By Casey Crowley

A more stringent property maintenance ordinance could be approved as soon as Feb. 26 after the Baker City Council approved the first reading of the ordinance Tuesday.

After roughly an hour of deliberations, councilors unanimously approved the first reading of the ordinance with one minor change. The change was to one of the criteria that could lead to a property being deemed a chronic nuisance, in which case the Baker Justice Court judge, who would determine whether a property is a chronic nuisance, could also ban access to the property, including by the owner.

The prior criteria required three or more property violation convictions in the previous 12 months, but the version councilors approved states that a property could be deemed a chronic nuisance if it had any previous violations of the ordinance.

The Council did not have the second of three readings of the proposed ordinance because Mayor Loran Joseph voted no on a motion to have the second reading.

Joseph said he wants to give residents more time to voice their opinions on the proposed ordinance.

Most of the ordinance deals with properties that could be deemed chronic neighborhood nuisances based on such things as accumulations of trash.

City Manager Fred Warner Jr. brought the proposed ordinance to councilors after neighbors of a home at 1975 Birch St. attended the Council’s Dec. 11 meeting to complaint about trash at that property.

The city has twice paid to remove refuse from the property.

During Tuesday’s meeting three residents of that east Baker City neighborhood told councilors they support the proposed ordinance.

Although nobody spoke in opposition to the ordinance, Christopher Christie of Baker City submitted written comments asking councilors to consider how the more stringent ordinance could affect property owners.

“In the absence of any help offered from the community, this ordinance along with the punitive and excessive fines by the court, are just an inhumane way to put the poor and vulnerable out of their homes and out of town,” Christie wrote. “I suspect that is what it is intended to do -— it is just one of the more vicious and crude forms of gentrification from well off people hoping to get a bit wealthier.”

Christie also described the proposed changes to the ordinance as “an extreme response to a problem that could have a much more humane solution.”

“In response to relatively few mean-spirited people, Fred Warner has provided the Council with poorly worded and easily abused provisions that represent an attack on the poorest and most vulnerable citizens in Baker City,” Christie wrote. “It is a form of class warfare — a true war on the poor — and if passed, it will produce many unfortunate outcomes and likely end up in the courts.”

The ordinance does include language that if the resident of a propert makes a “good faith” effort to clean up their property they will not be barred from their property.

See more in the Feb. 13, 2019, issue of the Baker City Herald.