Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Neglect Helped the Bubble Grow
Comment to the Josephine County Commissioners and Grants Pass City Council, 9-14-12.
Honorable Chosen Ones:
The City of Grants Pass was represented on the KAJO talk show this month by several city councilors, among them Darin Fowler, running for mayor. They were discussing the needed renovations to the water plant, and I called to point out that, if our police were allowed to enforce our nuisance weed code on sight, people would soon learn that damp ground is easier to weed than dry; they would start watering their lawns; and we would sell enough water to pay for the renovations without raising rates.
No one bit on that one, so the host asked if I had a question. I asked, “Why is Baker Park such a trash pit?” Councilor Fowler bit on that one, saying that he had ridden his bike down the new trail into and through Baker Park, and he “didn’t see any big trash piles.” And he later pointed out that, if police were to enforce our nuisance code on sight, we’d hear all kinds of complaints.
Yes, indeed we would. Last year, the City heard developer and ex-councilor Tim Cummings loud and clear when he came in and complained that he was going to have to cut his lot twice, because police were making him cut it too soon. Suddenly, all code enforcement against vacant lots stopped. I was forbidden to complain to the cops and given access only to our Assistant City Manager, through whom my complaints have been handled since. Apparently, one complaint by a developer outweighs 140 complaints by a gardener.
Land prices got so high during the last 40 years at least partly because our police stopped enforcing our nuisance codes as Nixon declared War on Drugs in the ‘70s; Reagan ramped it up in the ‘80s; and drug users got blamed for all the ills of society. Over the last couple decades, police have stopped enforcing the hazard codes against large landowners as well. Real estate became thought of as a financial asset with no liability apart from property taxes and debt, one that made a profit because its price was rising faster than inflation.
Cities like ours bought more land for parks than we could control, letting portions be taken over by blackberries and weeds. Developers and speculators bought land and held it while spending less and less on maintenance. Vacant land holders have tried to control weeds with Roundup and mowing, which has only killed good perennial grasses and fertilized and spread windblown weeds, oats, crabgrass, star thistle and goat heads.
Meanwhile, we have paid the price for their neglect in higher land prices; brush and grass fires in a city that, by our code, should not have any; brown lawns with weeds spreading from our neighbors’ yards to ours; litter throughout our city; and noxious weeds like star thistle and goat heads sticking our legs and puncturing our bike tires.
Our economy has crashed, not because of these nuisances and hazards, but because the land bubble was financially unsustainable. But neglect of nuisances helped the bubble grow. We don’t need a booster who sees no evil for mayor. We need a mayor who can see litter on the ground.
Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener 541-955-9040 firstname.lastname@example.org