Twenty nine residents, including three Council members, attended the Monday June 13th Special Meeting regarding the City Council's enhanced Weed Abatement program.
Two representatives from Home Depot brought fire resistant plants and weed removal tools and chemicals for display.
Fire Chief Gary Dominguez was tasked with explaining the new Council program and took written questions from the audience.
He said they are doing about 16 inspections per shift and should be done in mid-September.
Fire Chief Gary Dominguez
Property owners are now required to clear their entire property of weeds and flammable materials. It used to be clearance within a certain number of feet of structures. One question asked if this included steep canyons which may never have been cleared before and an owner may not ever have ventured into. The Fire Chief responded that these need to be cleared.
A question asking what measures are being requested by the fire department to make sure that clearing of decades old brush does not result in an accidental fire deep in a canyon or on a hillside was not answered.
In May 2010 a brush fire at Ardsheal and Skyline Dr was ignited by brush and weed removal being done.
In past years, the Fire Department would leave a notice saying a property was in compliance with weed abatement.
No such notice is left now.
City Manager Shauna Clark explained that a property in compliance today may fail tomorrow.
The Fire Chief said that a roadside cleared in May probably needs to be done again now.
The City Manager said that the City may put up a list of properties in compliance.
The Fire Chief said the Inspectors are not allowed to take cash tips.
Responding to a query, the Chief said storage of hay would be OK in a sprinklered building.
Q. How should straw and hay bales be safely stored?
Can they be under a roof or up against a building?
A. In those cases, no to either of those. Hay bales might be something where we send out an inspector to look at the various situations. If it's in a sprinklered building, that's something different, but there's too many variations to just give an answer.
While the Los Angeles County Fire Department and the University of California, in a publication called "Landscaping for Wildfire Protection", recommend mulch to prevent weeds and erosion, Fire Chief Gary Dominguez said that La Habra Heights can have stricter standards and mulch is not allowed. Residents have already been written up for having organic mulch and must remove it.
Healthy Avocado groves use fallen leaves as a mulch to retain moisture and protect against pests and disease. The banning of mulch could leave to a rapid decline in groves and much of the greenery of our hillsides.
A question submitted asking if the leaves dropped by Avocado trees to create a moisture retaining mulch must be removed was not answered.
On June 21st, the Chief answered that dead leaves must be removed.
Another question asked about erosion resulting from removal of vegetation. The Chief responded that is the property owner's problem and plants should be selected that both meet fire requirements and prevent erosion.
All dead palm fronds must be removed regardless of how high up they are, and they must be maintained as such.
At a recent City Council meeting, the City Manager said planting new palm trees is discouraged and removing existing ones is encouraged. She said that palm trees are a type of grass.
The Chief stated that in the process of inspections they are looking for run down and unsafe buildings, and other issues.
At the June Council meeting a 60+ year resident reported that her family was ordered to remove a house and out buildings at great expense.
Another resident reported the Sheriff had contacted him at the direction of the Fire Chief regarding a vehicle parked on the side of the road.
In April 2009, responding to resident concerns about potential loss of scenic bushes and vegetation lining the streets, the City Council clarified that vegetation not blocking visibility or vehicle access could remain as long as trimmed back from the edge of pavement. See here: WMV | Quicktime
The 2011 City Weed Abatement Notice (Excerpt Below) echoed the Council direction stating non-combustible vegetation can remain as long as it does not impede sight or emergency vehicle access.
The Notice also said that a 13' 6" clearance must be provided from one side of the roadway to the other.
2011 Weed Abatement Notice Excerpt
However, at the Abatement Forum, the rules became more strict (Forum Slide below).
Now, the 13' 6" clearance must be created from 3 feet off the pavement on one side to 3 feet off the pavement on the other side of the street.
Now, ALL VEGETATION must be cleared 3 feet from the road except low groundcover.
Pictures were shown of problem roadside vegetation. The Chief then showed a picture of one he was happy with (below). It is a bare dirt lot.
In the June City Council Reports, properties that passed the Weed Abatement Inspection were listed.
One of those was the City Park
The Park passed even though many palm trees had extensive dead fronds, dead leaves were on the roofs of buildings, and trees were growing up under the eaves.
A question at the Forum asking if the City passed property was a model for residents to follow or should have been better cleared was not answered.
Dead Palm Fronds are Supposed to Be Removed
No Dead Leaves Allowed on Roofs
Branches Under Eaves a Hazard
The City owned lot across Hacienda Rd from the Park has uncleared roadside weeds, and high weeds further in.
The City owned 3 acre lot at Hacienda and West Rd has had the weeds cleared on the flat portion, but the steep slope going down the hill has dense live and dried weeds. The City expects residents to clear steep slopes of long time dense weeds and brush.
Handouts were available including a list of City approved contractors.
Also available was a stack of Appeal Forms to challenge citations. Citations must be paid before they can be appealed. Appeal hearings are heard by a City contractor. (A December 2010 story was done on an appeal hearing - Read it here)
One new property owner was issued $900 in Citations.
He got quotes of $4,000 and $20,000 to clear his property.
He wondered aloud if he should just sell his newly purchased property.
See Some of the Handouts
* Frequently Asked Weed Abatement Questions
* City Weed Abatement Inspection Form
* Weed Abatement Process (Warning: Do not view if you get dizzy easily)
* Preliminary Review Application of Citation
* Administrative Hearing Application of Citation by City Newport Beach contractor
Several Forum questions dealt with allowing the Fire Department access to property.
The Chief said they can access without consent but they cannot do forcible entry.
If you have a Knox Box, the Chief said the Department will not use it to gain access for inspections or to abate non-compliance.
If you wish to be present for inspection, you can call the Fire Dept to make an appointment and they will try to accomodate you.
The City Attorney has said that the Fire Dept should not be on anyone's property without permission, but that which you hold open to the world, they are allowed to see. (see City Attorney discussion on access WMV | Quicktime) If anyone can see your property from the street, so can the inspectors. If anyone can walk onto your property so can the inspectors. If your property is fenced, gated, and landscaped for privacy, they will need your permission if the gate is closed.
One question stated the situation of someone going away for vacation, concerned about the new accelerated process that could result in a violation notice, fine and city abatement (at property owner expense) in a matter of the few weeks one could be gone for vacation.
The Chief said one should call the Fire Dept and make arrangements for inspection prior to leaving on vacation.
The new, stricter, and more extensive Weed Abatement Process and Punishments came at the direction of the City Council.
If you do not like all or portions of it, contact your City Council members and ask for changes.
If you like it, you can compliment them.