El Dorado County Vegetation Management Ordinance gets first look by supervisors | TahoeDailyTribune.com

El Dorado County Vegetation Management Ordinance gets first look by supervisors

Noel Stack
Mountain Democrat

Good fire hazard removal makes good neighbors.

That’s one sentiment behind the proposed Vegetation Management Ordinance, of which the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors saw a rough draft at a meeting earlier this month. The draft proposes rules equivalent to, and in some cases more stringent than, those imposed by Cal Fire, including:

Treating improved lots if they are within 100 feet of structures (e.g. must remove all dead plants, grass and weeds and remove dead or dry leaves, pine needles from yard and rain gutters).

Good Neighbor and Neighborhood Protection Policy (improved lots) — Treating a 100-foot-wide strip of land around flammable structure(s) located on an adjacent improved parcel (some or all of this clearance may be required on the adjacent improved parcel or the adjacent unimproved parcel depending upon the location of the structure on the improved parcel).

Good Neighbor and Neighborhood Protection Policy (unimproved lots) — Treating a 100-foot wide strip of land around flammable structure(s) located on an adjacent improved parcel (some or all of this clearance may be required on the adjacent improved parcel or the adjacent unimproved parcel depending upon the location of the structure on the improved parcel).

Treating improved and unimproved parcels adjacent to roadways and determined by the county fire inspector (or designee) to be necessary for the safe ingress and egress to the area served by the roadway or fire access easement.

“This isn’t just the responsibility of one person,” stressed Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Creighton Avila. “We want to make entire neighborhoods safe.”

Avila also noted that abatement doesn’t mean cutting down every tree and ripping up every shrub. “This does not need to be a moonscape,” he said, adding that education will be a key component.

Property owners will receive notice that they must clean up potential wildfire fuel on Feb. 15 and they have until June 1 to complete the work in a given year, according to the draft timeline. If the cleanup is not done, the county will send a violation notice and an abatement/appeals process begins. If the property owner refuses to take action and appeals are denied, the county has the authority to clean up the property (or hire a contractor) and place a lien on the property to recoup costs, the proposed rules state.

The ordinance is not meant to be punitive, Avila told the supervisors. “We want to work with the property owners.”

Ordinance enforcement could cost the county $545,000 to $624,000 annually, depending on how many inspections the county completes each year. There are approximately 81,000 improved lots in the county’s unincorporated area. The most expensive program cost option would cover about 2,500 lot inspections per year.

District 1 Supervisor John Hidahl said he sees the ordinance as a “small investment” to protect the county, its residents and property. An approved ordinance could also offer insurance companies incentive to work with homeowners rather than pull out of the market, he added.

While agreeing that the ordinance is needed, some on the board and in the audience had concerns about the proposed Good Neighbor policies.

“Working with neighbors isn’t always so awesome,” said District 4 Supervisor Lori Parlin, who also worried about inspectors coming onto property unannounced. “That can be kind of dangerous in El Dorado County.”

Grizzly Flats resident Mark Almer told supervisors a vacant lot owner in his neighborhood has refused to participate in community cleanups. While a Pollock Pines resident said she and her neighbors didn’t take kindly to “rude” requests to clean up their property made of them by people who don’t even live in their neighborhood.

The costs to property owners associated with abatement also concerned supervisors, county officials and audience members. Many seniors and low-income residents can’t afford this, District 2 Supervisor Shiva Frentzen said.

Avila said the county and local fire safe councils could pursue grants to help seniors, veterans and others on fixed incomes.

Sharing figures based on the El Dorado Hills Fire Department’s Unimproved Property Hazard Reduction Ordinance, EDH Fire Marshal Marshall Cox said the cost ranges from about $400 to $2,200 to clear a vacant lot.

Several residents who came up to the podium said that amount easily jumps into the thousands when tree removal is required.

Taking comments and suggestions, staff is expected to return to the Board of Supervisors later this month for further action.