Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Unfinished work killed two girls



Kids play in a pile of leaves.  It’s so common, it’s a cliché in the funny papers every fall.  So normal that a dad was taking pictures of his daughters playing in one, without thinking about the fact that they were playing in the street.  So obvious that an 18-year old, still a kid but driving with her brothers, drove through that pile, not thinking about what might be in it.  She felt a bump, probably thought she ran over a big stick, and drove the few blocks home before having her brother check for damage.  This happened last week in Forest Grove on October 20th.
Everyone was careless in this accident: the kids for playing in the street; their father for letting them; the girl for driving over the leaves; but first and most of all, the school district for leaving a pile of leaves in the street, an attractive nuisance that did what attractive nuisances do: attract careless youngsters into danger.
This is just one egregious example of the consequences of disconnected public landscape maintenance.  One worker piles up leaves and expects that a crew will be brought to take them away.  But no one is in charge of making sure that gets done immediately, and it can sit for days or weeks before it gets done, often after citizen complaints.
Businesses generally don’t leave basic landscape maintenance jobs like leaf cleanup half-done even for one day, much less over the weekend.  They have to look at it, and they expect their maintenance people to finish a job before they leave. 
Governments do so routinely.  Their properties are spread over wide areas; their workers are focused on their tasks; and their contractors are narrowly focused on their contracts.  No one is in charge of making sure that landscape maintenance gets done in a timely, professional manner.  Landscape maintenance is an afterthought, perpetually underfunded or not funded at all. 
Community corrections work crews are used for work like picking up and hauling leaves, but their time is limited, both per customer and per day, and each government only gets about a day a week.  When it’s time, they have to go, regardless of how much work they have done or have yet to do. 
Leaves don’t have to be piled in the street to be dangerous.  When they fall on the street and get slick, rotting in the rain, they are a hazard to walkers.  I have slipped on them; so has my daughter, walking to work in the early mornings.  Drivers skid in them too. 
          Residential property owners and residents are the worst for leaving their leaves to rot in the street.  Grants Pass doesn’t yet have a code forbidding leaving leaves on streets long enough for them to begin to rot.  Do we have to have somebody die from a fall, or hit by a skidding driver, to pass such a code?