Officials balk at cost of signs to stop loitering in area near Walmart

Written by Jessica Cejnar, The Triplicate June 28, 2013 03:06 pm

Del Norte County supervisors unanimously agreed Tuesday to allow a local Boy Scout troop to clean up county property near Walmart that is littered with empty alcohol bottles, boots, clothing, empty prescription bottles, makeshift shelters, syringes and other debris.

But four out of five supervisors balked at spending $2,100 to put up the signs necessary to close the area to the public, saying county staff members had told them cleaning up the property would be free and noting there were other county-owned properties that need attention. 

Supervisor Roger Gitlin made a motion to approve the posting of signs on the roughly 3.5-acre parcel near Walmart. The motion died for lack of a second.

County Code Enforcement Officer Dave Mason said sheriff’s Commander Tim Athey brought the property’s condition to his attention in March. Because access to that property is not restricted, people often use the area to hide from police, he said.

“They’re having shoplifters take stuff from Walmart, heave it over the fence to a person that’s waiting, that person runs up, jumps in a car on the freeway and off they go,” Mason said. “They’re not camping there. They’re congregating there for illegal purposes and the byproduct of that is the trash that’s accumulating.”

To comply with the California Penal Code forbidding trespassing or loitering, 12 signs would have to be posted on the property, Mason said. He added that county staff members are currently investigating blighted issues on 163 other properties.

Supervisor Martha McClure said she had a difficult time voting for something that supervisors were told would be a free project when in fact it would cost the county money. Criminal activity has caused other county-owned properties to be blighted, including an area at the end of Dundas Road and on many roads in the Pacific Shores subdivision, she said. 

“We were tricked into making it the No. 1 project instead of going through systematically and looking at the complaints,” McClure said. “You have many of them that are years and years old.”

Supervisor Mike Sullivan said he had no problem voting on the issue, but supervisors needed to know what it would cost in advance and then decide if it would be a top priority. 

“We’ve got a lot worse properties in the county that need to be addressed,” he said. “That money could be going to those.”

The County Code Enforcement Division has allocated $1,100 from its budget to pay for disposal costs. Walmart has donated $400 toward the clean-up, Gitlin said.

“Yes, you can delay putting up signs and it’ll become blighted again,” he said. “I don’t understand what the argument is here. Let’s clean it up and move on.”

Christopher Snowden, a member of Boy Scout Troop 1077, will lead the cleanup Sunday. The Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority has committed the use of a multi-yard debris bin from Recology for the project. 

According to the county’s staff report, Snowden’s offer is likely the only way the property will be cleaned up anytime soon.

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