enforce our weed and litter codes against the property owner? The railroad should do their part to love their neighbors by not allowing easy camping spots and fire hazard through the middle of our town, and by periodically cleaning up the trash on their property. Ken Emilio of the Gospel Rescue Mission said that the Mission might have to cut the weeds and pick up litter. But that is the job of the railroad, not the Mission or the City.
Our city, however, has not been willing to enforce its weed and litter nuisance codes against property owners, who include a lot of big landowners like the railroad, the County, the state, and the feds-not to mention a lot of builders holding land that they can't build on or sell. Police cite the occasional homeless litterer when they see it dropped, but once the dropper is gone, they show no concern about litter, and none about weeds unless someone complains of fire danger--and complaints are discouraged and often ignored. 
They occasionally enforce the safety hazard code against a homeowner, but not the big properties and empty lots. They do not police the city, which is to clean it up; they use our codes to selectively prosecute the powerless.
The camping, stealing and littering along the tracks happens all along the tracks, not just the west end of town. All through town, the railroad brings down the immediate neighborhood by allowing weeds to seed out and litter to accumulate, discouraging neighbors from maintaining their own yards.
Governments and large property owners should set a good example for the rest of us to follow, not a bad one. City police should use our codes to make them do it. 
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