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The City of Boulder is revisiting its decades-old junk vehicles ordinance, and in the process might augment city code to more broadly support beautification.

City Council Chair Drew Dawson brought up the circa-1980 ordinance at the council’s Oct. 21 meeting.

“It’s pretty confusing,” he told those assembled. “If we’re really going to deal with junk vehicles comprehensively, we can’t just do it by relying on [Police Chief Joe Canzona]. I think he’s doing a good job trying to deal with an outdated ordinance, but I think we need to give him the tools that he needs in order to make this work.”

At recent meetings, Canzona has been reporting to the City Council of his latest efforts to have removed or shielded from view vehicles that have been wrecked, abandoned or otherwise are considered junk. On Oct. 21, he said he’s been working with four properties containing 14 vehicles considered in violation of the ordinance. At the Sept. 16 meeting, he estimated that there are 120 “possible junk vehicles” within city limits.

Dawson shared with The Monitor a copy of the ordinance containing his notes. They describe an at times vaguely and confusingly worded document with numerous language issues and errors.

The ordinance opens, for example, with a reference to “the authority granted by the State Statutes” without explicitly stating which ones; later it states that “The Council shall from time to time determine and fix an amount to be assessed as administrative costs,” only to follow a few sections later by giving the Chief of Police the task to “determine the administrative costs.”

Among other issues Dawson noted, administrative costs and penalties to be assessed to violators are “not clear,” the ordinance gives “broad authority” to the Chief of Police “but really no enforceability,” how the ordinance relates to state laws is “not clear,” and it “puts the council in the position of adjudicating junked vehicle issues — there has to be a better way.”

“[The ordinance] just is old and needs to be more contemporaneous and needs to be consistent with terminology and our current procedures,” Dawson said in an interview with The Monitor. “And it needs the eagle eye of the City Attorney to make it good according to modern-day standards.”

Perhaps the biggest issue with the ordinance, Dawson said, is that it appears to put various responsibilities into the hands of the Chief of Police, but in unclear terms. “He’s sort of stuck out in never-never land because this is an ordinance that is frankly not very clear what his responsibilities are,” Dawson said. “He’s got a lot of power under this, but it’s sort of vague power.”

In a section concerning the Chief of Police presiding over public hearings, for example, the ordinance states “The Chief of Police shall not be limited by the technical rules of evidence” without explaining why or what that means. Dawson also noted it “doesn’t make sense” that the Chief of Police is responsible for holding the hearings in the first place.

At the Oct. 21 meeting, City Attorney Jana McGill said that Canzona could issue citations under state statutes pertaining to junk vehicles or public nuisances, “but I think the general thought is to get people on board [with cleaning up] rather than to take the draconian measure of citing them and then they would have to go through the courts.”

Dawson told The Monitor that such infractions would probably end up in District Court, “and that’s probably not going to happen.”

“I think you can imagine that [District] Judge [Luke] Berger is not going to want to deal with junk vehicle complaints,” Dawson said, in reference to Berger hearing cases only one day a week in Boulder and likely wanting to focus on more pressing matters.

During the Oct. 21 discussion, council member Michael “Bear” Taylor offered to spearhead the effort to revisit and revise the junk vehicle ordinance, and suggested broadening the effort to encompass not just junk vehicles but “just junk in general.”

“There’s numerous yards around town that have appliances, lawn mowers, various items that need to be cleaned up as well,” he said that night. “Junk cars is an issue, but if we really want to get people to want to move here, we need the whole town to look better, not just driveways.”

McGill said she could provide as guidance similar ordinances from smaller towns and cities “that don’t have a lot of resources like Bozeman or Missoula” to contend with the issue.

In his interview with The Monitor, Dawson noted other items the city has yet to address concerning enforcing a junk vehicle ordinance, including expenses related to towing, storage and disposal, as well as the identification of who would tow and where that person would tow to.

“The bottom line is we somehow... need to tackle this more comprehensively,” he said. “We need to look at the statute and the authority of the law enforcement officer. We need to look at the funding on it. We need to look at the intersection with state law. And I think Bear is on the right track to look at overall beautification of the city as well.”

“This is not just a law enforcement problem. It’s a community problem that we need to address,” Dawson said.

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