City to get tough on junk vehicles

"When Valerie Christensen drives out of the Lake Grove neighborhood, she passes a house with a backyard that doubles as a car cemetery.Five cars lay in various stages of decay, says Christensen, who's lived in the neighborhood 17 years. Two cars are rusted. Various parts are missing from all five. At least one lacks an engine. Another one lost its hood long ago.On other streets in the neighborhood, dilapidated vehicles also sit in driveways, in backyards and along streets. Not everywhere. But dotted here and there, like weeds poking through a flowerbed. One car carcass has remained inert so long that moss has turned it green. When you drive by and see these places with all these vehicles you think what have we got, is this a junkyard or what? Christensen said.Federal Way code compliance officer Martin Nordby and neighborhood development specialist Ed Swan agree residents shouldn't have to look at unsightly car carcasses. In a new approach to the age-old problem of junk vehicles, the city hopes to clean up the entire, problematic neighborhood in one fell swoop. Traditionally, Nordby has responded to complaints directed at specific houses. He hopes the new approach rallies the entire Lake Grove neighborhood to do something about the problem.We want to turn some attitudes around, maybe, Nordby said, get some change in the way people perceive their neighborhood.If the city's effort in the Lake Grove neighborhood pays off, Nordby hopes to transfer the full-out approach to other code violation-plagued neighborhoods elsewhere in the city, he said. That approach includes a commitment from neighbors; several in Lake Grove surveyed their streets to give Nordby an accurate count of junk vehicles. That survey would have taken Nordby hours and cost taxpayer money.In late September, Swan mailed about 700 letters to homeowners and renters with homes in the Lake Grove neighborhood. The boundaries are Southwest Dash Point Road to the north and west, Southwest 308th Street on the south and First Avenue South to the east. If people own houses in the neighborhood but rent them out, both they and their tenants received letters, Nordby said.In the letter, the city informs Lake Grove residents about the city code requiring that inoperable vehicles be stored in a garage or other completely enclosed building. Residents who don't take care of their junked, wrecked or dismantled vehicles will be sent a second letter in early November.Under the code, junk or junked vehicles are defined as vehicles that meet at least two of the following: are extensively damaged, such as one with a broken window or one missing tires, engine or transmission; apparently inoperable; or without a current, valid registration plate. Residents who don't heed the second letter will receive a third one in early December notifying them that the city will start fining them $100 a day or more until they comply, Nordby said.The program indicates the seriousness with which the city regards code violations. Nordby, in fact, believes such violations correlate with crimes. Swan says the presence of junk cars is an important indicator of the health of a neighborhood.Not only do the junky cars lower property values, but also they provide a potential health hazard, Swan said. Rats may build nests in the old cars. Children may play in them and get hurt.It's like having piles of garbage on your front yard, he said. If all these houses had big piles of garbage, we'd be out there, too. A lot of the cars are health hazards, a lot are unsightly.Nordby and Swan picked the Lake Grove neighborhood as their first attempt at a large-scale code compliance effort because a group of neighbors complained about the junk cars there. Because of previous complaints there, Nordby knew the neighborhood featured more than its share of junky cars.The neighborhood had about 70 junky cars before the city sent out the first letter. In contrast, Nordby says he'd be hard-pressed to find 15 junky cars in the Twin Lakes neighborhood - and it's got more than double the number of homes.Recently, Nordby and Swan met with about 35 neighbors at Lake Grove Elementary School to talk about the problem. He said the comment of one neighbor reinforces the reason this emphasis on cleaning up the neighborhood is important.He said, 'I moved here because it was affordable, but I don't want to live in a junk yard. I'm not the richest man on the block, but I don't want to live in a junk yard,' Nordby said.Nordby, a self-described car nut, says he understands people who want to collect and fix up vehicles. But they must be stored out of sight of the neighbors. If they sit outside for years before anyone bothers to pull the fenders off, they're a nuisance, not