La Habra Heights Fire Watch Takes on Heavy Handed Weed Abatement

Lot used as example of acceptable clearance by Fire Chief at June 20 Forum
Should every parcel look like this?

At the June Fire Watch Meeting one agenda item received heavy discussion.

The item was titled:

"City Weed Abatement Program - Recommendations for City Council consideration"

The membership was in agreement on the need for stepped up weed abatement, but many objected to the expanded scope and reversal of past laws.

One long time resident objected to two of the new portions; removal of mulch and clearance of never before cleared canyons. The resident was concerned about erosion caused by mulch removal and the heavy expense with little obvious benefit of clearing steep canyons.

Others thought clearing canyons was a fire danger itself, especially in the hot weather.

Members feared the steep cost to comply with new mandates.

A newer resident told the story of how they had the Fire Department out last year to find out how to reduce fire risk. They were told that mulch would help prevent weeds. They purchased mulch and had it spread around. Now they find out the Fire Chief has mandated it be removed.

Equestrians and others were shocked that hay and straw could no longer be stored as it has for decades, and vowed to rally the equestrian community to show in force at the July Council meeting.

New roadside clearance requirements met with disatisfaction and bewilderment as to the ruining of roadside vegetation with little apparent benefit.

The members reviewed draft recommendations to the City Council (below) to improve the usefulness of the Weed Abatement Program, and decided to take it on individually and in groups.

The Fire Watch group is dedicated to reducing fire danger in the community and specializes in city-wide communications to inform each other of dangers and events in the city through a radio network and on-line site where anyone can hear their communications.

La Habra Heights Fire Watch Recommendations to City
Council on Current Weed Abatement Program

June 10, 2011

The City’s aggressive implantation and desire to eliminate all “flammable
material” within one season could cause financial hardship for residents,
increase the danger of accidental wildfires and possibly contribute to mudslides.

City has three decades of brush, plant and tree growth that needs to be managed.

The Fire Chief mandates that all properties (parcels) conform per the
City’s weed abatement ordinance by May 1st of every year.

Property owners remain confused about exactly what is required by the
municipal code.

City says all weeds on parcel, regardless of distance from structures,
need to abated and removed

City does not require fire extinguishers, water supply or reliable
communications to be present while property owners clear weeds.

City does not require the suspension of high-risk brush clearing efforts
during Red Flag Warnings or periods of high fire danger. Note: Brush
clearing is often the cause of accidental wildfire starts.

Erosion of hillsides resulting from City’s weed abatement program is the
property owner's responsibility per Fire Chief.

Long established and essential mulching program for Citrus and Avocado
orchards have been banned by La Habra Heights Fire Chief.

Design a program that will prevent clear cutting of private open space and
protect property from erosion.
Protect required screening of structures from road and neighboring
Work with property owners to perform needed remediation within a
realistic timeframe.
City should use established State and County Guidelines for brush
clearing standards, rather than use vague interpretation and opinion that
could lead to selective enforcement.
Consider a financial aid program to help offset the cost of weed abatement
for residents who are facing hardship, in order to comply with the City’s
Require suspension of weed abatement activities using metal blade
clearing equipment during Red Flag Warning days.
Provide a one-page fire prevention sheet for brush clearing outlining
requirement of fire extinguisher at work site. Require deployment of a
charged water line for high risk brush areas and include direct 10-digit fire
department emergency number.
Establish guidelines to allow use of mulch for agricultural purposes. Mulch
serves the health and maintenance of orchards and prevention of soil
erosion, conservation of water and promotes recycling and composting.
Mulch is fundamental for the suppression of aversive weeds and plants as
well as provides a cost effective and environmentally friendly landscaping