Keeping Properties to Code

 Keeping Properties to Code:  A Landscape Maintenance Guide

Landscape maintenance professionals in Grants Pass have a duty to keep our customers’ properties maintained at least to the standards of the City’s nuisance code.    It pays to learn what those minimal standards are and tell our customers what we need to do so they will be within the law and not be a nuisance to their neighbors.  Not all nuisances are written into the law, however, and we should go beyond the City’s code to help our customers love their neighbors.

For instance, code 5.12.050 Weed, Grass, Snow and Ice Removal, applies only to sidewalks and does not mention leaves or rocks, but there is no good reason to allow weeds, leaves or rocks to remain anywhere on pavements, including the street in front of one’s property.  What’s the point in making a place neat and pretty if the street in front is a mess?  The City will not clean it up for you; the most they may do is drive by with a street sweeper.

            Many people ignore the area outside their fence, or even use it as a dumping ground, right along the street.  Code 5.12.050 section 2 requires one to maintain public right of way if it abuts a public sidewalk, but many streets in our town lack sidewalks.  That is no reason to inflict weeds and other eyesores on people walking, riding or driving by.  Everyone should clean well into the street, blowing leaves, dirt and rocks onto soil in one’s yard, where they belong.  Cyclists would love a clean street edge.

            The critical code is 5.12.060, Weeds and Noxious Growth.   It forbids weeds maturing and going to seed, and says that one must cut down or destroy them.  Weed control is seed control; our code targets weeds at the point when they are about to make seed and spread. 

Cutting doesn’t kill mature weeds and does not, therefore, bring one into compliance.  The false dandelions and other windblown weeds that invade unwatered lawns pop right back up with flowers, soon followed by seeds blowing all over the neighborhood.  Puncture vine lies under mowers and its seeds ride along to the next property on their tires.  Annual grasses keep putting up shorter stalks until they seed out under the mower blades. 

Pulling is the only real control for most weed seeds, and flowering, or maturity, is the point at which most are easiest to pull, but are not yet a nuisance.  Crabgrass is an exception; it is harder to pull when flowering, and should be pulled or smothered under mulch ASAP.

Noxious Growth is the other half of this ordinance, and this gardener would define it as any vegetation that is in the way of passersby or the neighbors.  The city asks us in leaflets to trim groundcovers 6 inches back from curbs to allow street sweepers to operate; this should be done even where the City does not sweep.

Last, and the least anyone should do, is keeping litter picked up, and not leaving grass clippings on pavements or ugly organic detritus in plain sight, covered in 5.12.070 Scattering Rubbish.  It doesn’t specifically mention any of these things except trash, but it does forbid anything that “which would mar the appearance, create a stench, or detract from the cleanliness” of a property.  The point of landscape maintenance is to make properties clean and orderly, even pretty.  Don’t let anything detract from that.

Landscape Nuisances selected from the Grants Pass Municipal Code, Title 5:

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 ground cover placed by the City; maintaining any ground cover 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)

Disorderly Property is Dangerous

5th Speech to Networking Toastmasters, 6/3/2013

Good morning, Toastmasters and Honored Guests:
Grants Pass’ top stated goal has long been, “to be a city that looks safe and is safe.”  What’s wrong with that goal?
I’ll tell you what’s wrong; that it’s only a goal.  That our city has been taking no real steps to attain it.
What makes a city look safe?  I submit that it is cleanliness and order: clean streets, well kept properties; no litter; no graffiti.  Order is intimidating to the disorderly and lawless, comforting to the orderly and law abiding.
Weeds, litter and filthy pavements, on the other hand, are encouraging to low life and disturbing to respectable folks.  Disorderly property is worse than bad advertising; it is downright dangerous.  That’s why we have property nuisance codes.
In 1982, James Q. Wilson wrote an article for Atlantic Monthly about the disorder that encourages crime.  He called it, “BrokenWindows.”   It has lent its name to a policing philosophy which holds that, if we take care of disorderly nuisances like broken windows, major crimes will be reduced.  “Take care of the little things,” they say, “and the big things take care of themselves.”  It has worked in New York and Cincinnati; it can work in Grants Pass.
He said that the things that aggravate us the most are not major crimes, which rarely happen to us, but constant nuisances imposed on us by thoughtless others, like barking dogs, litter and weeds—except that Wilson wrote about broken windows, panhandlers and prostitutes, being a city boy.  Nuisance codes were written to keep the peace, by having our public nags, our city police, remind us to love one another so we don’t drive each other nuts. 
Broken windows are several steps down the road to disorder.  Disorder starts with weeds gone to seed, and tree trash left rotting on pavements.  “Seedy” is a word that denotes neglect in property or dress.  Litter soon follows, as people add their ugly to ugliness.  As gangsters get comfortable, they start tagging their territories.  Kids looking for bad fun start breaking windows and entering abandoned buildings, like the Dimmick hospital.
Disorderly vagrants throw litter around weedy places to see if it gets old, or gets picked up.  Old litter means that a place is safe to camp in; no one cares, and good people stay away.  It marks their territories. 
Ownership is control, and cleanliness also marks territory; the territory of the law abiding and orderly.  The way to take control of your city is to clean it up and keep it clean, and thereby make it look safe, so it will be safe.
Truly, it is kinder to warn one to clean up a bit of litter and a few weeds, than to wait until it ripens into a major safety hazard that is a huge, expensive hassle to clean up!  But the latter is what our city has been doing for some time, and it shows.   
After all, the city makes no money off of warning people to clean up nuisances.  But it can abate safety hazards for 10% over cost.  You see the occasional “notice of violation” sign on selected neglected properties this time of year.  
But since nuisance codes are not enforced, more safety hazards ripen than our code enforcers can harvest.   Thus we had a forest fire, complete with water drops, right off 7th Street two years ago, that started in the weeds behind Burger King’s lot and roared up a hill into tall pines.
In 2006, short-time-City-Manager David Frasher created a Code Enforcement Office, and forbade police or firemen to enforce our codes.  He apparently read our City Charter, which mandates enforcement of all city ordinances.  It seems that he started Code Enforcement to create the appearance of enforcing city codes while making it the place where property nuisance complaints go to die. 
He soon renamed them “Community Service Officers” or CSOs.  They “serve and protect” property slobs, developers, and bankers, not neighbors.  They enforce city codes only by complaint—and then tell the slobs who complained about their property.  I’ve had a couple of neighbors in my face because of them.
It can be a dangerous job to ask a disorderly person to clean up his property or to complain to police about him.  That’s why nuisance codes must be enforced on sight, and all officers trained to spot violations and warn violators.
Right now, our police are citing people for crimes that they should be jailed for, while being forbidden to cite nuisance code violators.  Please ask the Council and Manager to eliminate the Community Service Code Enforcement Office and train all of our police to use their citation power where it will be most effective, to nag our residents and landowners to obey our nuisance codes.  Then we can really be “a city that looks safe and is safe.”
I have started a petition to do just that.  Please sign it after the meeting.
I yield the floor to the Toastmaster.
Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener    541-955-9040

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