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City focusing on code enforcement
By Terri Harber
Baker City Police Officer Craig Davidson, who handles code enforcement and school resource responsibilities, has a different overall emphasis than the officer who covered those same beats previously.
Along with assisting with patrolling and investigations, code enforcement takes up 75 percent of Davidson’s time while the remaining 25 percent is spent as the schools resource officer, said Police Chief Wyn Lohner.
It used to be that more time was spent working at school campuses and less energy spent on code enforcement, which includes rules on such things as tall grass and weeds, roaming dogs and unmaintained properties.
City councilors wanted more time devoted to code enforcement so the change was made, Lohner said.
Ordinance No. 3292, which the councilors approved in 2009, “finds that it is in the public interest to encourage an attractive and safe physical environment for the benefit of all citizens of Baker City.”
The ordinance allows the city to clean up private property after other procedures (such as asking that the problem be remedied, then issuing a citation if nothing is done) are exhausted and a case in Baker County Justice Court is resolved in favor of the city.
Typically this entails the city hiring a contractor to do the work, then billing the property owner (or resident, depending on the situation) for the work.
“The idea is to maintain a certain level of livability,” Davidson said about code enforcement.
The rules “protect property values and keep things cleaned up,” he said.
A resident complained to the councilors last week about code enforcement and brought with him a lengthy list of properties with tall and heavy weed growth for city officials to check on.
He also mentioned that there seemed to be a large number of dogs running loose in his neighborhood.
The resident wondered what was being done to stop all of the violations.
Lohner said he was surprised that someone would assume there wasn’t much code enforcement activity occurring right now. There are a large number of active code enforcement cases already being investigated.
“And this year, we’re using Citizens On Patrol volunteers to help identify problems around the city,” he said.
Goal is compliance
A common problem at this time of year is vegetation that is taller than 10 inches — shrubs or trees don’t count — such as weeds or grass.
The number of these complaints has been on the rise. In 2010 the city received 98 complaints. There were 140 in 2012, Lohner said.
As of Friday there were 42 — and the season is only one-third of the way through, he said.
It’s not just the appearance of unkempt yards that can bother people. There are safety issues that accompany the overgrowth of vegetation.
People with allergies suffer even more than they would if those yards were receiving better care. And the overgrowth can be highly flammable when it dries, Lohner said.
Another warm weather problem is when people keep an overabundance of trash. The city doesn’t require people to pay for garbage service but it draws a line with the storage of refuse that attracts pests, creates other health hazards, or smells foul.
Both Lohner and Davidson emphasized that the city’s goal isn’t to issue citations, but to convince residents to comply with the rules.
“Some issues can’t be resolved but we address every complaint,” Lohner said.
That might include rental properties owned by people who live elsewhere. It can require more time to contact these property owners as well as for them to take care of a problem.
Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances. A property owner might be away on vacation or not feeling well so they haven’t been able to do yard work.
In just a couple of weeks “weeds can grow 12 to 16 inches high,” the chief said.
The best way to report possible code violations is to call the Consolidated Dispatch Center at 541-523-6415. Reports can be provided anonymously.
Visit www.bakercity.com to read Chapter 97 of the city’s municipal code, which focuses on property maintenance, to learn more about the rules.
Ordinance 3292 is the last major change to the code though the rules for burning refuse in one’s yard were updated in 2011 with Ordinance No. 3202 in Chapter 92 of the municipal code.