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Blight law breakdown for county

By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

A full two years after the blight law was implemented in Del Norte County, there?s still no reliable enforcement scheme in place, leaving neighbors of blighted areas frustrated.

After knocking on several county office doors to solve an illegal dumping problem in their neighborhood, Rachel Tesch, Bob Sullivan and others are still mired in illegally dumped trash.

?We phoned the Sheriff?s Department ... and nothing has come of it. We called the Health Department and nothing has come of it. We?ve gone to the Planning Department and put in complaints, because that?s what we were told to do by the Sheriff?s Department,? still, nothing has happened, said Tesch in a plea for action to the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors.

The problem is far beyond blight itself. County officials and citizens alike are confused about whose responsibility it is to enforce the two-year-old law.

Sheriff Jim Maready said it?s the Planning Department?s responsibility, the Planning Department says it?s the sheriff?s responsibility and everyone?s boss, the Board of Supervisors, say they put a solution in place and their employees should follow it.

?What?s happening is that Sheriff?s Department is just passing the buck off to the Community Development Department and we don?t have anybody to take care of that problem,? said county Supervisor Jack Reese.

Maready said he is not passing the buck, but that the supervisors changed their blight enforcement procedures last year and now the process is too muddled to be effective.

?Last October, the code enforcement position was moved to the Planning Department ... and we used to have a task force to decide which department should handle the different calls? Maready said.

The county?s budget problems have also had an effect, Maready said.

His department experienced a hiring freeze of seven positions and a cut of $100,000.

?You start cutting positions and it?s going to start affecting the public. This is one of those items where the public is feeling the effect,? Maready said.

No matter which department has the duty of hearing blight complaints, Reese said it?s still the duty of the sheriff to enforce the law.

?Because it?s their job. There?s a difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law ? and law enforcement has a lot of latitude,? Reese said.

Supervisors David Finigan and Chuck Blackburn echoed concerns that not enough is being done to solve the county?s blight problems.

Blackburn said he got a call last week from owners of Pacific Market because no one from the county has come to get an abandoned car dumped there with a bunch of trash inside it.

?They can?t seem to get satisfaction on whose responsibility it is to haul it away,? Blackburn told his fellow boardmembers.

The solution, according to Maready, is to revitalize the blight abatement task force, born two years ago with the blight ordinance.

Members from the Health Department, the Sheriff?s Department, the Planning Department and the county dump were put on the task force to field blight complaints.

Maready said the group is no longer functioning.

Supervisor Finigan said there is a clear process still in place. The Planning Department gets the written gripe and passes it on to the appropriate agency to take care of it.

?This is not brain surgery. If they want us to do it, they have to give us some manpower and some money,? Maready said.

And according to Maready, there is money in the county to do it. An account exists with the Del Norte County Solid Waste Authority, under Director Kevin Hendrick, with $20,000 in it.

?There?s money out there. It?s not about money ... but clearly there?s a misunderstanding and we need to figure it out. The task force needs to come back,? said Maready.

Though no time-line was set, Blackburn vowed to work with county and Sheriff?s Department staff toward a solution.

 


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