Pay to complain: Hazardous vegetation cost share provision criticized |

Pay to complain: Hazardous vegetation cost share provision criticized

Members of the public described their struggle with neighbors who won’t clean up their property. Doug Coursey from Alta Sierra expressed frustration because the 50/50 provision requires that in certain cases, the person who files of the complaint must agree to share the 50% of the cost.
Provided / Marianne Boll-See

TRUCKEE, Calif. — The Nevada County Board of Supervisors accepted an informational presentation regarding the potential updates to the hazardous vegetation and combustible material abatement ordinance during their regularly scheduled meeting this past week.

Nevada County is the only in the region that employs a 50/50 cost share provision that requires the individual who files the complaint to pay half the cost of vegetation cleanup.

“Ordinance 2477 exceeds state standards that contains a 50/50 cost share provision and focuses heavily on education,” said Paul Cummings, Office of Emergency Services program manager.

Seventy-four percent of the defensible space cases in 2021 came into compliance through the education of the property owner, while 21% came into compliance after a citation was given, and only 5% required enforcement of the code, according to information provided by OES.

The 50/50 cost share states that if a property owner’s 100-foot required defensible space cannot be achieved because a neighbor, within that 100-foot area refuses to clean up hazardous vegetation or combustible material, the property owner who files a complaint would be responsible to pay 50% of the cost to correct the neighbor’s negligence.

In some cases the 50% cost sharing provision does not apply.

“It bothers me that the only way you can make a complaint is if you’re willing to pay 50% of your neighbors cost,” Ed Scofield from District II said.

The cost of cleaning up an acre of land, or 43,560 square feet can be $4,000 – $6,000 according to information supplied in the presentation by OES.

Members of the audience spoke and described situations where they personally reached out to neighbors who refused to comply to defensible space, some even weed-whacking and clearing downed oak trees for years, and after filing a complaint, withdrew because they would be forced to pay 50% of the costs.

“I am in favor of the Board enforcing the rules already in place – with one exception – part E. The 50/50 shared cost provision. Because my two neighbors and I won’t agree to pay 50% of our non-compliant neighbor, my complaint is thrown out. Nothing happens,” Doug Coursey from Alta Sierra said.

Non-compliance is an ongoing problem with defensible space cases.

“I agree that we need more inspectors. it has to be said that voting has consequences. Measure V would have helped some of this. Measure v did not pass.” Supervisor Heidi Hall of District I said.

“How do we add a bite at the end – to get people to comply?” Chair Susan Hoek representing District IV said.

The timeline and fine schedule “could be three to six months or more for an egregious case,” Craig Griesbach, Director of OES said. “We have a tool” to put a lien on a property Griesbach said.

“Egregious can be determined by several factors. Is it a single offense? Is it next to a road? Have their been multiple citations? What has the response from the landowner? Cummings said.

“Work with realtors to come up with a point of sale inspection. It’s been very effective in Truckee…Property owners start clearing their property when preparing it for sale. Consider this as another option to solve the problem,” Barbara Bashall the Government Affairs Manager for the Nevada County Contractors Association said.

Another problem discussed is how to make free green-waste needs to be available to help people who want to clean up their property to have a place to move the waste according to the details of the presentation given by OES.

Other potential change that the council members considered included reviewing alternatives such as a 30 foot shaded fuel break along property lines, treating parcels less than one acre, and a zero to five foot ember resistant zone around all structures.

Questions were asked of Dan Miller, District III supervisor, about how “local home parks with small lot sizes would be affected.” Under the “less than one acre provision very little landscaping in trailer parks would be allowed.

The community on La Barr Meadows Rd. and Highway 49 was mentioned as an example. “What’s it worth to maintain the space compared to the cost of losing their homes,” Fire Marshal Patrick Mason said.

The OES conducted surveys of stakeholders and public citizens regarding each part of the proposed changes.

“For the public survey, the survey was open to the entire public. It was posted on the OES webpage, Nevada County Website, CEO Newsletter, the OES social media, Nevada County Social Media, and on Cal Fire NEU social media. Regarding the stakeholders, the local fire districts were notified in addition to our consulting partnership with the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District. In addition, feedback was sought from other groups such as Nevada County Contractors, Nevada County Realtors, neighborhood associations such as the Alta Sierra, Lake Wildwood, Lake of the Pines, and the Firewise Coalition,“ Cummings said in a follow-up email.

The Board “accepted the report,” Susan Hoek said, but requested more information before making any changes.

To contact Staff Writer Marianne Boll-See email, or call 530-477-4256.

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