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MISSION VIEJO : Council Strengthens Weed Ordinance

A controversial weed-abatement ordinance has been strengthened by the City Council.

The council established criminal penalties for landowners who violate city weed-control laws and established an appeal system for individuals denied a weed-abatement permit.

In addition to making violation of the law a misdemeanor, the city will also require replanting of any property cleared illegally.

“We believe this is the toughest weed-abatement ordinance in Orange County,” Mayor Robert A. Curtis said.

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Dennis Wilberg, the city’s public works director, was made responsible for issuing abatement permits. The council also set up a 10-day appeal period for permits.

The new ordinance “will constitutionally protect land from disguised grading activities or overly aggressive weed abatement,” Curtis said. “This is a nice, practical enforcement tool.” The previous version of the ordinance has been heavily criticized by area environmentalists.

It was tested in July, when the Mission Viejo Co. obtained a permit to clean up an approximately 210-acre section of property off El Toro Road. Earmarked by the company for a business complex, the hillside property is also the subject of a lawsuit against the city and the developer by an area Audubon Society chapter, which says the land is home to endangered species, including the California gnatcatcher.

A permit was mistakenly issued by the city Planning Commission, which received assurance from the company that only hand-held tools would be used to clear the area.

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The next day, the developer went to city staff for permission to use heavy machinery on the property. Noting that the firm had used heavy equipment to clean up vegetation on the same land in the past, City Manager Fred Sorsabal granted their request.

Confronted by angry environmentalists at its next meeting, the council agreed to rework the ordinance.


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