September 07, 2001 11:00 pm

The Aug. 18 house fire along Gekeler Lane raised the eyebrows of many property owners in La Grande because the blaze appeared to spread when weeds caught fire. Those weeds appeared to be taller than the citys ordinance allows. The law applies to any non-ornamental grasses more than 10 inches tall. A quick drive around La Grande will show that there are many yards and fields within the citys boundaries that exceed this limit.

The danger of a wildfire sweeping through various parts of the city should motivate property owners to keep their weeds cut down. But what about areas within the citys core area where weeds taller than 10 inches flourish along the strips between the street and the sidewalks?

Some arent just a potential fire hazard, but they are creating urban blight much more devastating than the downtown hole in the ground soon to be sold to the City of La Grande.

One such disturbing area is the former Chinese restaurant on Fourth Street. The weeds, discarded wrappers and dirt on the walkways should make anyone cringe as they walk along this pathway.

Just up the street a couple of blocks, next to the United Methodist Church is an apartment complex that is quickly turning into a slum area. The owner of the property has allowed the once rich lawn to turn into a weed patch, while letting two large piles of tree chippings sit for several months, slowly moving onto the sidewalk.

As the city ponders the opportunities of an Urban Renewal District, the owners of the former Tropidara building downtown appear to be getting by and not doing anything about redeveloping the site. We recall right after the fire that damaged the building there was plenty of talk about it not becoming another eyesore.

The city has done little to remedy the problem, instead focusing its attention on acquiring the burned-out Bohnenkamp property on Adams Avenue or trying to get the Safeway building for a library.

Across La Grande there are just too many areas that look more like they belong in a Third World country than in Oregon. For those who can remember, La Grande was once a well-kept community that exhibited large amounts of pride. You didnt have to go very far to see a town that appeared prosperous at every turn.

If La Grande doesnt have enough personnel to keep up with enforcement of the ordinances that are supposed to address issues like these, we suggest the city hire a full-time enforcement officer. Some of his or her wages could be paid through ticket revenues or charges against property owners who fail to keep their property up to required standards.

The reality is that we need to clean up

La Grande of overgrown weeds and unsightly parking strips. We should take pride in our property and treat everyone equally. Until we do, we are sending mixed signals about our community.