Jan 7, 2014 8:38 PM by Tom McNamara and Paul Birmingham
Here in the Sonoran desert, we're used to seeing cacti pretty much everywhere. But, as one Tucson couple learned, the law requires them to clean up an area of cacti that could pose a hazard to pedestrians, even though it's not even on the couple's property.
The couple contacted the News 4 Tucson Investigators, after the city cited them for the overgrown cacti. City officials say it's the homeowners responsibility to clean it up, and the couple faces stiff fines if they don't.
Mark and Elaine Witkowski have called midtown Tucson home for more than 22 years. Now, they're locked in a legal battle with the City of Tucson over an area next to their home that has become overgrown with cacti.
"We've never had to do anything with this. They've came out a couple times in the past and trimmed up the trees. They've never once addressed the jumping cholla, the cactus. Never addressed them at all. We've never watered them. We've never maintained them. They just grow naturally," says Mark Witkowski.
It's a prickly issue for sure, and it involves the cactus which is sitting smack on the corner in a city right-of-way. The city demands that the homeowner get rid of it, because his property abuts the area.
City officials tell the News 4 Tucson Investigators, they received a complaint about the overgrown vegetation back in mid-august of last year. So, they sent out an inspector, who took severl photos. More inspections followed, and the city ultimately issued a citation in November.
According to the city's Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance, it's up to property owners to keep the right-of-way clear for pedestrians, as well as to keep signs and traffic signals clear of obstructions.
The citation that the city issued required Witkowski to appear in Tucson City Court.
"I mean it was a total hassle. It was a waste of a half a day, just to go up to a window to find you have an appointment a month and a half down the road. So, you have to set some other time aside to go take care of that," Witkowski says.
Over the holidays, the couple removed much of the cacti from the city right-of way. But, they didn't get rid of all of it, leaving some of the cholla, prickly pear, as well as a saguaro still standing.
"We've measured four-feet back from the curb, and we've given the city four-feet all the way from this circumference, all the way down here," Witkowski says.
The couple tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, other areas in their neighborhood also have trees and cacti in the city right-of-way, and, they don't understand why the city is focusing on this corner in particular.
"After cleaning up the cactus, we finally realized, we can't fight against city hall," Witkowski says.
Teresa Williams, City Code Enforcement Administrator tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, the Witkowskis aren't being singled out, even though they may think they are.
"We are complaint-driven, so the majority of our cases come to us from the public, or referrals from police, fire, council offices, and we investigate those, we focus on those," Williams says.
Williams also says the vast majority of the ten-thousand plus complaints city inspectors deal with each year deal with weeds, or other over-grown vegetation, and not cacti.
Witkowski has another court date later this month. The News 4 Tucson Investigators will continue to closely follow the case, and let you know what happens.
If you have something you would like the News 4 Tucson Investigators to look into - email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the News 4 Tucson Investigators tip-line at (520) 955-4444.