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Santa Rosa will seek court orders allowing it to remove debris from burned properties whose owners have yet to take steps to clean them up themselves, a group that now includes less than two dozen sites citywide.

The City Council voted Thursday evening to get judicial approval before taking the extraordinary step of cleaning up private properties without the owners’ permission.

“We want to get our community cleaned up as quickly as we can, but also with some care and compassion for the folks who have lost their homes,” Mayor Chris Coursey said.

The initial deadlines to sign up for the Army Corps and private cleanup programs have officially passed, but city and county officials have been working hard to get people into one of the programs, said Scott Alonso, Sonoma County Health Services Department spokesman.

“I think we wanted to be flexible for folks,” Alonso said. “This was a big decision.”

As of Friday, 4,535 homeowners, or 88 percent of the 5,130 Sonoma County homes destroyed in the last month’s fires, were signed up for the government cleanup process, which is being done at no cost to homeowners. Owners of an additional 509 properties in the county and 300 in the city have applied to clean up the properties themselves using private contractors. Some of the applications are for homes that were damaged but not completely destroyed, Alonso said.

Just before Thanksgiving, there were 280 Santa Rosa residents who had yet to sign up for either program. After extensive outreach by local officials, that number has since dropped to just 21 properties.

In the county, 86 property owners have still not signed up for either program, Alonso said.

Abatement order letters went out to those 86 property owners Friday. The notices give property owner 14 days to appeal. The city will be sending similar notices to those properties still not enrolled in either program, Alonso said.

If there is no response, the city’s chief building official will declare them a public nuisance and petition the court for an inspection and abatement warrant. If granted, the city will then hire the Army Corps or private contractors to perform the cleanup, City Attorney Sue Gallagher said. The county’s process is much the same.

If private contractors are selected, the city would likely need to bear the cost of the cleanup, in which case the city would place a lien on the property to recoup expenses, Gallagher said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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