I have lately been talking and writing to our head Community Service Officer, Jeff Geddings, about violations of our nuisance codes in my neighborhood. He belittled my complaints as too petty to bother people with. He made it perfectly clear that the CSOs will not enforce our weed and litter nuisance codes until a property becomes a health and safety hazard. Since health and safety hazards are covered in a different part of the code, our nuisance codes do not get enforced at all.
If City police enforce only against health and safety hazards, they thereby allow such hazards to develop. A major point of nuisance codes is to keep such hazards from developing. Litter attracts more litter, which attracts bigger trash, which becomes a safety hazard, along with the weeds growing up through the rubbish. Obviously vacant properties also attract vagrants who add more danger. If police would tackle the little, seemingly petty things, the big things would mostly not happen.
I complained about some occupied properties last week; I was warned not to do so in one case by my housemate, who says that the man is a hot-head and dangerous. This is how enforcement by complaint against safety hazards alone leads to slums.
People in poorer parts of our cities have been trained by the drug war to distrust police, and to be afraid of certain neighbors. Our police reinforce that training by belittling our seemingly petty complaints about litter and weeds, so people who are not afraid to complain eventually give up, and inure themselves to the mess, which only gets worse. Eventually even police are afraid to enter such neighborhoods, just as they are reluctant to confront the belligerent who thinks his yard is his trash can.
Geddings told me that people will argue with police if they tell them to pick up a few pieces of litter in their yards. Cry me a river! Police don’t generally argue; they tell one to tell it to a judge. It is far kinder to make one pick up a few pieces of litter than to make one clean up a health hazard.
In this matter, our police act like a dysfunctional parent, picking up after her children or ignoring their mess rather than risking an argument by trying to make them clean up after themselves. It isn’t pleasant to be a professional nag, but that’s what we hire them to do: to confront people over whom we don’t have authority. I ask this Council to tell our police to actively enforce our nuisance codes, and stop breeding safety hazards and slums.
(Perhaps we should all complain about violations of these ordinances. After all, if they won’t act on them, one is harassing the cops alone. The phone number for Grants Pass Police is 541-474-6370. Put it in your cell phone for easy use.)
Selected Grants Pass Nuisance ordinances:
5.12.050 Weed, Grass, Snow and Ice Removal.
1. No owner or person in charge of property, improved or unimproved, abutting on a public sidewalk or right of way adjacent to a public sidewalk may permit:
A. Snow to remain on the sidewalk for a period longer than the first two hours of daylight after the snow has fallen.
B. Ice to cover or remain on the sidewalk, after the first two hours of daylight after the ice has formed. Such person shall remove ice accumulating on the sidewalk or cover the ice with sand, ashes, or other suitable material to assure safe travel. (Ord. 2901 §9, 1960)
C. Weeds or grass from growing or remaining on the sidewalk for a period longer than two weeks or consisting of a length greater than 6 inches.
2. Property owners and persons in charge of property, improved or unimproved, abutting on right of way adjacent to a public sidewalk shall be responsible for the maintenance of said right of way, including but not limited to: keeping it free from weeds; watering and caring for any plants and trees planted herein; maintaining any groundcover placed by the City; maintaining any groundcover as required by other sections of the Municipal Code or the Grants Pass Development Code. (Ord. 5380 § 18, 2006)
5.12.060 Weeds and Noxious Growth.
No owner or person in charge of property may permit weeds or other noxious vegetation to grow upon his property. It is the duty of an owner or person in charge of property to cut down or to destroy weeds or other noxious vegetation from becoming unsightly, or from becoming a fire hazard, or from maturing or going to seed. (Ord. 2901 §10, 1960)
5.12.070 Scattering Rubbish.
No person may throw, dump, or deposit upon public or private property, and no person may keep on private property, any injurious or offensive substance or any kind of rubbish, (including but not limited to garbage, trash, waste, refuse, and junk), appliances, motor vehicles or parts thereof, building materials, machinery, or any other substance which would mar the appearance, create a stench, or detract from the cleanliness or safety of such property, or would be likely to injure any animal, vehicle, or person traveling upon any public way. (Ord. 2901 §11, 1960; Ord. 4397 §1, 1981) (Ord. 5379 § 18, 2006)