Thursday, February 21. 2008
It looks like the final damages are in. After the second round of clearing was finished they actually spread straw around on part of it. I'm not sure what this is supposed to accomplish, but they have now seeded the area with a whole load of weed seeds.
If you click that photo you can see a larger version. That appears to be the end, but we'll see what tomorrow brings.
Thursday, February 21. 2008
It looks like yesterday's fiasco wasn't the end of it. The brush clearing guys are back today.
And it appears that they have the blessings of the fire inspector. You can click this photo if you want to see it larger:
If you want to see a bit more of the surroundings, click here for a big view. (And I'll warn you: it is pretty big.) You will notice that I have pointed out the houses that this clearing is meant to protect. Do they look protected now? Nope. And the first clearing appears to have been for the purpose of protecting a few cages containing exotic birds which probably shouldn't even be here. All destruction, no gain. Some fuel management was needed, we agree - just as we have done on our place: thinning and removal of dead material. But not this.
It has been suggested that we call the code enforcement office and
Wednesday, February 20. 2008
We called the weed inspector about that abatement notice and he came to look at our property yesterday (Tuesday) morning. We talked to him and showed him around and he said it looks fine. He said that if he sees something questionable he issues the abatement notice, then it is up to the landowner to call him and get it straight. He said that his notice was based on looking up the hill at our house and from that angle he could not see well enough to know if we were in violation or not.
So the lesson is that abatement notices are not unquestionable edicts from above. They can be issued in error, as was the one we received in 2006, or when there is a question, as was this one. If you get an abatement notice, don't just go out and raze everything. It is unnecessary, unhelpful, and very destructive to the land and the ecology on the land. Look what our neighbors did in response to their abatement notice. (The bad news. Click the photo to see it larger.)
If the photo looks fuzzy it's because it was pouring rain while they were working. They just ruined about half an acre of perfectly nice chaparral doing this. And after Janet spent a lot of time explaining the issues and offered to help them select which plants to cut and which to save. In the end, I guess expedience was the most important thing for them and to hell with the land and the creatures who depended upon it.
Don't cause irreparable damage to your land. You must, and should, comply with the law, but you cannot be forced to cut or clear any more than is required by law, so don't panic. If you get a weed abatement notice or brush abatement notice ordering you to clear your chaparral or other native plants, call the inspector. He's a reasonable guy. Have him come and show and discuss what needs to be done. And question him if you think he is overstepping. These guys like to use the word "clear" - I think as a convenience. But "clear" doesn't mean scrape-to-the-dirt. The law is specific about that. If he starts saying "clear", then politely confirm that he really means to manage the vegetation in conformity with the law. And if you do need to do some work, don't panic about the 30 day deadline. Deadlines can be adjusted if you are reasonable and are clearly doing the work.
Whatever you do, please don't just hire a machine to eat it all to the ground. You don't have to do that. So don't.
You are welcome to contact me if you have questions. I'm not an official or a lawyer, but I'll help if I can.
Wednesday, February 6. 2008
If you haven't seen an abatement notice, here's your chance. It comes as a little packet.
Here is the first page. You'll notice that the inspector introduces himself as a weed abatement inspector. We have put a great deal of effort into reducing our weed problem, leaving only the native chaparral. We still do have a few weeds such as ice plant, so we will see if removing them will meet the requirements of this notice. Somehow I doubt it.
The second page details the actual complaint against us. Actually, it is mostly boilerplate, with just one paragraph explaining the actual complaint. You will notice that they claim that there are brush/weeds within 100' of our home. It is true. There is some iceplant that we have not yet removed. But I doubt that they are talking about iceplant. I suspect that they are talking about a small grove of laurel sumac with some live oaks growing up through them. San Diego county publishes a document entitled SUGGESTED PLANT LIST FOR A DEFENSIBLE SPACE. (More on the defensible space a bit farther down in this entry.) That document suggests both laurel sumac and various oaks for use in a defensible space. What's more, these are in an area which receives irrigation via runoff from landscaping just a few yards up the hill. Irrigated chaparral plants are far less susceptible to fire than almost any non-native.
The third page is just a boilerplate thing that summarizes the standards. I need to go through this and determine whether what they have written on their little handout is really what the county and/or fire district is recommending. Sorry, but it's late and this will have to wait. Most of it actually looks pretty intelligent. For now, take a look at item 2. We are more than one acre, so it does not affect us. But I consider this a very dangerous statement. It is ambigous and could be interpreted to mean that all vegetation needs to be cleared from parcels of less than one acre. I think that is probably not what the law requires, but most naive homeowners will probably interpret it that way.
The fourth page has two sides. (Side A, Side B.) It is a "HOMEOWNER'S GUIDE TO FUEL MODIFICATION". Notice their recommendation for the first 50 feet (Zone 1.) It says "Irrigated landscaping or drought-tolerant, fire resistant plants. (Native or non-invasive plants recommended.)" For the second fifty feet they say "Natural plants can remain. Thin brush to cover 50% of ground."
