Friday, February 7, 2003

Litter patrol

It's not the trash, it's crime


Opium poppies. Marijuana. Coca plants. Honeysuckle. Criminals of the plant kingdom.

That's right. Honeysuckle is illegal in Cincinnati. It is considered a weed. An illegal alien plant.

"Yes, it is,'' said Bill Jacoby, supervisor of the Cincinnati Health Department Litter Control Unit. "It's not an issue until it gets out of control and bothers a neighbor. We're not out looking for honeysuckle bushes to cite people.''

But if it gets taller than 10 inches and someone complains, a property owner can be cited and fined $100 if it is not removed.

A fine on vines

I learned this from a homeowner who said he hauled away 15 truckloads of the stuff to avoid a fine. He doesn't want to irritate his honeysuckle-phobic neighbors again by naming them or himself, but he called because he was angry about the city's litter cops busting people for illegal landscaping while crime in his neighborhood is growing like weeds on an empty lot.

He read my column last Friday about Richard Cook of Westwood, who was fined $100 for having an illegal Christmas tree on the curb, and sent me a "Wait'll you hear this one.''

I also heard from landlords such as Pete Engel of Pleasant Ridge, who said he thinks it's unfair when he's forced to pay fines because his tenants put trash out a day early. "I should not be fined for what someone else did,'' he said.

But Mary Kuhl of Westwood Concern has a different take. "Nobody wants the rules enforced when it's them,'' she said. "We wanted tougher rules, and now we've got them. Then you hear, `Gosh, it's just a Christmas tree,' or `Gosh, it's just a garbage can,' or `Gosh, it's just a couch.'

"We've been on the city to step up enforcement and not cut any corners because that's what the community wants.''

Westwood is among the most vocal neighborhoods, Jacoby said. Westwood Concern leaders say that's because they are fighting litter and neighborhood decay from subsidized housing that has moved in as poor families were displaced from demolished public housing.

"Jacoby's group rocks. They do a very good job,'' Kuhl said.

`Broken windows'

The city is trying the "broken windows'' philosophy to clean up crime: Clean up the trash, abandoned couches and junk cars, and crime doesn't breed as fast. But then the litter cops get rotten tomatoes from residents who get fined.

It's as tangled as the feral honeysuckle that snakes its way up an oak tree in my back yard like a viny anaconda.

But Richard Cook has an answer that's as simple as an ax. He's the guy who plans to pay his Christmas tree fine and then move out of Cincinnati as soon as he can.

It not the grime, he says, it's the crime.

Busting property owners for illegal bushes, litter and garbage "may make things look better, but it's not addressing the problem.''

Maybe people get so hacked off at the litter and plant police because crime is spreading like creeping honeysuckle.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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