County mailbox ordinance goes postal
Government can’t tamper with your mail, but it can tamper with your mailbox.
On Tuesday, Mono County rolled out a first reading of a mailbox ordinance. The ordinance came on the heels of a recommendation by the Mono County Grand Jury that the County should clarify to the public that installing a mailbox in the County right of way is an encroachment and therefore requires an encroachment permit.
Of course, in the Eastern Sierra where many communities don’t have the luxury of a home mailbox, the ordinance really only applies to the Tri Valley, Paradise, Swall Meadows and Antelope Valley. Even so, the topic was quite the hot button item among the Board members, especially when it came to what was to become of already existing mailboxes in County rights of way.
“This is a huge issue for a few people,” said Supervisor Tim Hansen. “We need to grandfather the old ones in unless there is a problem.”
The issue stems back to a case in 2010 where a homeowner in Swall Meadows installed a large, cement/stone mailbox in the County right of way.
According to County Counsel Marshall Rudolph, when the homeowners were told they needed a permit, they claimed their architect had specifically called the County to ask about permitting before the mailbox was installed and was told a permit was not needed.
It turned into a big deal that went to the Board of Supervisors. The homeowners also wrote a letter to the Grand Jury, which was the catalyst for both the Grand Jury and the Board recommending that this area of the County code be cleaned up.
“The County has a general proposition liability for dangerous conditions on property that the County owns or controls,” Rudolph said in a phone conversation on Wednesday. A car could hit a mailbox, and if it’s in the County right of way, the agency could be liable, so the design needs to be safe, Rudolph added.
“The County has to take some kind of action,” said Supervisor Hap Hazard on Tuesday. “Mailboxes have been a significant issue for my entire 8-year term. Entire communities [especially in Hazard’s District 2] are fired up.”
Hazard claimed that as recently as Monday, a citizen had sent out an inflammatory email on the topic, which was “full of false and misleading information.”
“We haven’t developed an action plan which is why there is an issue now,” Hazard continued. “We need to get existing boxes identified and resolved.”
Hazard suggested the County start by documenting existing boxes through photos. “The County needs to determine who is and is not in compliance, it’s not the citizen’s responsibility.”
Hazard said the County should then follow up with a letter to the non-compliant properties, which spells out exactly what the homeowner would need to do to come into compliance. Coming into compliance would include obtaining the required permit. Hazard suggested that fees to come into compliance be completely waived until Dec. 31 to give incentive to homeowners to deal with compliance swiftly.
Not only would this process create a paper trail for the County to rely on if needed, Hazard said, “It will identify where the issues lie.” Without that, “we’ll just cause confusion,” Hazard said.
Supervisor Larry Johnston agreed that developing an inventory of existing boxes was critical. He added that in cases of new construction, driveway encroachment permits should include a section where the homeowner can describe where his or her mailbox would be placed.
“There shouldn’t be an additional fee but then it [the mailbox] gets document,” Johnston said.
Supervisor Vikki Bauer wondered aloud whether or not the County even needed a mailbox ordinance.
“Are we making a mountain out of a molehill,” she asked.
“It is a mountain out of a molehill, but that’s government,” Hansen said.
“That’s what we do,” said Rudolph, adding that the County had made a commitment to the Grand Jury to clean up the mailbox code, which was why the ordinance had to be resolved.
Bauer, however, felt it was too much work for the County to take on a mailbox inventory project.
“We have much more important work to do in the County,” she said.
The Board came to a consensus to develop that action plan that Hazard suggested.