Still smarting from last year's public protests, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday approved a scaled-back brush-inspection program but rejected a fee to finance the work.
City Administrative Officer Bill Fujioka had recommended that a $17 fee be charged to the owner of each hillside property inspected to ensure compliance with brush-clearance rules.
But a similar $13 fee last year caused such a public uproar that the council rescinded the charge and refunded $900,000 in paid fees.
"There were problems brought out as a consequence of last year's program and I think we need to see that we have a program done well and done right and then determine in the future if charges are appropriate," said Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, chairwoman of the council's Public Safety Committee.
By not charging a fee in 1999 and again this year, the council has created a $3.2-million gap for the budget year beginning July 1, Fujioka warned.
But council members, who had been threatened with lawsuits and political reprisals last year, were unwilling to consider a new fee.
The council also voted to scale back--from 170,000 to 100,000 properties--the number of hillside areas to be subject to mandatory inspection by the Fire Department.
Critics last year complained that the area targeted for inspection included well-developed flatlands, such as portions of Ventura Boulevard, that are not faced with the same brush-fire danger as undeveloped hillsides.
Inspectors checked and eliminated many parcels from the mandatory brush inspections, said Daryl Arbuthnott, a Fire Department battalion chief.
"We don't feel [safety] is going to be compromised at all," he said of the decision to scale back the inspection area.
The program requires that fire officials inspect properties in fire hazard areas to ensure brush is cleared from within 200 feet of structures.
The notices requesting property owners to clear brush will be mailed April 1. The notices provide 15 days for compliance, Arbuthnott said.
"On May 1 we go out and do a sweep of the area" to check on compliance, Arbuthnott said.
If property owners ignore requests to clear brush, they could face a $218 fee for reinspection and a $314 administration fee if the city is forced to hire a contractor to remove the brush.
Despite recent rains, Arbuthnott said the mandatory inspection program is still essential for Los Angeles' hilly areas.
"The brush is still dry. We are not letting our guard down," he said.