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Blight takes toll on pride, economic development

POSTED August 8, 2007 12:04 p.m.
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Most communities in the Valley have problems with trash, household discards, tires, graffiti, appliances, yard cuttings, abandoned vehicles, and the like, being continually deposited on city streets, sidewalks, gutters, parks and other locations. It is a big problem that has come about in the last 10 years or so, and unless there is a wholesale change in societal attitude, we can expect to fight an endless battle against blight well into the future.

Blight, litter, and garbage present not only significant eyesores, but it creates the impression that the community has no pride or self respect; that the people simply do not care. This hurts the value of homes, it keeps reputable businesses from locating here and, perhaps most damaging, it creates a crime magnet. Study after study shows a direct correlation between crime and blight; that is why many communities have attacked the problem head-on. They have established aggressive code enforcement programs, along with focused clean-up efforts, and the most successful communities are those which have been able to mobilize the citizens themselves to join in the clean-up battle.

In September 2006, the Ceres City Council established the "Take Pride in Ceres Program," which entails a combination of code enforcement, community clean-up, and a community involvement component. This program has two full-time code enforcement officers who also have community clean-up duties. They are supplemented by police volunteers (the VIPs), who work hand-in-hand with other city workers. The problem of litter, trash and blight persists, nevertheless. Some citizens complain about their cities "doing nothing" about the blight, but they could not be more wrong. These code enforcement officers have a continuous unfinished list of clean-up and enforcement projects, which they work on steadfastly and without reprieve. Most people would be shocked to see their communities if there were no rigorous clean-up programs like this one.

Since the Take Pride in Ceres Program began, the employees and volunteers have handled some 1,300 complaints, 500+ shopping carts have been picked up, approximately 17 tons of trash has been hauled away, more than 500 tires have been picked up, and numerous appliances, televisions and pieces of furniture have been removed. In terms of enforcement, 80+ citations have been issued, several unsafe houses have been demolished and numerous public locations have been cleaned.

On top of the many responsibilities the code enforcement officers have, they also enforce waste wheelers and basketball hoops in the street violations, which are handled on a complaint basis only at this time. Health-safety issues are always the priority, so they are dealt with before the employees address lesser-priority matters.

A newly developing problem is that of foreclosed houses that now stand vacant. These houses end up being attractive nuisances for rodents, gang graffiti, and break-ins. Dopers find these places attractive, as do urban outdoorsmen, who trespass and use them as crash pads. Some cities, like Sacramento, have found that the large numbers of vacant homes and the problems they cause are of epidemic proportion -- -- which has prompted the development of new ordinances to hold the banks and other note holders accountable for them.

There is no shortage of effort to clean-up Ceres by our employees. In fact, given the limited number of personnel assigned to the task, they are doing an outstanding job. Nevertheless, we are in recognition that more must be done. And it is not likely that more code enforcement officers can be added to the payroll when, at this time, the city needs more firefighters and police officers to handle essential life-safety issues on a 24-hour a day basis. Public education and prevention are the keys to solving the blight problem for the long-term.

Code enforcement and police officer issue citations and arrest litter bugs and other illegal dumpers, but it is much more practical and cost-effective to rely on everyone to do the right thing. We are hoping that everyone will help by disposing of all discards properly instead of using the environment as a garbage dump. It only takes a second to pick up litter and, if enough people take pride in the community, we can have a clean, safe, and aesthetically pleasing place in which to live and play. If we really want such a place, it can be done. Working together, we can and will achieve our goals.
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