About Garden Grants Pass

Garden Grants Pass!

       Since I started gardening professionally in Grants Pass, I have wanted to garden Grants Pass, the whole city, though I know I can’t.  It’s just that it needs it so badly.  So I’m starting a club called Garden Grants Pass, to do just that.
I didn’t feel that way when I lived here for two years in the 80’s.  The town was a lot smaller and much cleaner and neater in those days.  But 30 years has doubled the population of this city and probably tripled its area, looking at all the vacant lots.   40 years of not enforcing nuisance codes regarding weeds and litter combined with 30 years of expansion and unnecessarily high water rates has turned this city into a dry, weedy, seedy, littered mess.
Ironically, our city code mandates that every square foot of Grants Pass be gardened.  It forbids allowing weeds to mature and go to seed.  This is gardening, which is keeping order in outdoor spaces, and invariably involves weeding at some point.  Weeding is the difference between gardening and “landscape maintenance,” which doesn’t maintain any property well.
Not only does our code mandate gardening, but our City Charter mandates that the City Manager enforce all city codes.  This has obviously not been done, partly because the city makes no money enforcing nuisance codes.  People readily comply when told by an officer to clean up a few weeds and a bit of litter, so no citations are issued.  They are much less likely to clean up a property so weedy and trashed that it is a safety hazard, which the city can abate for 10% over cost, plus a heavy fine.
Property nuisance codes also haven’t been enforced because there is a lack of gardeners, people who are willing to pull weeds.  This has happened because the city tried to get us to save water by instituting a tiered rate structure with high rates for high use, and they succeeded too well, putting us and the water plant in a death spiral of dropping usage and rising rates.  A generation of poor people has been unable to garden, and thus there is a shortage of people willing to garden for money.  If they can’t afford to garden their own yards, they won’t pull your weeds, either.
There are many vacant properties in this city due to lack of nuisance code enforcement.  People can keep land cheaply, and hold it until they get the price they think it is worth, rather than selling at the market price with maintenance taken into account.
Our city has lately had a Public Safety performance audit; the auditors said that we must enforce our property maintenance codes to reduce greater criminality brought on by property neglect.  We who want a city that looks safe and is safe must encourage them to follow our codes and enforce them.

Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener        541-955-9040      rycke@gardener.com

Disorderly Property is Dangerous
5th Speech to Networking Toastmasters, 6/3/2013

Good morning, Toastmasters and Honored Guests:

Grants Pass’ top stated goal has long been, “to be a city that looks safe and is safe.”  What’s wrong with that goal?

I’ll tell you what’s wrong; that it’s only a goal.  That our city has been taking no real steps to attain it.

What makes a city look safe?  I submit that it is cleanliness and order: clean streets, well kept properties; no litter; no graffiti.  Order is intimidating to the disorderly and lawless, comforting to the orderly and law abiding.

Weeds, litter and filthy pavements, on the other hand, are encouraging to low life and disturbing to respectable folks.  Disorderly property is worse than bad advertising; it is downright dangerous.  That’s why we have property nuisance codes.

In 1982, James Q. Wilson wrote an article for Atlantic Monthly about the disorder that encourages crime.  He called it, “Broken Windows.”   It has lent its name to a policing philosophy which holds that, if we take care of disorderly nuisances like broken windows, major crimes will be reduced.  “Take care of the little things,” they say, “and the big things take care of themselves.”  It has worked in New York and Cincinnati; it can work in Grants Pass.

He said that the things that aggravate us the most are not major crimes, which rarely happen to us, but constant nuisances imposed on us by thoughtless others, like barking dogs, litter and weeds—except that Wilson wrote about broken windows, panhandlers and prostitutes, being a city boy.  Nuisance codes were written to keep the peace, by having our public nags, our city police, remind us to love one another so we don’t drive each other nuts. 

Broken windows are several steps down the road to disorder.  Disorder starts with weeds gone to seed, and tree trash left rotting on pavements.  “Seedy” is a word that denotes neglect in property or dress.  Litter soon follows, as people add their ugly to ugliness.  As gangsters get comfortable, they start tagging their territories.  Kids looking for bad fun start breaking windows and entering abandoned buildings, like the Dimmick hospital.

Disorderly vagrants throw litter around weedy places to see if it gets old, or gets picked up.  Old litter means that a place is safe to camp in; no one cares, and good people stay away.  It marks their territories. 

Ownership is control, and cleanliness also marks territory; the territory of the law abiding and orderly.  The way to take control of your city is to clean it up and keep it clean, and thereby make it look safe, so it will be safe.

Truly, it is kinder to warn one to clean up a bit of litter and a few weeds, than to wait until it ripens into a major safety hazard that is a huge, expensive hassle to clean up!  But the latter is what our city has been doing for some time, and it shows.   

After all, the city makes no money off of warning people to clean up nuisances.  But it can abate safety hazards for 10% over cost.  You see the occasional “notice of violation” sign on selected neglected properties this time of year.  

But since nuisance codes are not enforced, more safety hazards ripen than our code enforcers can harvest.   Thus we had a forest fire, complete with water drops, right off 7th Street two years ago, that started in the weeds behind Burger King’s lot and roared up a hill into tall pines.

In 2006, short-time-City-Manager David Frasher created a Code Enforcement Office, and forbade police or firemen to enforce our codes.  He apparently read our City Charter, which mandates enforcement of all city ordinances.  It seems that he started Code Enforcement to create the appearance of enforcing city codes while making it the place where property nuisance complaints go to die. 

He soon renamed them “Community Service Officers” or CSOs.  They “serve and protect” property slobs, developers, and bankers, not neighbors.  They enforce city codes only by complaint—and then tell the slobs who complained about their property.  I’ve had a couple of neighbors in my face because of them.

It can be a dangerous job to ask a disorderly person to clean up his property or to complain to police about him.  That’s why nuisance codes must be enforced on sight, and all officers trained to spot violations and warn violators.

Right now, our police are citing people for crimes that they should be jailed for, while being forbidden to cite nuisance code violators.  Please ask the Council and Manager to eliminate the Community Service Code Enforcement Office and train all of our police to use their citation power where it will be most effective, to nag our residents and landowners to obey our nuisance codes.  Then we can really be “a city that looks safe and is safe.”

I yield the floor to the Toastmaster.

Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener    541-955-9040     rycke@gardener.com

 Keeping Properties to Code:  A Landscape Maintenance Guide

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)