An ordinance to crack down on hazardous conditions on county roads and lands was passed by the Board of Josephine County Commissioners after its legally required second reading / public hearing was carried out Wednesday, Aug. 9 at the board’s weekly business session, held at Anne G. Basker Auditorium in Grants Pass.
Ordinance 2023-003 adds Chapter 8.20 – Hazardous Conditions on Public Property, to the Josephine County Code, and spells out the penalties for those who create hazardous conditions by leaving personal belongings on public property.
JoCo Assistant Legal Counsel Allison Smith presented before the board with a recap of the ordinance’s major features.
“Broadly the purpose of this ordinance is to establish regulations within the county that would mitigate hazardous conditions on public roads, rights of way and public property within the county,” said Smith. “This ordinance would be enforceable within Josephine County including the city of Cave Junction but excluding the city of Grants Pass.
“There are three categories of violations under this ordinance,” Smith went on. “The first category of violation is knowingly leaving personal property in a hazardous location on a county road, right-of-way or on public property. The penalty for this violation is removal of the personal property that is left in a hazardous location by the sheriff or road official within 24 hours.”
The second violation type concerns “imminent hazards” created by the placement of personal property on public lands or roads.
“A vehicle or object creates an imminent hazard under specific circumstances,” Smith said. “One of those circumstances is if it creates unsanitary conditions, including improper sewage disposal or excessive leaking of petroleum-based vehicle fluids. Another instance that creates an imminent hazard is the creation of a danger to public health or safety including the large accumulations of solid waste materials and, finally, if the vehicle or object results in damage to the county road or right-of-way that would be an imminent hazard.”
For imminent hazards, immediate removal by law enforcement or road officials would be warranted.
“The third type of violation under this ordinance is the creation of an unlawful non-imminent hazard,” explained Smith. “This occurs when a vehicle or object is left on a county road, right-of-way or on public property for more than 72 hours provided that no other conditions exist that would create an imminent hazard. Penalty for that third type of violation is removal of the vehicle or object by the sheriff or road official.”
In addition to detailing the penalties created by Chapter 8.20, Smith also remarked, “This ordinance also directs the public works director, public health director and sheriff to work together to create a policy regarding how this ordinance would be enforced and how violations would be prioritized.”
Prompted by a question from Commissioner Dan DeYoung, Smith clarified that though some roads within the city of Grants Pass are county-owned, the ordinance would not be enforceable by the county in any area within Grants Pass city limits. Smith was unsure of exactly what laws Grants Pass has on the books to deal with public property hazards.
Some members of the community greeted the ordinance with skepticism during the public hearing.
Meeting frequenter Victor Zaitsev commented, “Although I understand these code changes are an attempt to resolve the actions of some bad actors and the deleterious impacts caused to the environment by their actions, I think this language goes too far. It does not allow for any type of appeal to actions by county officials and is in direct conflict with the county’s own policy of performing no maintenance on what the county has labeled unmaintained roads.”
Another meeting frequenter, Judy Ahrens, felt the language of the ordinance was too vague and that what constitutes a hazard could be “subjective.”
DeYoung said he understood the concerns of Zaitsev and Ahrens, but that in his mind this ordinance is “overdue” to address the “egregious violations” he hears complaints about.
“There’s all kinds of excuses why something like this should not be enacted but yet there’s a whole bunch of excuses why it should and so that’s where we are; we’re torn up here,” DeYoung remarked.
“This is not to take away anyone’s rights,” Commissioner John West added. “This is to protect your rights.”
West went on to use one “illustration” of why he believes this ordinance is necessary, which centered on complaints he has heard of transients camping on rights of way and the fire risk some of their activities pose.
“Is everything perfect? No,” West admitted. “In this world everything’s not perfect. We could sit here, we could go back and forth on this thing for a year or two or five but I believe legal counsel has done a fantastic job… I believe this is a step that’s overdue.”
Backing West up, Board Chair Herman Baertschiger advised, “Trying to get to perfect, you never can do that and I’ve been working on public policy for a long time and I’ve been the architect for hundreds and hundreds of public policy bills in the state of Oregon and you can never get to perfect because perfect is – might be perfect to me but not perfect to this person or perfect to that person so you never can get to perfect because there’s too many definitions of perfect.”
Baertschiger went on to say he supports the legislation because it meets his three standards of being needed, enforceable and constitutional.
“We’ve just got too many derelict vehicles and abandoned trash and people living alongside the roads in Josephine County,” concluded the board chair.
All three commissioners voted to pass Ordinance 2023-003. Chapter 18.20 – Hazardous Conditions on Public Property, will be added to the Josephine County Code 90 days after the ordinance’s adoption, meaning the second week of November.
Longtime county employees were recognized by the board at their Aug. 9 WBS. The list of honorees included:
Ronald Todd – Community Development, five years; Jordan Sanders – Sheriff’s Office, five years; Joshua Daly – Community Development, five years; Kayla Lauer – Sheriff’s Office, five years; Lynette Morningstar – Transit, five years; Jeffrey Campbell – Assessor’s Office, 10 years; Christine Michael – Sheriff’s Office, 15 years; Frank Meredith – I.T., 15 years; Buck Harms – Public Health, 20 years; and Jeffrey Kestra – Forestry, 30 years.
Baertschiger, who read the names aloud, raised his voice in amazement at Kestra’s length of service when he got to his name.
After confirming none of these employees were present at the auditorium, Baertschiger commented, “Okay, that’s because they’re out working.
“Our hats are off to these people. Our greatest resource in Josephine County is our employees; there’s no question about it. They do a great job of keeping the county going, so again, thank you for your service and your dedication to serving the citizens of Josephine County.”