Monday, July 7, 2003

New city law tells litterbugs to can it

Safer, cleaner streets pushed

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The city of Cincinnati is cracking down on litterbugs and people who let weeds get out of control.

Litter citations have almost tripled, from 517 issued in 2001, to 1,412 in 2002, to 888 issued through May of this year - ahead of last year's pace.

Citations for high weeds - grass or weeds allowed to grow above 10 inches high - have doubled from 300 in 2001 to more than 600 in 2002 to 413 so far this year.

It's evidence that police and city officials are serious about enforcing new litter laws.

"I think it is important that we send a message about a culture of cleanliness and beauty that will be for everyone," said Councilman John Cranley, who has been leading the anti-litter push. "There is no excuse for littering, and $500 is likely to leave a pretty serious second thought in your mind."

Tossing a sandwich wrapper out your car window or overturning a garbage can could cost between $500 and $1,000 in fines. An abandoned junk car left for more than a week can trigger a $100 fine.

For litter offenders who can't afford to pay the fines, court-ordered community service awaits.

Madisonville resident Sue Micheli said she noticed the city's stepped-up efforts after complaining this year about an illegal dump site near Red Bank Expressway, where someone even dropped off a washer and dryer.

"We went by two hours later and that was cleaned up along with some other debris," Micheli said. "Once you contact the right people, they are very good about getting things cleaned up."

Bill Jacoby, supervisor of the Cincinnati Health Department Litter Control Unit, said the increased number of citations stems from the city's revised weed and litter ordinance that did away with a 15-day warning period for property owners.

"Now we issue citations upon verification of violations," Jacoby said. "We've received quite a few complaints from property owners at first because they had relied on these warnings," which came via letter.

"But the city shouldn't be in the business of reminding people that it's time to mow their yards and clean up their trash," he said. "I think most of the property owners have gotten the message."

Cleaning up city streets has become a priority for City Council. Too many neighborhoods are drowning in trash and blight, which breed larger problems of crime, health risks and disinvestment, Cranley said. Many residents have complained that neighborhood drug dealers are the biggest litterbugs, he said. Slapping suspected dealers with a trash ticket might be a way to chase them out.

"If the cops can't see them doing a drug deal, then they might see them littering," Cranley said.

A stricter city ordinance on junk cars went into effect in May, giving Cincinnati police the power to removed abandoned vehicles from private property. Vehicle owners can be cited and fined $100 if the cars aren't removed in seven days.

Junk vehicles are defined as a car or truck more than 3 years old, which is inoperable or heavily damaged, parked in the same place for 72 hours or more and worth less than $1,500. The city towed about 100 cars in April, when they offered to remove junk cars for free. The number of abandoned cars removed more than doubled from 914 in 2001 to 2,169 in 2002.

Violators on docket

Fines aren't the only way the city is trying to keep streets trash-free and properties well-kept.

In January, Hamilton County municipal judges approved a housing docket - a schedule of defendants accused of violating housing and property codes. The docket is the last and most serious step in a process created to make property owners comply with municipal codes for waste disposal, fire safety and pest control and other issues.

Municipal Judge Guy Guckenberger, a former Cincinnati City Council member and one-time Hamilton County commissioner, oversees the docket. Fifty cases have been filed in the court so far this year, with six convictions.

The city also has forged a partnership with the Hamilton County Probation Department that calls for nonviolent criminal offenders to clean up neighborhood business districts. Teams of nonviolent offenders from the River City Correctional Center spend eight hours a day, five days a week cleaning up 79 locations throughout the city. They collect an estimated 233 bags of garbage a week.

Council has also created a fund to support neighborhood-led initiatives to keep streets clean and safe. The city put aside $1 million to fund the program for the next two years.

The city handed out six grants last week to community groups in Northside, Over-the-Rhine, West End and Camp Washington. Northside received the largest sum, just under $50,000, to clean up parking lots, add lighting and increase security.

But despite the city's best efforts to keep streets clean, problem areas remain. Junkyards and eyesores remain problems in Madisonville, Carthage, West End and North Fairmount.



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