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Abatement Sparks Flames
Art Olson | Avenida Primavera

“Moses and Burning Bush” Pluchart (1848)
Photo illustration Art Olson

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On September 15 the City held a workshop to explain the upcoming proposed fire safety ordinance to remove dangerous rubbish, brush, and weeds, and to authorize inspection and abatement services from Fire Prevention Services (FPS), a private contractor. The first reading of the ordinance took place at a public hearing on August 2, and with no public comment, it was approved unanimously by the four council members present.

About 40 Del Mar residents attended the workshop, which was led by Fire Marshal Robert Scott. Scott presented the motivation, scope and proposed implementation of the ordinance. He explained that while there was special concern about fire safety for the 350 homes close to Crest Canyon, in what is designated the Wildlands Urban Interface zone, the ordinance would apply to the entire city. Scott stated that FPS would be contracted to inspect all properties, and to determine those needing remediation. Property owners would be mailed notice to clean premises and given 30 days to comply. If after that period the hazard was still present, A second notice requesting abatement within 15 days would be sent by registered mail. If the property owner still does not comply, an administrative fee of $350 would be levied. At this point a sign would be posted on the property and if the hazard is not remedied within 5 days forced abatement by FPS would take place, at cost to the property owner generally greater than the prevailing costs if the work had been done prior by a landscape service of the owner’s choice. The city would not bear any costs for this process, and all fees and charges would go to FPS.

The main concern expressed by workshop attendees was a perceived conflict of interest for a contractor, who would inspect the properties, and would only recoup his inspection costs and make a profit if there were forced abatements. Additional concerns were expressed by attendees Brooke Eisenberg and Charlie Khoury regarding the record of FPS, itself. Khoury distributed a packet to audience members that listed a number of complaints and lawsuits against FPS for alleged abuses of weed abatement regulations. An FPS representative at the workshop defended her company’s performance, and Fire Marshal Scott assured the audience that, if disputes arose, he and ultimately the City Council would be the final arbiters of what conditions required remedy, and whether abatement had been accomplished. However there remained considerable skepticism about FPS, and its potential for abuse and conflict of interest.

Subsequent to the workshop widely circulated e-mail exchanges kept the community discussion alive. Henry Abarbanel stated his trust in the Fire Marshal, and the success of a similar plan in Encinitas. Others re-iterated the blemished record of FPS and the issue of conflict of interest. Some raised other possible options for the property inspection issue. Larry Brooks and Karen Lockwood independently cited trained volunteer programs in Escondido and Berkeley, respectively, to help carry out the inspections. Brooks sent the suggestion to City Manager Karen Brust.

The City Council has scheduled October 4 for a second and final reading of the pending abatement ordinance and contracting of Fire Prevention Services. In contrast to the first reading in August, more community input is anticipated.


 
 

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