Julie Harrison's house on Lime Street has a one-acre back yard, consisting mostly of bare hard-packed dirt.

Some construction debris, like an old rolled-up chain fence, sits inside the cinderblock walls, and an elaborate swing set for her large family occupies a central place in the yard. But what else was once in the yard put the normally mild-mannered speech therapist at odds with the San Bernardino County Fire Department and the city of Hesperia.

It began on October 2, when she came home to find a Notice and Order to Abate the tumbleweeds on her property. The notice listed a November 3 deadline, but Harrison, who has had no previous run-ins with city code enforcement or the fire department, proceeded to cut down the few plants growing on her property as well as in the adjoining alley.

But the notice seemed like a mistake: Either it had been intended for someone else, or there was some other violation, she thought. So she attempted to reach the county employee listed on the notice.

"The third of November came and went and I was calling several times a day," Harrison said. She was never able to reach a human being, and the voicemail at the number was full, and not accepting messages. "I said `eh, I've got my piles [of cut tumbleweeds], I've got my burn permit, it's fine."

She kept on calling, but with the holidays upon the family, Harrison never got out to the back yard to supervise a controlled burn of the tumbleweeds.

On January 3, she came home and found a yellow warrant attached to her door, informing her that she was now liable for $92 for the warrant and whatever it would cost the county to clean up the back yard.

"I came out and in 20 minutes, I got it all in my trashcan," she said.

But the tone of the entire process infuriated Harrison. She fired off an angry letter to the editor, which was published in the Monday, January 7 edition of the Daily Press.

"I have a six-foot block wall around my one-acre property," the letter reads in part. "How was my property inspected? Were photos taken to show a judge? If so, did this person come on my property, and more importantly, do they have pictures of my six children in these photos?

"Where does this stop? I have lived in Hesperia my entire life -- except the few years I left the state for college. This community has become an embarrassment. My car has been broken into twice in the last year. Of course, no one was apprehended. But now I am the criminal because of weeds that do not exist on my property. Does Big Brother want to check my garage and force me to organize myself? How about my pantry, to assure that my children are eating correctly? Privacy and property rights are a thing of the past in Hesperia."

Harrison is still unable to reach the county employee whose name and number were on the original Notice and Order to Abate, but she heard from plenty of other people, including representatives from Hesperia City Hall, the San Bernardino County Fire Department and Councilwoman Rita Vogler, as well as other residents frustrated by the weed-abatement program.

"The irony is that no one would get back to me before," Harrison said.

There were photos of her property, which the fire department provided to her. And they show two small piles of debris, at the opposite end of the yard from the house, near the cinderblock wall.

Prior to the 2004 dissolution of the Hesperia Fire Department, city employees checked to make sure that residents and local businesses do not have fire hazards on their property. When the county fire department was contracted to handle fire service in the city, the weed abatement program went along with it.

"They're contracted by us, and obviously there's ordinances in place," Vogler said. "We haven't modified anything by having the county take it over."

But while the fire department is carrying out existing city ordinances, prior to 2004, there was little or no proactive searching for problem residents. The city fire department simply didn't have the resources, and instead responded to complaints by neighbors.

The problem, in Vogler's mind, is that Harrison couldn't reach anyone at the fire department until after the deadline had passed.

"I don't want her, or anyone for that matter, to get a voicemail that says, I'm sorry, we're full, and then to call the city and be told, sorry, you have to call that number," Vogler said. "That's my biggest concern right there. Everything else is negotiable."

"I don't mind, if after a year of [tumbleweed] growth, they want to go after people," Harrison said. "That's one thing. ... They need to accept that we live in a desert. Tumbleweeds are a part of the desert. You have to deal with it."

Vogler believes the county should continue looking pro-actively for potential fire hazards.
"People need to have their clearing done," she said.

Representatives of the San Bernardino County Fire Department's weed-abatement team could not be reached for comment by press time.

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.