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January 6, 2010 > Weeds annually declared a public nuisance

Weeds annually declared a public nuisance

By Dustin Findley

On Tuesday, January 19, at 7 p.m., Milpitas City Council will hold a public hearing in Council Chamber at City Hall for property owners on whose property weed overgrowth has been declared a public nuisance.

On December 1, 2009 Council adopted a resolution "Declaring Weeds on Certain Properties to be a Public Nuisance and Setting a Public Hearing to Hear Objections." This was done at the behest of the Santa Clara County Department of Agriculture and Environmental Management whose Hazardous Vegetation Abatement (weed abatement) program for 2010 is beginning.

The resolution and list of property owners are available on the City of Milpitas website under Government | City Council | Agenda & Minutes | Agenda Attachments for December 1, 2009.

Santa Clara County compiles the annual list of properties on which weeds have become a problem. The Santa Clara County Department of Agricultural and Environmental Management notifies the property owners of its intent to abate the weeds and record the assessed cost as a lien against the property if owners do not make their own arrangements to remove the unwanted vegetation. Property owners may voice their objections to the County's proposed abatement at the public hearing held by the City.

The following is a summary of the weed abatement program currently administered by the City of Milpitas and County of Santa Clara, from an attachment to the June 30, 2009 Neighborhood Services and Education Subcommittee agenda.

In May of each year, engine companies (the basic working unit of the fire service) conduct a survey of residential areas, monitoring for compliance with City of Milpitas weed and hazard abatement ordinances.

Engine companies may also respond to citizen reports or complaints of weed hazards. Prior to issuing an abatement or violation notice, the address is compared to a list of locations where Code Enforcement has already issued abatement notices.

If serious fire hazards exist, Fire staff coordinates with Code Enforcement, to expedite compliance. Residents are given two full weekends to abate the hazards.

When the occupant fails to comply with the violation notice and abatement requirements, the address is referred to the Fire Prevention Division for hazard confirmation, and issuance of a violation or inspection notice to the property owner via certified mail.

If the property owner fails to comply at this level, Fire Prevention staff "post" the property as a clear and present danger to the public welfare.

Failure on the part of the property owner to complete the abatement results in the City abating the hazard and pursuing cost recovery for this service.

Fire Prevention staff survey commercial and industrial inspection districts and issue abatement notices directly to property owners.

Failure on the part of the property owner to abate the hazard results in the City "posting" the property. Similar to the residential process, abating the hazard and pursuing cost recovery results when the property owner fails to comply with their responsibility.

The Fire Department prefers compliance be attained by the willingness of the individuals to comply, however, if necessary, a citation can be imposed for failure to abate the hazard.

In the 1970s, cities within Santa Clara County implemented their own weed abatement program in their respective jurisdictions. Eventually, cities requested the County to administer a comprehensive, county-wide program to eliminate duplicate staff resources and streamline the autonomous programs. Having one jurisdiction responsible for contract administration, to monitor contractor performance, and weed abatement status throughout the county, frees city staff within each jurisdiction to concentrate on City-implemented programs.

The County program offers a mutually beneficial solution to both cities and private individuals whose properties require routine annual weed abatement. Additionally, property owners who own multiple parcels in different cities within the same county need only contact one jurisdiction for service.

Each fall, the County Department of Agriculture and Resource Management Office of the Fire Marshal compiles a list of properties to be abated the following year. City Council adopts this list as a resolution.

Parcels include residential, commercial and industrial vacant lots, and firebreaks (roads and mountainous areas) in the hillside. In winter, the County requests asks property owners to advise if they intend to perform their own abatement work for the coming year.

Properties abated by the County are treated with pre-emergent herbicidal spray in the New Year and disced (disc: arrange to minimize burning if a fire should occur) beginning in May.

Two discings and handwork along fringe-edges of the property may be necessary to remove the hazard. In late summer, the County lists the properties which have been abated and the associated cost for Council action. Once Council passes the resolution, the cost becomes a lien on the property, is listed and collected with the parcel's property taxes.

Neighborhood Services Code Enforcement Division responds to complaints. This Division is responsible for enforcing the Neighborhood Beautification Ordinance (NBO) in addressing front yard issues such as: weeds, overgrown lawns and vegetation.

Once an initial inspection is conducted and a violation has been verified, a notice to abate is sent to the property owner giving 15 days (or 3 days if the problem is posing a safety issue, such as a traffic or right-of-way obstruction) to abate the violation.

While responding to a complaint, staff looks at adjacent properties and addresses any violation observed. An administrative citation is issued after the 15 days, if the violation is not abated. If the problem is not resolved and the situation results in a fire hazard, a referral is made to the Fire Prevention Division.

Code Enforcement prefers and encourages voluntary compliance. However, if necessary, an administration citation can be issued for failure to abate the violation. Penalty fees for violations are $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second violation (within 12 months), and $500 for the third violation (within the 12 months).

Staff responds to requests for surveys of an entire street and of entire neighborhoods. There are also several long-time residents who regularly survey their neighborhoods and ensure staff has an up-to-date list of properties in violation.

In addition, the Division manages the NBO hotline (408) 586-3074, which receives anonymous complaints from residents.

For more information, contact City of Milpitas Assistant Fire Marshall Albert Zamora on (408) 586-3371.

Weed Abatement Public Hearing
Tuesday, January 19
7 p.m
City Hall
455 East Calaveras Blvd., Milpitas
(408) 586-3371

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