County getting cleaner

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By AMY LINDBLOM

Every community has them.

The houses and businesses where garbage is dumped into cans and heaped into bags. Where junky cars sit, then leak oil and toxic fluids on the ground. Where families live in unsafe houses, sheds and trailers and where makeshift dwellings sometimes become clandestine methamphetamine laboratories.

What's being done to clean up such places?

The answer could be the Tuolumne County Community Enforcement Team a group representing six agencies or departments: environmental health, sheriff, building, child welfare, fire and vehicle abatement.

It was organized after Tuolumne County Sheriff's Deputy Tim Wertz saw a similar code compliance team in action in Sacramento County.

"They have enough teeth to practically drive up to a building towing a bulldozer and raze the property if the owner doesn't agree to clean it up," Wertz said. "We don't have the huge apartment buildings that are unsafe like they do in the cities, and we don't bulldoze properties, but we have plenty of problem properties in the county."

Once a week, team members meet to discuss new complaints and follow-up checks on properties for which the team has already issued clean-up order.

"We formed a unit to deal with all the violations at once so the owner doesn't get a letter from each agency," said Rick Roberts, code compliance investigator with the county Community Development Department. "The owners also then don't have to deal with all the separate agencies. They just have to deal with one."

Should an owner refuse to abide by county ordinances against too much garbage, too many unlicensed vehicles, zoning code violations or orders to fix buildings, the county could take legal action to force the issues.

Tuolumne County Deputy County Counsel Paul Griebel said a property owner would first be notified of a civil hearing on the violations. Ultimately, if the owner refuses to comply clean-up orders, the county has the authority to do the work, then bill the owner and put a lien on the property for repayment.

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The Union Democrat
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