A non-agenda item received the most attention at a relatively short meeting of the Ramona Municipal Water District (RMWD) Board on Dec. 9.
“I am totally dumfounded by this, totally dumfounded,” said R. Mike Thweatt, discussing treatment he said he and his wife Kathi received from the private weed abatement firm contracted by the district and the San Miguel Water District in Crest to clear brush from land when property owners do not.
According to Thweatt, Fire Prevention Services, Inc. (FPS) has placed two liens on his property for his refusal to pay $1,500 for weed abatement in 2006.
“I find it hard to believe that these people could remove 47 cubic feet of debris from a 1/4-acre in two standard pickup trucks in only four hours,” said Thweatt. “I thought the RMWD should get involved once they (FPS) began to eye my Ramona property.”
Thweatt said he had presented a similar petition to the San Miguel Water District regarding his Crest property.
“I was told that the Crest board would not take any action on the matter,” he said. “They refuse to have anything to do with these people.”
“Why is this the first time we are hearing about this?” asked RMWD Board President Robert Krysak.
Thweatt responded that, since his Crest property was out of the jurisdiction of the RMWD, he did not think the district could do anything.
“Now, FPS has gone after my Ramona property,” Thweatt said.
Thweatt owns five undeveloped acres on Walnut Street in Ramona. He believes this recent action by FPS is in retaliation for his refusal to pay for the work the firm said it preformed on his Crest property.
In recent weeks, the Thweatts have become the second Ramona family to address the board regarding the FPS, under contract with RMWD 2001. On Nov. 25, the board unanimously agreed to temporarily release a $16,943 lien on property owned by Ramona residents Kevin and Carolina Leap. The Leap lien is the result of abatement work FPS did on the Leaps’ property, but, Kevin Leap told the board, notices that work needed to be done were sent to another address and the Leaps never received them. The first they knew of the situation was when they received their property tax bill from the county, said Leap.
A report to the water board states that FPS sent four notices to the Leaps, and they all were returned as “unable to forward.”
Thweatt said he had received a notice from the Ramona Post Office that there was a certified letter waiting for him.
“After signing for the letter, I was told it had already been returned to FPS as ‘unable to forward,’” he said.
It was only after Thweatt had begun to argue with FPS that he received a notice regarding his Ramona property and weed abatement, he said. Thweatt complied with the request.
“It really doesn’t matter,” said Thweatt to the board. “FPS has the autonomy to go look at your property and, if they don’t agree with the work you have done, they have the right to come in and further clean it and bill you. These people are judge, jury and executioner.”
FPS was incorporated in 1995 and receives revenues through weed abatement and brush management. The firm is under contract with 40 different agencies and has an in-house goal of a fire/safety violation free California.
According to FPS’ Web site, individuals can request “information regarding a bill you received or request an estimate to have your property cleared.”
“I have tried and tried to reach these people,” said Thweatt. “You can never reach them by phone. Their business license address is different then their El Cajon address and my numerous messages left on their machines have gone unreturned. Their work ethics are atrocious and they must be stopped.”
“We have appointed a committee to look into this matter, not only regarding this (Thweatt) issue, but the entire relationship with FPS and future weed abatement programs in Ramona,” said Krysak.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) Division Chief Kevin O’Leary has been working with RMWD to help develop future weed abatement programs.
“I’ve had similar problems in Valley Center where we began using firefighters to do the abatement work,” said O’Leary. “...As a fire chief, I have real issues with FPS and want to resolve them.”
O’Leary is developing programs he will present to the water board in January.
“Only the board can take action toward a resolution to this problem,” O’Leary said.
The division chief is confident he will be able to present a program that may work for Ramona.
It is Krysak’s hope to get the process moving toward a resolution, because RMWD’s contract with FPS ends on Dec. 31.
“This is an issue that the new board will have to deal with,” said Krysak, whose term on the board ends this month. “Our committee will be reviewing the matter closely.”
Krysak appointed RMWD Directors Doug Wilsman and Jim Robinson to evaluate the entire circumstances and relationship with FPS and has asked that their findings be available before the first of the year.
“At this time, it is too early in our investigation to release findings,” said Wilsman.
Thweatt plans to attend the water board’s next meeting on Dec. 23.
“I want to get as many people as I can who have had, or are having problems with these people to step forward so something can be done,” Thweatt said. “We need to take steps to stop them.”