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Council OKs Brush Fire Prevention Law After Easing Deadlines

December 06, 1990|PHIL SNEIDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Glendale City Council gave final approval Tuesday to a brush fire prevention ordinance after easing it to meet homeowners' worries.

The new law, which takes effect Jan. 3, still will require firefighters to check 13,000 hillside lots and order the removal of flammable brush that could endanger houses. But it will give property owners more time to clear their land and allow them to appeal clearance orders to the council.

Glendale Fire Chief John Montenero proposed the measure in the wake of the June 27 College Hills fire, the most damaging in the city's history, saying dry vegetation contributed to the rapid spread of the blaze, which damaged or destroyed 64 houses.

City officials said the new law is aimed at forcing homeowners to help prevent another such blaze.

"We can only go so far with respect to what we as government can do," said Councilman Carl W. Raggio. "I like this. It's an appropriate thing. I'm anxious to see it work."

The council tentatively approved an earlier version of the brush-clearance law on Nov. 13. But final adoption was delayed when several residents complained about the fees and short compliance deadlines.

Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg, who called the original proposal too heavy-handed, said Tuesday that most of her concerns had been addressed. But she urged firefighters to educate property owners about the brush-removal rules "before you lower the sledgehammer. You want people to have the opportunity to do it themselves without being ramrodded."

Fire officials said they were working on such an information campaign.

Under the final plan, approved unanimously, property owners will have 30 days to remove hazardous brush after an inspection. If firefighters find the property is still not cleared, residents will receive a 15-day warning notice. If that is ignored, the city will send a crew to remove the brush and add the cost to the owner's annual property tax bill.

The original plan gave property owners only 15 days to clear their land, followed by a 10-day warning period. Under the original plan, a property owner who disputed the clearance order could appeal only to the Glendale Building Commission. The final version allows a further appeal to the City Council.

The brush-clearance program is designed to be financially self-supporting, and firefighters last month proposed that a $30 inspection fee be charged whenever the department finds hazardous vegetation. But under the final version, a $55 fee will be charged only when a homeowner does not clear the required brush within 30 days.

Originally, firefighters proposed that flammable tree foliage, branches or twigs be trimmed to five feet from the ground. Because some residents complained, the final version requires only a three-foot safety zone.

The original plan required the annual removal of hazardous brush by April 15. The final version states that the flammable vegetation is a problem that will be addressed year-round.

Although 13,000 parcels in Glendale's brush-hazard areas will be checked initially, Fire Marshal Chris Gray predicted that about 10,000 of these lots will need no brush clearance. Firefighters are expected to conduct more rigorous inspections and order removal of hazardous brush on about 3,200 lots, he said.

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