By Casey Crowley

The Baker City Council on Tuesday voted 5-0 to approve the final reading of a revised property maintenance ordinance that gives the Baker Justice Court judge the authority to block residents, and others, from properties the judge deems “chronic neighborhood nuisances” based on criteria in the ordinance.

The city would have to ask the judge to make such a determination.

Mayor Loran Joseph and Councilor Ken Gross were absent Tuesday due to previous engagements.

Criteria the judge can use to designate a property as a chronic nuisance include: accumulation of rubbish and waste; prior violations of the property maintenance ordinance; whether the structure is vacant or structurally sound; vandalism on the property; whether the property has “adequate” water and sewer service; and whether the property has a tax lien due to a previous violation.

The ordinance also includes a section under which the judge can allow property owners who make an effort to clean up their property to continue to have access to it.

Councilors have been discussing the ordinance since December.

City Manager Fred Warner Jr. proposed the ordinance in part based on the city’s experience with a property at 1975 Birch St. The city has twice paid to remove trash from the property, most recently in January of this year. A group of residents in that eastside neighborhood have attended multiple meetings to tell councilors about the effects of the trash accumulation on that property.

On Tuesday councilors heard from both proponents and opponents of the more stringent new ordinance.

Previously, Christopher Christie of Baker City had been the only vocal opponent of the ordinance, but two others also told councilors Tuesday they have concerns about the ordinance’s effects on residents.

Roger Hogan said that although he agrees something needed to be done about the Birch Street property, he is concerned that future councils could misuse the ordinance and use it to punish people who don’t deserve it.

“I know you need to do something about Birch Street, but I don’t think this ordinance is what is needed,” Hogan said.

Alice Lentz said she believes the ordinance has overly severe restrictions on properties deemed as chronic nuisances.

Christie said councilors have not answered questions about the ordinance he has asked. He also contends there is no evidence that mice reported in the neighborhood were there because of trash at 1975 Birch St.

Doc Botti, who lives at 1955 Birch St., said that before city workers removed material from 1975 Birch St., he brought to City Hall a bag of mice he found in his silverware drawer. Botti said he showed the mice to City Recorder Julie Smith, who confirmed the event.

Botti said he supports the new ordinance because the previous version, which didn’t allow the city to seek a court order barring access to a property, lacked “teeth.”

Joel Richardson, who lives at 1940 Birch, said that in his 27 years there he has seen three mice total. But after refuse accumulated at 1975 Birch, Richardson said he has had an infestation of mice.

Residents who support the new ordinance said they have nothing against Lucas Gwin, who lives at 1975 Birch. They said they are only bothered by the lack of maintenance at the property.

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