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Unsightly yards, fire hazards targeted

October 01, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

The city of El Centro is set to continue efforts to reduce fire hazards and eyesores throughout the city.

This time around, however, abandoned vehicles, and not just debris, will be targeted for removal.

"The ones that have weeds growing up through the engine compartment" and not classic cars obviously being restored, said Mayor Cheryl Walker.

The removal of any debris considered to be a fire hazard is part of the city's 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 hazards. The city's second phase will continue to include inspections by FPS.

Walker said the second-phase inspections should identify those areas missed in the first phase. She also said the second phase will put a greater emphasis on lands owned throughout the city by the Union Pacific Railroad.


City Councilman Larry Grogan said he hopes those properties cleaned up during the first phase will remain clean.

"That was the message the first time around," he said. "The second phase is just another phase."

A tour of the city with Tina Ledyard, El Centro Fire Department permit coordinator, revealed a number of parcels with overgrown debris, flammable materials and abandoned vehicles of the type to be targeted.

Adjacent to homes in the Farmers Estates subdivision, south of Interstate 8, along La Brucherie Road, is overgrown brush hanging over some residences' fences.

Near the intersection of Ross Avenue and Fairfield Avenue is a large lot that appears to be a former feed lot with lots of wood and brush. In the same area is a small lot with several rusted, gutted vehicles and a small apparently abandoned house.

Adjacent to Swarthout Park in the northeast part of the city is another large lot with numerous railroad ties, tires and brush.

"This is a prime example of the things we've been working on to clean up," Ledyard said.

Next to the railroad tracks along Orange Avenue are two burned-out buildings previously used by the railroad to house train crews.

Ledyard said the buildings should be boarded up to prevent people from entering.

The first phase of the nuisance abatement program was considered a success by Walker and Grogan.

"I think it was incredibly successful," Walker said. "Two hundred of 231 parcels were cleaned up by the owners. Unfortunately, 30 had forced abatement."

Walker said of those cleaned by FPS, numerous are owned by absentee landowners. She said she hopes such owners will be more aware of the condition of their property.

"The first phase was also successful in getting the message out to the community that the City Council is serious about improving the city's aesthetics," she said. "We look at this as part of the city's economic development."

Grogan said during the first phase a lot of material was removed from a number of parcels.

"In some instances people applauded us as the properties were cleaned," he said, adding the nuisance abatement plan is a good one and those who saw it coming cleaned up their properties without being prompted.

Several properties had significant amounts of material removed during phase one.

One property in the 200 block of Maple Avenue had 440 cubic yards of material removed at a cost of $16,693.93 to the owners. Owners of two other parcels in the 200 block of Maple Avenue were charged $4,871.20 for the removal of 132.44 cubic yards and $6,447.64 for 160 cubic yards.

One property owner in the 200 block of East Olive Avenue was charged $1,312.12 for the removal of 29.63 cubic yards of material.

One property owner on West Heil Avenue was assessed $28,334.63 for the removal of 879.25 cubic yards of material.

Removal fees include a one-time administrative charge of $200, a dumping fee and fees for labor.

Owners of the above properties appealed the fees as excessive to the City Council in July. The council, however, unanimously supported the fees. Failure to pay for the cleanup results in liens being filed against the properties.

FPS president Ken Osborn said as with the first phase, the second phase will target owners of parcels with fire hazards on them. The owners will be notified by mail and requested to clean up the areas. Those failing to do so will be contacted again. Ultimately, with city approval, FPS will enter private property and remove the hazardous material. The property owner will then be billed for the efforts.

Walker said the ultimate goal of the city is to not need the services of FPS and that residents take care of their own property.

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

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