The fifth, and final page has a couple of photos presumably taken by the inspector. Yes, they really are that dark in real life, too. (That line across the top one is not really on the land, it is just where the page was folded in the envelope that they sent us.) The top photo was taken from the road below us looking up our very steep hill towards the house. The angle is such that you cannot tell what is within Zone 1 or 2. The second photo is taken along the road that borders the lower side of our property. I'm not sure why they included it. The neighbor who owns that house in the photo also owns 100' feet from their house. So our well-maintained chaparral landscaping is not within either Zone 1 or Zone 2 for that house.
Now what? I don't know. Janet will be home tomorrow and we'll walk the property, make our measurements, put out our little flags, and then I suppose we'll call the inspector and waste our time and his showing him that there was no reason to write this notice in the first place. It's happened before and it will probably happen again.
Tuesday, February 5. 2008
Back in 2006 we received an abatement notice ordering us to clear a substantial amount of our property. This was at the end of two years of very difficult work by Janet to make our property comply with the law. It was issued by an "inspector" who was employed by a company called Fire Protection Services which contracts to fire departments to make these inspections, issue the notices, and then gets to do the clearing, if the orders in the notice are not complied with - pocketing the "administrative charges" themselves, and charging the landowner three times the going rate for brush clearing. That is a blatant conflict of interest. We fought it and eventually found that the "inspector" had issued an order against us for infractions which weren't even on our property. The notice was cancelled and that was that.
On Friday we got another abatement notice in the mail. (I predicted this in my December 20th entry.) This time it appears to be on fire department letterhead. We will be investigating to see if the inspector is a real fire department employee or if FPS is trying to hide their conflict of interest better.
We will also be checking to make sure that we are in compliance with the law, as we think we are. After the recent fires everyone wants to impress their boss and the public by running around pretending to do something. We do not wish to be the victims of such a scam.
Stay tuned because it looks like things will be getting interesting again.
Thursday, December 20. 2007
The fires are behind us and it is time for those little red patches of color to start sprouting along the edges of brush. I'm not talking about wildflowers, but brush abatement notices. Think it sounds like a good idea to clear your "brush"? Think again!
Do you know that there is a huge industry in the southwest built around brush clearing. There is a LOT of money in brush clearing. Think about how much brush there is in the southwestern US. It's kind of like a motherlode for people who are either greedy or just not smart enough to do anything else for a living. All they have to do is convince people that it is worthless, dangerous and evil and then ask for a blank check to clear it. That's where marketing comes in, because the brush isn't worthless, dangerous, or evil. So the brush clearing companies must make you believe that it is.
Do you know where those abatement notices come from? In some communities they actually do come from the fire department, but many communities are contracting with outside companies to do their inspections and issue their abatement orders. And who do you think those outside companies are? The brush clearing companies, that's who. One very big example is Fire Protection Services. They are the ones who contracted with the Escondido Fire Department and issued an abatement order on us. It turned out that they didn't know where the property lines were and the brush they were ordering cleared wasn't even on our property. Do they care? No. All they want is to force people into paying them for clearing somebody's brush. It doesn't even have to be yours.
And why cut the brush at all? They say it is for fire protection, but is it?
Brush does burn. But so will anything; native, non-native, mixed, weeds, landscaping, all will burn when dry. The chaparral, which is our brush here in southern California, has evolved to survive fires and recover from them, as has just about every ecosystem on the planet. Every ecosystem has its way of recovering after a fire, storm, or other catastrophe because every ecosystem experiences catastrophe from time to time. But that doesn't mean that chaparral needs fire to remain viable. Most of the chaparral plants are very resistant to catching on fire in the first place. As I pointed out in an earlier message, most chaparral species are very difficult to ignite even with a propane torch. They wither and char and unless you are persistent they just take a lot of energy to get started. If you can get the chaparral started and keep it going by blasting it with 60MPH winds, then it will produce a mighty wildfire - but so would any plant community under those circumstances. But think about this: the Witch Fire (the really big one in San Diego county this year) went about thirty miles from its origin - in about three days. That's ten miles a day or about four tenths of a mile per hour. In 40 to 75 MPH winds. If that was grass it would be moving almost as fast as the wind. You can get out of the way of a fire that is moving at four tenths of a mile per hour. You can evacuate a city in front of it. If all of that land had been weeds and grasses, the fire would have moved so fast that you couldn't get out of its way.
And that is what is going to happen if we keep clearing the "evil" brush. Or if we keep burning it. (Make no mistake: nature is not causing all of these fires, people are.) Grass and weeds will take the place of the chaparral. It will burn faster and much more often. And you will have to be able to run a heck of a lot faster to outrun it.
Now back to the brush clearing companies. What happens after they clear your brush? Something will grow back, that's what. Usually the chaparral plants will try to grow back, but they will be competing with a lot of weeds. And then what grows back will be a lot more flammable and will burn a lot faster. So then you'll have to clear again and again and again. That's what's called a cash cow if you are a brush clearing company. Once the cycle begins it is hard to break. And that is exactly what they want.
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