YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Cutbacks, Yard by Yard

Letting Mother Nature have her way can lead to some unruly shrubs. They tumble over walls and onto sidewalks and streets, forcing pedestrians to choose between braving thorns or auto traffic.


Jim Conklin has a thing about shrubs. He's spent much of his adult life keeping them trim, usually as the supervisor of a crew that cuts trees from atop a cherry picker in Huntington Beach. Sometimes he even spends time sending letters to local homeowners warning them to cut back their bushes.

"It's a steady problem," says Conklin, 55, who's been battling overgrown vegetation in one form or another for 33 years. "Bougainvillea is the worst. I don't think people realize it's there because they don't look over their fences."

In fact, it's such a problem countywide, endangering pedestrians and creating fire hazards, that last year Orange County sent crews to trim overgrown shrubbery at about 260 private properties, says Jon Anderson, the county's hazard reduction supervisor.

And more than 2,000 property owners did the work themselves after being pressured by the county. "You've got to keep a handle on it so that it doesn't get out of hand in an urban area," Anderson said.

Every year the problem recurs--overgrown grass and shrubs creep out onto streets and sidewalks, presenting a daunting challenge to passersby. If the stuff isn't cleaned up, Anderson said, the consequences can be serious. Children walking to school can be forced to detour into the street across the path of oncoming traffic. Pedestrians can trip and fall. Blind walkers can be led smack into overhanging branches and vines by seeing-eye dogs, whose points of view are closer to the ground. And perhaps most alarming of all, fires can be kindled at the drop of a matchstick.

The county tries to deal with the problem by annually sending about 2,500 letters to property owners likely to encounter problems. County officials also respond to an average of 200 complaints a year.

When overgrowth is found, Anderson said, owners are given 15 days to take care of it. If they don't, the county hires a contractor to do the work and tacks the tab--generally $400 to $500--onto the owner's property tax bill to be paid at the end of the year.

Some Orange County cities also have aggressive overgrowth policies. In Dana Point, for instance, overgrown shrubbery on various street corners has sometimes obscured the vision of motorists wishing to turn. As a result, the city adopted a tough ordinance under which offending property owners can be charged with a misdemeanor, fined and put on probation for failing to comply, said Ed Knight, director of community development.

"We've never had a situation where we've actually had to go to take such drastic measures," Knight said. "It's usually just a question of removing or cutting back the vegetation."

The city attorney's office in Stanton, where overgrown shrubbery has contributed to the spread of fires in the past, felt strongly enough about the issue to hold an emergency meeting for property owners last year to improve their compliance.

And in Huntington Beach, where Conklin is part of the team, an annual publicity campaign in the fall gives residents the choice of trimming their overgrown shrubbery or having the city do it for $73 an hour.

"It usually works," says Daryl Smith, the city's acting deputy director of public works. "When they see that price, a lot of people figure they can just go out and do it and save themselves some money. We just don't want any accidents."


Safe Yardwork

Time to clear those overgrown tree branches and weeds from the sidewalk? Here are tips to be the job safely.


* Keep all people away from the operator during use. At least one manufacturer recommends keeping people, including helpers, a minimum of 30 ft. away.

* Before starting, make sure blade is properly secured to the shaft. Replace damaged blades. Avoid cutting close to fences, sides of buildings and other obstacles.


* Store all pesticides out of reach of children and in their original, labeled containers.

* Read the safety label before use and follow all recommended safety precautions during and after use.

* Wash yourself and your clothes thoroughly with soap and water after each application. Never launder pesticide-contamined clothing with the family wash.

* Know what to do in case of an accidental poisoning.


* Before starting, remove any obstacles from the area you are going to mow.

* Use extra care when backing up or going around corners, shrubs, trees or other obstacles.

* Don't turn on slopes. With the blade disengaged, turn slowly and gradually downhill.

* Don't mow near drop-offs, ditches, or embankments.

Source: Times reports

Los Angeles Times Articles