After treading water some 30-40 minutes in a friendly but lengthy discussion, Orange city council Tuesday amended its city code to equate beautification violations with lack of utility service.

The ordinance states that if city workers who cut off water service notice violations such as cars in yards or long grass, service can still be withheld until the violation is fixed and approved by a city inspector.

But some council members such as Jeff Holland didn’t like the wording in the amendment and said it would lead to confusion and red tape.

“I have trust in this staff,” he said. “But are we going to put that trust in future mayors and city councils?”

Councilwoman Theresa Beauchamp said she agreed “ … it could be worded better,” but was ready to support the measure. Eventually the council tied 2-2 with Mayor Claybar breaking the split with a yes vote.

“I have had numerous calls and several people come up to me … saying ‘Thank you so much,’” Beauchamp said. “Ever since I’ve been on the council this has been a major problem … and we have to come down hard.”

Holland said he had no objection to clean yards, however, with so many water employees and city inspectors visiting properties time and time again, owners would soon find themselves in a quagmire.
City Manager Shawn Oubre said the system was designed to check itself.

Claybar added, “This is the No. 1 complaint that we have heard at every single neighborhood meeting we have had. If this becomes a problem I think councils in the future will say, ‘[Let’s] back off this.’ But right now I’m hearing loud and clear from our citizens – this is what they want.”

Holland reiterated that the way the amendment was worded, “ … probably everyone has some kind of minor violation.”

Claybar responded, “In the city of Orange, we don’t have the manpower to document every violation. I think this will be a greater mechanism to respond to what the citizens have asked for. We need to be able to catch these people and get to them quicker.”

Also, Claybar said, one of the biggest problems the city faces with violators is lack of communication between landlords and renters.

The landlords get the notices, but the renters never hear about them.

“I just don’t believe this is some kind of George Orwell ‘1984 deal’ right now,” he said. “My feeling is ‘let’s try it’ – and if it becomes such a burden to staff – then we will hear about it.”

Mayor Pro-tem Jimmy Sims added, “Let’s not forget the reason the people are in trouble is because they didn’t pay their water bill in the first place.”