County adopts code changes

The Board of Josephine County Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt five changes to the county code after second readings were held Wednesday, April 17 at the Anne G. Basker Auditorium in Grants Pass.
First readings for each of these ordinances were held April 3 in the same venue (See April 10 edition for more details). The first four removed sections of the county code because the corresponding entities were defunct: Urban Area Planning Commission (Chapter 2.30); Jackson-Josephine Region Regional Planning Board (Chapter 2.40); Jefferson Behavioral Health (Chapter 2.45); and Job Council (Chapter 2.50). The fifth change was to reflect that Cave Junction had joined the Josephine County Solid Waste Agency (Chapter 2.55).
It took less than 15 minutes for the board to complete a review of the five ordinances, with assistant legal counsel Leah Harper offering brief explainers as she did April 3. The brief time spent on the ordinances was due to no citizens taking advantage of their opportunity to testify and the commissioners having no questions, given that they had been briefed on the proposed changes on numerous occasions.
Requests and comments from citizens, which spanned the bulk of the meeting, featured testimony from ten county residents, most of whom had testified multiple times in the recent past about the same topics they addressed April 17.
Meeting frequenter Judy Ahrens again criticized Grants Pass School District for not allowing citizens to comment on any matter that was not covered during their meeting agendas at public forums. The board joined in her disappointment toward the school district.
Commissioner candidate Chris Barnett raised concerns about a property in Colonial Valley that neighbors claim is a nuisance and thanked Commissioner John West for making a visit to the neighborhood the previous day. Allegedly, “bomb-making” materials were recently observed at this property. Colonial Valley resident Terry Millard also urged the county to take further action to address the problem property.
Commissioner Herman Baertschiger called the Colonial Valley situation “complicated because there’s many elements. There’s a criminal element in there. There’s a trespassing element in there. There’s a code enforcement element in there. And so we have to deal with all of those based on the statutes that we have to work with.”
West added, “Personal property rights are very dear to me and I believe it is dear to this board. This board will always fight for your personal property rights. These commissioners want, whether it’s law enforcement or county government or anyone else, coming onto your property and violating your personal property rights. And so we have to be careful how we handle each incident and how we do it.”

Dorothy Yetter, a former officer of the JoCo Democratic Party, discussed a recent ethics complaint she brought against West alleging that his push to have Oregon Department of Forestry considered a fire protection service so that certain property owners can develop structures on their land was intended to maximize his personal gain. West and his fellow commissioners have maintained that the action was carried out to ensure that property owners were not prohibited from developing buildings if they happened to live in an area uncovered by either Rural Metro or a fire protection district.

Yetter noted she felt West was not “vindicated” by the Ethics Committee’s decision not to pursue an investigation. While the vote was 4-3 to investigate, two committee members were absent from the vote; a supermajority – seven of nine members – would have needed to sign off on the investigation for it to move forward.

West pushed back on an assertion Yetter made that ODF does not operate year-round: “That is incorrect. ODF has people at their facility in Merlin all year. I have seen all winter long fire equipment moving here and there.”

Addressing the allegations against him, West said, “Last I knew, when I lived in the United States of America, you’re innocent until proven guilty. And if you’re not proven guilty, then you’re innocent. And apparently we have citizens that don’t quite understand that. So I’ll leave that at that.”

Baertschiger also came to his colleague’s defense, saying, “We made adjustments to Article 76 concerning mandatory fire protection and it’s gotten construed that this board says that Oregon Department of Forestry is a structural fire protection company. It is not. This board has never advocated that. This board has never said that. This board has had ODF testify in front of it. What they’ll do is they’ll mitigate fire between a structure and the wildlands. Article 76 is not about structural fire protection. Article 76 is about wildland fire.

“Some people were upset that we got rid of the requirement that you had to show fire protection. The reason is, there’s some people that can’t do it. There’s some people in Josephine County that cannot show, one, they don’t live within a fire district and two, they’re outside the service area of the private provider. We’re down to one private provider. So if you’re not in a fire district and you’re outside the area of a provider, you can’t get a development permit. That’s not right.”