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E.C. nuisance abatement program under fire

July 19, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

El Centro residents showed up at Wednesday's City Council meeting to object to the high cost of a third party removing trash and debris from their properties.

Their pleas were to no avail, however, as the City Council unanimously voted to approve the charges, though expressions of sympathy were made.

The removal of any debris considered to be a fire hazard is part of the city's year-old nuisance abatement program, in which the city has contracted with El Cajon-based Fire Prevention Services to inspect, notify and, if necessary, enter private property and remove the hazard.

Numerous residents objected to the process and especially to the fees being charged.

Flora Gentry, who owns property at 224 E. Olive Ave., said she was in the process of having the property cleaned up when mechanical problems to the equipment doing the work occurred. She also said $1,000 was too much to charge.

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"I didn't have enough time," Gentry told the council.

According to FPS, 29.63 cubic yards of material were removed from Gentry's property, at a cost of $28 per cubic yard. Adding to the cost is a one-time administrative fee of $200, a dumping fee of $237.68 and hand labor of $44.80. The total was $1,312.12.

Ray and Lydia Valencia did not get off so lightly on their three properties.

On their property at 221 Maple Ave., the Valencias were charged $16,693.93 for the removal of 440 cubic yards of material at their 603 E. Ross Road property.

At two parcels in the 200 block of Maple Avenue, they are being charged $4,871.20 for the removal of 132.44 cubic yards and $6,447.64 for 160 cubic yards.

"It's almost foolish to charge this amount," Ray Valencia said. "It's almost like giving someone a license to steal."

FPS president Ken Osborn provided the council with the breakdown of how FPS contacted each landowner numerous times and months in advance to any entry onto private property.

No entries are made without the specific approval of the city fire marshal.

One property, at 235 W. Heil Ave., and owned by Maggie and Norman Lewis of Palo Alto, was assessed $28,334.63 for the removal of 879.25 cubic yards of material.

Fire Marshal Linual White said the city and property owners ended up in court over the matter until a settlement was reached, allowing the city to move forward with the cleanup.

Councilman Jack Terrazas said the nuisance abatement program has been widely publicized and he was disappointed that locals would allow their properties to degrade to such levels.

"I don't regret having implemented this program," he said, adding neighbors should not have to put up with it.

Councilman Jack Dunnam said the council knew the program would be expensive and unpopular and that neighbors should not have to put up with such nuisances.

"I am fully supportive of it," he said, adding the process does require some refining.

Councilman Larry Grogan said this morning that 4,654.09 cubic yards of material were removed throughout the city.

"I make no apologies for the steps we are about to take," he said just before the council vote.

Mayor Cheryl Walker said the council knew the program would be expensive and that the program would move forward. She asked City Manager Abdel Salem who would pay the fees if the city reduced them for the property owners.

"If you choose to reduce the assessment, then you pay," Salem said.

Fire Marshal White said more than 200 property owners voluntarily cleaned up their properties when contacted by FPS.

Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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