2016-08-26 / Community

Roadside memorials get 30 days

Tributes ‘cropping up everywhere,’ Mayor Huber says
By Melissa Simon

WHEN THE COMMUNITY MOURNS — A makeshift memorial with flowers, candles, photographs and memorabilia covers a center median on First Street at Royal Avenue in February, near where Simi Valley resident JT Tautkus was killed in a motorcycle crash. The City Council is now instituting a policy that will allow memorials to be kept up no longer than 30 days. ACORN FILE PHOTO WHEN THE COMMUNITY MOURNS — A makeshift memorial with flowers, candles, photographs and memorabilia covers a center median on First Street at Royal Avenue in February, near where Simi Valley resident JT Tautkus was killed in a motorcycle crash. The City Council is now instituting a policy that will allow memorials to be kept up no longer than 30 days. ACORN FILE PHOTO From now on, makeshift memorials created in the public right of way will be taken down by the city after 30 days.

Over the years, in times of tragedy community members have put up both elaborate and simple memorials along sidewalks, center dividers and other public areas. Candles, balloons, pictures, flowers and other memorabilia are often displayed.

At a special meeting Aug. 19, the City Council decided to develop a formal policy for these roadside memorials, which are currently handled on a case-by-case basis.

Under the policy, makeshift memorials can be set up for 30 days from the date of the incident, after which time they will be cleaned up. Anything that is a potential liability, such as a candle or items blocking the sidewalk, will be removed immediately.

Ron Fuchiwaki, Simi’s public works director, said the idea of a creating a formal policy was presented to Simi Valley’s neighborhood councils in 2013. At the time, the councils, which act in an advisory capacity to the City Council, favored handling each case individually rather than instituting a blanket policy.

Fuchiwaki told the council last Friday that the cities of Thousand Oaks and Ventura have each written policies that allow memorials to remain up for about 30 days.

“The city will then take it down after placing a notice near the memorial notifying anybody that shows up that it has been removed,” he said. “They also take the material that’s salvageable and keep it for 14 days. If they’re contacted in the interim, then they’ll make arrangements to get the material back to the family or friends.”

During discussion at the meeting, Councilmember Mike Judge said the city should at least have a policy for candles, and possibly for sports memorabilia.

“Sports memorabilia can be completely innocent, but in my experience (with the Los Angeles Police Department) it can be related to gangs, and I don’t want to see it on the streets of Simi Valley,” he said at the meeting.

Mayor Bob Huber spoke about memorials that have been left up for long periods of time.

“I (worked in the funeral industry for years) and I know a little bit about this thing called grief. Everybody handles it differently. It’s a tough subject to tackle,” the mayor said.

The problem, he said, is that makeshift memorials are “cropping up everywhere” and people are becoming “obstinate” when it comes to keeping them up.

Huber referenced an accident that occurred on First Street several years ago when a 65-yearold man was riding his bicycle on the wrong side of the street without a light and was killed by a truck driver.

Simi Valley Police Chief Mitch McCann said the truck driver did not do anything wrong.

“It was a traumatic thing every time he made a regular delivery in that area. That’s the flip side of having these memorials,” the chief said.

Councilmember Keith Mashburn, a retired firefighter, said first responders are also affected every time they go by a roadside memorial.

“They didn’t see it as a nice picture, (but) as a bloody mess,” he said. “Most police officers and fire personnel act like it doesn’t bother them, but it does.”

Councilmember Steve Sojka said he liked the idea of having a 30-day policy.

“People do grieve differently, but I think 30 days is adequate and if they know there’s a policy going into it and that they’ll have to remove the memorial, that softens the blow,” he said.

Councilmember Glen Becerra said the council should also consider any potential liabilities.

“If we have a policy that allows them to be up at all, are we leaving ourselves open to a liability if someone trips and falls?” Becerra asked his fellow council members. “We have candles and crosses and teddy bears and all that other stuff that we’re saying is OK to be out there, which we all have a heart for, but if someone trips . . . I just want us to think about impacts too.”

City Attorney Lonnie Eldridge suggested the policy be clear that “a memorial is against the rules; however enforcement (for removal) is being delayed.”

The council directed city staff to develop the policy, which City Manager Eric Levitt will then approve. Any questions the council might have can be discussed at a future meeting.

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