The Board of Supervisors Tuesday authorized the Riverside County Fire Department to attach fire mitigation charges to the tax bills of nearly 500 property owners that agency officials say have not paid the cost of abating weeds and other potential fire hazards.

The board’s 5-0 vote came after a brief hearing to determine whether there was justification for tacking mitigation costs onto the property tax bills of owners of 470 parcels in communities countywide that were assessed under the county’s Fire Hazard Reduction Program.

The total amount due on the 2017-18 fiscal year delinquent list is $207,927 — roughly 35 percent more than in 2016-17.

Two people challenged the fire department’s claims, citing errors in the process of evaluating overgrowth on their properties and administrative unresponsiveness when attempting to resolve their issues with the county over the last year.

“I had 10 to 12 properties, 200-plus acres,” James Canale of San Diego told the board. “I have been penalized for properties I owned in the past but have since sold.”

Canale said that in several instances, he hired landscapers to mow his parcels after receiving code violation citations from the county, only to have the weeds sprout up a couple of months later after heavy rains, resulting in additional citations.

“I was doing my job, but they’re saying I didn’t do the work,” Canale said.

Paul Oshideri of Cabazon told the board that he could not comprehend the county’s justification for a $400 fine for abatement of the “tiny lot” that he owns for a mobile home rental.

“It was like this,” Oshideri said, holding up his hands to reveal about a foot of space, representing tall grass. “They call that a fire hazard? I’m not accusing of corruption, but there might be some unusual relationship (between the fire department and contractors hired by the agency).”

The board exempted Canale and Oshideri from the mitigation fee delinquencies, leaving the men time to resolve their contentions.

The reduction program involves deploying contractors to clear weeds and related overgrowth that might otherwise fuel brush fires during wildfire season, which generally spans May to November. In most cases, the parcels that were mitigated were vacant or set off from main residences, according to the fire department.

Property owners were served with orders to abate, or mitigate, the potential fire hazards, and when inspectors received no reply or saw that no action had been taken in 30 days, landscaping contractors were sent to the locations under fire department authority to clear away the excess foliage, officials said.

“The Fire Hazard Reduction Program is designed to protect life, property and the environment,” according to an agency statement. “Each parcel owner is provided the opportunity to abate the property prior to the county conducting the abatement.”

Properties in Banning, Cabazon, Calimesa, Cherry Valley, El Cerrito, Good Hope, Hemet, Highgrove, Home Gardens, Homeland, Lake Elsinore, Lakeland Village, Mead Valley, Moreno Valley, Murrieta, Nuevo, Riverside, San Jacinto, Temecula, Winchester and Woodcrest were identified in the fire department report submitted to the board last month.

According to agency documents, property owners were billed to recover the county’s expenditures, which ranged from $150 to $1,100 per property. A $254 administrative fee was also folded into the final bill sent to the property owners.

Those who received notices but didn’t respond are the parties from whom the fire department is seeking payment.

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