Weed abatement funds examined


ATASCADERO  — At their Oct. 9 regular meeting, the Atascadero City Council heard from City Manager Rachelle Rickard and Fire Chief Casey Bryson about several options to reimburse municipal coffers when their crews clear out underbrush on private property.

The weed abatement actions typically cost $37,000 in staff time, not counting the $24,000 spent on noticing and inspection before crews are needed, Rickard said.

The report prepared by the City’s Fire and Emergency Services staff notes that the Fire Marshal conducts an initial weed inspection during the month of April of the approximately 11,188 parcels within the City, with notices then mailed to those deemed a potential threat.

“Each property owner is advised in the notice that they have until June 1 to bring their parcel into compliance. Beginning June 1, the Fire Marshal begins the second property inspection,” the report explains.  “Those parcels that were originally noticed and have not cut their weeds are placed on a list for the city contractor to abate. In 2018, 3,474 notices were mailed out. Upon second inspection, the Fire Marshal found 101 lots that were tagged to be abated. Of those tagged, the city contractor cut 31 and the rest were abated by the residents.”

At issue for the Council on Oct. 9 was the fact that the current fee structure does not reimburse the City fully, and also may not be fairly divided among the property owners who do use the City as their defacto contractor. Currently said Rickard, the City only recovers 42 percent of their cost on the properties.

Discussion centered on the Council’s desire not to allow conditions like ones in Northern California last year, resulting in destruction of neighborhoods in the City of Santa Rosa, to take hold closer to home.

While the Council was willing to budget the costs of initial inspections as part of normal governance, and there was discussion of possible grant opportunities from the state level to defray that cost, Mayor Tom O’Malley summed up the mood that the rest of property taxpayers shouldn’t be expected to subsidize 30 property owners who do not respond to notices.

Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi initially suggested that the fees be reclassified as some sort of penalty for clarity both to those receiving invoices and to other ratepayers, but the distinctions implied a separate legal process.

Instead, the Council agreed to her motion that the administrative fees be renamed as a fire safety fee.

Then before moving on to a report concerning pollution mapping in drainage watersheds, the Council asked staff to return with language adopting a flat fee of $260 plus an invoice of 166 percent markup on the actual cost of clearing individual properties.

“The easiest way to avoid all these fees is to clear your property before the June deadline,” Rickard said.

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