Weeding out fire hazards

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Annual weed abatement list mandates property owners to clean
up
Most property owners who have been ordered by the City of
Hollister to remove overgrown weeds on the land they own have
complied, as fire officials make their annual push to reduce fire
hazards and keep down the rodent population.
Annual weed abatement list mandates property owners to clean up

Most property owners who have been ordered by the City of Hollister to remove overgrown weeds on the land they own have complied, as fire officials make their annual push to reduce fire hazards and keep down the rodent population.

Each January, the Hollister Fire Department canvasses all neighborhoods within the city limits looking for properties that are overgrown with weeds or are vacant and contain trash, said Fire Captain Michael O’Connor. This year’s list includes 361 lots, including the Post Office on Maple Street, South County Housing property on Buena Vista Road, San Benito High School and Hazel Hawkins Hospital.

“We look for the potential that they are going to be a nuisance when it dries out,” he said.

After property owners are identified, O’Connor presents a list to the City Council, which authorizes the fire department to send a letter to the affected owners, ordering them to remove the weeds by a certain date. If they do not comply with the abatement order, the city will hire a contractor to perform the work and charge the property owner a flat rate in the form of a lien on their property.

“Right now probably better than 60 percent of the people who received letters have taken care of it,” O’Connor said. “I think we’re a little ahead of the pace that we were on last year. I’m hoping that by the [City Council] meeting on May 18th we’re done.”

The city hires a private contractor to take care of the weeds that are not removed by property owners by the city-imposed deadline, which this year was April 24. The cost is expected to be between $5,000 and $10,000.

“We charge a flat rate [for each affected property] and there’s a lot of man hours required” to complete the weed removal, O’Connor said. “We don’t recover the costs of the program, but it saves money in terms of fire suppression and property loss.”

The City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the issue on May 18 for any property owners who want to address issues or concerns with the weed abatement process.

“It’s for people who feel they should be removed from the list or that something’s unjust,” O’Connor said. “They have to justify their reason and the council makes a decision.”

Property owners on the weed abatement list are first notified as a courtesy in March, with an official notice sent in early April.

“The courtesy notice usually wakes everybody up,” O’Connor said, “and the next notice is for those who have been procrastinating. Most of the property owners that get letters get them year after year after year.”

Some properties that make the list are noted “as a precautionary measure,” O’Connor said, “because if we don’t send them a letter and the property becomes a problem down the road, we’d have to start over with the council” and get a new list approved in its entirety.

“It’s better to get them on the list now so that we’re doing all the hard work ahead of time just in case,” he said.

If a property is identified during the initial canvassing in mid-winter and the weeds are gone by the time the spring notices are due to be sent out, that property owner will be removed from the list.

“We’re taking a proactive approach,” O’Connor said. “Fire safety is most critical. If a field catches on fire and it’s between houses, we have a lot of exposure possible. A fire in an outlying field could migrate out into the county, so by us ordering it to be disced, it takes care of that problem.”

Fields within the city limits that are not maintained also become dump sites for tires, washing machines and other trash, and can also be a breeding ground for rodent populations, officials said.

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