RMWD joins consumer group, OKs new weed rules

Ramona Municipal Water District (RMWD) directors last week approved joining the Southern California Water Voice of Consumers at the Local Level (SoCal VOCAL).

The RMWD Board last month had received a presentation from SoCal VOCAL. Dan McMillian and Augie Caires, members of the Padre Dam Municipal Water District Board, asked the Ramona board to consider joining VOCAL, saying the group’s aim is to represent consumers’ interests at the state and federal levels.

VOCAL is in its early stages of development. The intent is to get 20 agencies to join with an initial investment of $10,000 per agency.

This money will be used to form the organization, draft bylaws, elect officials, and hire an administrator and a legislative activist.

On March 17, RMWD General Manager Ralph McIntosh attended the SoCal VOCAL meeting with representatives of several other agencies. It was decided that the initial cost and annual dues would be waived as long as the combined agencies could get volunteers needed to fulfill its mission.

RMWD’s five-member board voted unanimously to join SoCal VOCAL.

The board also passed an ordinance to replace a legislative code that includes standards for nuisance abatement, vegetation clearance and hazard  reduction. The board had formed an Ad Hoc Weed Abatement Committee to review weed and nuisance abatement issues brought to light after an appeal of abatement fees and public comment.

The issue stems from a presentation to the board in November 2008 by Kevin and Carolina Leap. The Leaps had a $16,943 lien placed on their Ramona property when they did not pay for weed abatement services done by Fire Prevention Services (FPS). A report presented to the RMWD stated that FPS sent four notices to Leap but all were returned as “unable to forward.” Those letters came back as undeliverable because they were sent to an old address.

According to a report filed by the ad hoc committee, the committee believes that there was inadequate notification, inadequate communication among the Leaps, FPS, CalFire and RMWD, and that charges to the Leaps were inappropriate.

Upon investigation, the ad hoc committee found that Leap had not been aware that his property was not in compliance with current fire regulations.

According to Leap, and verified by the committee, the property owner was not given proper notification of a violation.

According to RMWD President Jim Robinson, “Things came apart because we (RMWD) were not checking up on the contractor (FPS) who was doing the work. We realized that we needed a better means of notifying individuals.”

Director Darrell Beck referred to the use of “common sense” for future abatement issues.

“We must have oversight on these projects,” said Beck.

With the new ordinance, the RMWD will have more power to inspect potential  trouble spots before work is done by a contractor.

“We will be able to do everything we can to get notices sent out correctly,” Beck said. “I don’t  want to see a situation like we got into before.”

   
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