Olympia urges neighbors to help care for sidewalks

Jim and Susan King say overgrown vegetation is creating a safety hazard on sidewalks in their Bigelow Highlands Neighborhood.

Overgrown trees and plants so crowd some sidewalks that the Olympia couple feels forced to walk in the street. One example, Jim King said, is on Central Street — about a block north of State Avenue — where ivy and thorny shrubs swallow the sidewalk’s edges for a few feet beneath a shaded canopy of trees. At the corner of Bigelow Avenue and Hale Place, a tall shrub crowds the sidewalk and surrounds a stop sign.

King said he recently underwent back surgery and that walking is a crucial part of his recovery.

“I’m slow. People have to go around me in the street,” he said of his walking pace. “It can pose a safety hazard.”

City code requires property owners to remove vegetation that hangs lower than 10 feet above a sidewalk. The city can require a property owner to remove or trim the vegetation if the city council adopts a resolution. After that, the property owner has 30 days to comply.

But King complained to the Olympia City Council this month that the code is seldom enforced. He said he empathizes with older homeowners who might not have the means to maintain their yards and sidewalks. At the same time, he wants neighbors to be more conscientious. A possible solution, King suggested, would be imposing a fine until the vegetation is cleared — and skip all the formalities required in city code.

“To me, that would fix the problem,” he told The Olympian. The present procedure, requiring a council resolution, is too cumbersome, he said. “That’s a long, drawn-out process just to get weeds cut.”

Dorothy McMann, who lives about a mile away from the Kings on Thurston Avenue near Phoenix Street, is also concerned about overgrown vegetation on sidewalks — especially on public right-of-ways.

“They’re all over the place. They create a tripping hazard,” McMann told The Olympian, adding that the city’s code enforcement “needs some teeth.”

At the July 8 council meeting, city officials discussed King’s concerns. City Manager Steve Hall said the city relies on residents to assist with code enforcement.

“Our main focus is to work with our neighborhood associations … and preserve officers for the most egregious issues,” Hall said at the meeting. “It’s a very frustrating issue and we have very limited resources. We have to rely on our citizens.”

Mayor Stephen Buxbaum echoed that sentiment and encouraged city staff and residents to come up with creative ways to pick up the slack.

“I regret that we can’t meet everyone’s needs,” Buxbaum said at the meeting. “There are a lot of people out there who take great pride in taking care of their property. There are others who need a little help.”