Nevada City’s proposed vegetation management ordinance would hold property owners’ feet to fire | TheUnion.com

Nevada City’s proposed vegetation management ordinance would hold property owners’ feet to fire

Nevada City is working on a variety of approaches to battling wildfire risks, including hiring herds of goats to graze areas with heavy fuel loads and mapping the spread of simulated fires with high-tech software.

On Wednesday, the city council moved forward with another tactic, approving the first reading of an ordinance that will help the fire department enforce vegetation management on private property.

The proposed ordinance is intended to help reduce fire-prone fuels within Nevada City. The fire department believes the ordinance will clarify the responsibilities of property owners to address vegetation management and emergency vehicle access issues, said Nevada City Fire Division Chief Sam Goodspeed.

The ordinance is similar to one already in existence in Grass Valley, Goodspeed said, adding that it will give his department more teeth for enforcement.

"Right now, we rely on complaints and what we see when we drive around," he said.

According to Goodspeed, currently the fire department is limited to sending letters to recalcitrant property owners, which can be ignored.

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"There's not a lot we can do," he said.

The proposed ordinance would institute requirements for mowing and clearing based on the size of the property and would require property owners to keep emergency vehicle access clear. If the city steps in to abate a property, the ordinance would allow the city to place a lien on the property for its costs. And chronic scofflaws would face fines of up to $100 for the first violation and up to $200 for a second violation within a year. A third (or subsequent) violation within a 12-month period could be charged and prosecuted as a misdemeanor.

Such punitive measures would be the last-ditch effort, Goodspeed said, adding, "If we've sent out several notices, then we would push for that."

Local attorney Greg Archbald told the city council it needed to take a careful look at the language of the ordinance, saying he saw some legal issues. He agreed to send his concerns in writing to City Attorney Hal DeGraw.

The ordinance will return to the council for a second reading and then would take effect 30 days after adoption.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.

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