a hobby.Christensen dismisses the notion these cars belong to buffs.If they're a car buff and they're restoring it, they're certainly not going to have them look garbagey, she said. With the motor torn out, one door out, no hood and sitting out in the back yard and it's rotting, we're not restoring that one.But Lake Grove resident Scott Johnson says he is a car buff, particularly for Fords from the 1960s. Of the six cars parked in his driveway, including a 1961 Falcon and 1965 Galaxy, he says only one doesn't work. He says he enjoys taking an ugly car and transforming it into a beauty.Pretty much everything runs, he said, though acknowledging some are ugly.He received complaints from neighbors when he used to park 10 to 12 cars in his yard; now he stores some off-site. Johnson offers an embarrassed smile when talking about the city's emphasis on cleaning up junk cars in the neighborhood. He didn't receive the city's first letter, which surprised him.I figured I'd be the first one they'd send it to, Johnson said, surveying his front yard.In fact, he says he supports the city's intentions.I see where they're coming from, he said. I'm all for the neighborhood being cleaned up. I've got a big job, I know.A few streets away, Nicole Lord says she backs the city's efforts. She lives next to an elderly couple who have a half-dozen or more classic cars parked in their driveway and in their back yard. But Lord says she isn't bothered by their collection because it's on the other side of her 6-foot-tall wood fence.Lord supports the clean-up effort because of houses she drives by farther west, houses with front yards that have become parking lots for a wide assortment of vehicles.I think it's a good idea, she said. A lot of houses, especially farther down toward Dash Point Road, make the whole neighborhood trashy. As for Christensen, who has seen smaller-scale enforcement efforts in the neighborhood fail, says she hopes this latest, large-scale push works. If the city enforces the fines, that could do the trick. A hundred bucks is more than I make in a day, she said. You charge me $100-a-day fine, you got my attention. ---------Get rid of your old car Several charitable organizations, both locally and nationally, accept vehicles as charitable donations, with a possible tax deduction for donors. Donors sign over their titles to organization representatives, who drive or tow the vehicles to an auction house. Most of the proceeds from the sale go to the organizations for their programs. Here's the skinny on three local programs: * Volunteers of America, whose programs include adult homes for the developmentally disabled, family shelters and a kids' camp in Sultan, accepts vehicles that are 1985 or newer with a straight body, inflated tires and a fair to good interior, says program manager Mary Brown. Ninety percent of proceeds go toward Volunteers of America programs. Vehicles don't have to run, though the organization requests a $65 donation for those that don't to pay for towing, Brown says. If someone can't pay the fee, however, the Everett-based organization may still agree to pick it up. Donors gets a tax write-off. Call 1-877-227-4862. * The Western Washington branch of the National Kidney Foundation of Oregon and Washington receives 50 to 75 donated vehicles a month, says regional director Steve Church, who works in the Redmond office. The vehicles average between $350 and $500; 82 cents of each dollar goes to the organization. Donors should talk to their tax consultant about what break they can get on a donation. The National Kidney Foundation accepts vehicles whether they're running or not, but all of them must be in one piece. Pick-up is free, but the organization may request a donation to tow vehicles that aren't running. People donate for several reasons, Church says. It cleans up the street, he said. It helps the environment. There's a possible tax deduction. It helps them knowing they might do something good. * Like the other organizations, World Vision is limited in what vehicles it can accept because its primary purpose is to raise money for the Christian charitable agency's programs. Sometimes, the agency gets calls from people who want to donate vehicles from the 1950s, '60s or '70s. We don't take all cars. We can't, said car donation volunteer Esther Schrase. Our purpose is not to help people get rid of their cars. Vehicles are evaluated on a case-by-case basis and the organization accepts both operable and inoperable vehicles, Schrase says. World Vision appreciates it if people can drop off their vehicles, saving the organization towing expenses. But if they can't, they're not charged for the towing. Call 1-888-783-5437. "

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