Fires

Sacramento doubles penalty for neglected weeds in fire season

City of Sacramento officials are warning property owners that weeds need to be removed to prevent damage from potential grass fires such as the one in June on Jacinto Avenue and Center Parkway.
City of Sacramento officials are warning property owners that weeds need to be removed to prevent damage from potential grass fires such as the one in June on Jacinto Avenue and Center Parkway. hamezcua@sacbee.com

The city of Sacramento has doubled the fine for property owners who don’t obey city weed removal orders after a grass fire in a vacant lot damaged several homes last month in south Sacramento.

Property owners who don’t get their overgrown weeds and dry grasses mowed to comply with the city code will be fined a minimum of $1,000, in addition to the cost the city pays contract workers to do the job. Depending on the property’s size, an owner also can be fined $1,250 or $1,500.

“It is really a serious situation,” said city spokeswoman Linda Tucker. “With this hot, dry weather, it’s too dangerous to be waiting around for someone to mow their property.”

The city’s weed abatement program gives property owners two notices to cut weeds that are taller than 12 inches at the beginning of the fire season in an effort to lower the risk of dry grass igniting. If the notices are ignored, officials inspect the property and call contractors to do the mowing, and property owners are slapped with the mowing cost and fine.

The city has sent out about 7,000 notices this year to properties with hazardous weeds, mostly vacant lots, according to Carl Simpson, code enforcement chief. It is unclear how many property owners have complied. On Tuesday, the city placed liens on about 20 properties whose owners owed weed abatement fees.

The city had sent notices in February and May to the owner of the lot at 6481 Jacinto Ave. in south Sacramento. The lot, which was the site of another grass fire last year, is listed in property records as owned by Lap Kai Engineering, a Hong Kong company.

After the city did not hear from the owner, the lot was scheduled for inspection in June, but on June 27 a grass fire tore through the lot. It burned down the fences of a neighboring row of homes on Sunnyfield Way and badly damaged two of the houses. One house was left with a gutted attic. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, said Sacramento Fire Department spokesman Chris Harvey.

Simpson said the fire was the “catalyst” for increasing fines but many property owners do not comply with city notices and “would rather just pay the city to abate weeds.” However, he said the city does not have the resources to inspect all 7,000 properties where weeds need cutting.

The owner of the Jacinto Avenue lot was not fined because the fire occurred before a city inspection could be done, but Simpson said the owner was fined for a second lot on the same street.

Erika Labeff, who rents one of the houses next to the lot, said in addition to burning down the back fence, the fire cracked several windows in the house. Labeff, 27, said she was not in the house during the fire but inhaled smoke afterward.

“We got sick from the smoke,” she said. “We had to go to the (emergency room).”

Another neighbor whose home suffered some damage said she believes the city should take responsibility for mowing vacant lots like a service, rather than threatening owners with fines.

“The city could take responsibility for these fields, do what needs to be done, then tack it onto the property tax,” Bertha Corona, 63, said.

On Wednesday, a city contractor was seen mowing weeds in the vacant lot across the street.

Jeanne Kuang: 916-321-1188, @jeannekuang

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