Millions of dollars to mow weeds forever: Mayor says no, no, no

untitled-(3-of-27)By Joe Lambe

Rocks, poison, goats, whatever, Mayor Sly James is making it clear he wants options to cut the cost of mowing.

Just mowing the vacant and abandoned city land bank properties cost $1.5 million a year. Add much more for all the tall slumlord weeds the city reluctantly cuts.

“We’re spending money on top of money on top of money to do something we’re never going to win,” James told staff in a meeting yesterday.

And people don’t even appreciate it, he said. About 75 percent of citizens say they are not satisfied with vacant property maintenance and they rate it as number one in things that need improvement.

“It’s clear that they don’t think what we’re doing is working and frankly, it’s not – we just can’t keep up with it,” James said.

The slum landlords, many of them limited liability operations in other states and even other nations, are billed when the city cuts their grass and weeds once a year, but few pay.

“We keep cutting their grass and they keep thumbing their noses at us,” James said.

He told staff to look into all options, including killing existing grass and weeds and putting down rock and maybe some yard furniture on vacant lots.

Other suggestions from staff included controlling the sites with herbicides or planting ground cover that grows no more than 10 inches.

And what about goats? A garden operation going into the city Municipal Farm, its abandoned old jail site, is going to use goats to clear some of the rough property.

Can even the hardy goats chew their way through about 15,000 vacant lots and about 7,000 vacant buildings? And there is the related problem of more than 870 abandoned buildings on the dangerous building list awaiting demolition.

City Manager Troy Schulte suggested a kind of nuclear option for that: A $10 million bond issue to pay from knocking them all down within about three years.

John Wood, director of Neighborhoods and Housing Services Department, said he is among people going a Harvard gathering next month in an international study effort that could help.

Experts are getting together to learn of best practices worldwide in dealing with abandoned and vacant properties, he said.

James said he wanted Wood to brief the entire city council on what he learns.

Meanwhile, the city is looking into rock, herbicide, goats and ground cover.

James also suggested that citizens and neighborhoods get involved in solutions and not just complain.

“We can’t do it alone,” he said. “Let’s put them to their word – we’re not the only ones who have responsibility for this city.”

Wood said his department is ready for whatever works.

“Anything that we can do we’re willing to try,” he said.



  1. Chris says:

    The ground cover suggestion is hair brained. If they’re talking about wintercreeper, herbicide would be preferable. Wintercreeper and bush honeysuckle are strangling our local woods.

  2. Kia says:

    They use goats in the Oakland (CA) and Berkeley hills to keep the brush down so there’s no fires. Goats are an economical and sustainable solution.

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