Archive for June, 2010

Good government: Kudos to Sparks’ volunteer weed abatement program

June 29, 2010

By David Farside

June 28th, 2010

Whenever you think of code enforcement or any kind of compliance mandated by government, there is usually some opposition by people who are most affected by regulations. But on July 12, the Sparks City Council is scheduled to hear a proposal by City Clerk Linda Patterson for a volunteer weed abatement program that should be noncontentious, approved by council and accepted by every resident of Sparks.

Due to budget constraints, Sparks is limited to only one code enforcement officer. At the request of City Manager Shaun Carey, the city clerk found and implemented a successful volunteer weed abatement program used in Sacramento, Calif. In the middle of May, a volunteer from the city clerk’s office was off with camera in hand to photograph several properties that had received complaints because of high weeds in their yard. The volunteer also found many other non-compliant properties in the area, which extended from Prater Way south to Victorian Avenue and Pyramid Way east to McCarran Boulevard. In all, more than 20 properties were cited for violations of the city’s municipal code on weed abatement.

The city clerk, in her capacity as a code enforcement officer, sent notices to the property owners informing them of the code violations. The end result was a 90 percent compliance rate.

The volunteer program seemed to be effective. The letter of notice wasn’t intimidating, the property owner removed the weeds and the main cost to the taxpayer was the price of the stamp on the letter of notification. Thanks to the city clerk and the volunteer, the program was a success.

Personally, I remember some good discussions and arguments regarding changes in code enforcement. One was dealing with mandatory garbage collection in the county. Everyone in the county claimed they composted all of their organic waste and recycled their paper, plastic and cans. One gentleman insisted he was going to recycle his old pick-up truck that was parked in front of his county property for 35 years.

Reno Disposal, a Waste Management company seeking a lucrative contract from the county, argued a health hazard was created because there was no weekly garbage pick-up. Although it couldn’t identify any specific health hazards, it did know exactly how much the services would cost each county resident, whether their trash was picked up or not.

Another contentious debate was a proposed county regulation limiting the number of junk cars on property that were in visible sight of neighbors, passersby, squirrels and rabbits. The owners of the cars said their cars weren’t really junk — they were antiques. The county made them cover their treasures and build a wooden fence around the eyesores of independent thinking.

At one time, Sparks had a problem with house trailers and motor homes parked on the streets and the lawns in residential neighborhoods. The city proposed limiting street parking and required the property owner to build a concrete slab to park his weekend home away from home — but not without a fight.

Another code enforcement battle took place when the city wanted fire-preventing overhead sprinkler systems installed in the ceilings of new homes built in Spanish Springs. The builders argued it would be too costly and wanted the city to build a new fire station, saying the response time from the closest fire station was between nine and 11 minutes. The city continued to issue building permits anyway and now everybody’s happy. Well, almost everybody.

The volunteer program proposed by Patterson serves many purposes. It will improve the appearance of our neighborhoods, reduce fire hazards, help maintain what little property value we have left and contribute to the common good of our community. And since we only have one code enforcement officer on the city payroll, the volunteer program will allow him more time to respond to other complaints.

The city clerk’s proposal encourages members of the City Council to identify areas throughout the city that are not in compliance with weed abatement and fire codes. City staff will select the neighborhoods for the volunteer code enforcement as needed. That’s a good, politically neutral idea. The council members have enough to do without having to micromanage the volunteers or the city clerk’s office.

Hopefully, on July 12 the City Council will approve continuance of the volunteer weed abatement program as presented by the city clerk. Many of us, including myself, complain about city government every chance we get. This time we should all thank city staff for a good idea providing a needed community service for the price of a postage stamp. Now that’s what I call good government.

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