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Your ride is on its way

Uber and Lyft ride-sharing services are legal in Ashland starting in 30 days. With two dissenters, the City Council Tuesday opened the doors for the transportation networks, while requiring a seven-year look back for criminal convictions of drivers, a limit of 12 consecutive hours a day for drivers, inspections of older vehicles and wheelchair accessibility on request.

Assistant City Attorney Katrina Brown said Lyft had just emailed that if their requirements, including the seven-year lookback, were not met, they would not serve the town, causing Mayor John Stromberg to zing, “They sound like really nice people.” The council earlier wanted a 10-year look back.

The ordinance also requires inspections unless vehicles are under two years old or under 20,000 miles. It also requires permits and insurance that mirror Medford’s earlier-passed laws.

The nay votes came from Michael Morris and Rich Rosenthal.

Councilors have long debated the need for ride-sharing in a tourism-driven town like Ashland, where many visitors are used to Uber, but sought to balance that against the needs of longterm local drivers and their customers, who value and trust their familiarity. To that end, the ordinance requires an evaluation in one year of how the law affects the local economy and transportation needs.

In a brief hearing, commercial taxi drivers complained that Uber drivers or unlicensed drivers were already doing business in Ashland, some uninsured, and freely handing out their business cards at bars. Another complained that shuttles operated by hotels have cut business — and ride-sharing drivers will only make it worse.

Mark Thomas, a driver for Crater Lake Taxi, said Uber has gridlocked New York City and “you have to consider limiting the number of vehicles on the road and the number of hours driven. How do you enforce that? Today you have unauthorized drivers. I’m struggling to understand why you make concessions on seven years instead of 10. What are they trying to conceal? Also, a lot of the population doesn’t have smartphones, so how do they find that market?”

Brown, in an interview, said Uber and Lyft, not the city, do the background checks. She acknowledged the hours-worked and other parts of the law might be hard to enforce, but police could take a taxi ride and check their apps. “It’s a resource issue and is driven by complaints to city code enforcement.”

Wildfire ordinance OK’d

After a spate of deadly urban wildfires in California, the council Tuesday unanimously passed the so-called Wildfire Mitigation Ordinance, putting the entire city within its Wildfire Overlay Map, but — to the relief of many — reassuring homeowners that their insurance won’t suddenly go through the roof.

Chris Chambers, forestry division chief for Ashland Fire & Rescue, said, after extensive research in the insurance industry, that brokers only underwrite based on actual or potential fires in an area and not on zoning or overlay maps — and they also can declare temporary moratoriums on new policies when big fires are burning, as in the nearby Hendrix and Klamathon blazes.

The insurance industry uses a “Fireline Score,” he said, based on realtime data acquired on three factors: brush within certain feet or miles, steepness of slope and access to structures — with deadends, long driveways and hard turnarounds being a liability. You get a score on each of those three, using a 10-point scale and your total score can’t be more than 10.

Chambers said there are 1,779 structures in the long-established wildfire overlay map and if there were any rate hikes because of that designation, “we would have heard of it. It’s experience that’s more important than zoning.”

The new ordinance prohibits a range of highly flammable plant species, with juniper and leland cypress listed among the troublemakers. It also bans wood shake roofs.

These restrictions apply to new construction or big remodels, not existing homes, so you won’t see the fire department out looking for existing violations — and, said Chambers, they have Google Earth and plan to use it to spot problems. They also plan to do lots of education with builders, landscapers and nurseries.

The ordinance needed to be in place to apply for a $3 million FEMA grant to help protect cities against catastrophic fires.

Water supply holding

Although the prolonged drought worsened regional fires, it didn’t drain Ashland’s water or require conservation measures, reported Public Works Director Paula Brown. “We didn’t have to exercise controls. We still have water in the reservoir We’ve been using only a million gallons a day since July 3. I’m pleased. Rain forecasts look like we won’t get any till the middle of October. Even though it’s warm, you don’t have to water your lawn anymore. It’s trying to shut down for the winter.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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