Members of the City Council agreed to the concept of forming an ad hoc citizen committee seeking to improve the physical appearance of Ceres by working with code enforcement officers last week but cautioned they don’t want the group micro-managing city staff.
Proposed by Councilman Channce Condit, the idea of a Ceres Beautification Action Committee was originally turned down by Mayor Chris Vierra and Councilmen Bret Durossette and Mike Kline in May. At the time Condit was unable to articulate the purpose or function of the committee and the council was skeptical.
Last week Condit gave a clearer outline of any future panel and credited former Mayor Louis Arrollo for helping to craft the outline.
“I do believe this increases civic engagement,” said Condit.
Condit indicated what he would like the committee to do and laid out the problem in the following narrative: “For some years citizens of Ceres have complained about the deteriorating appearance of the city proper as it relates to debris along roadways, vacant lots, city parks and parking lots of various shopping centers and other areas visible to the passing public from within and outside of the City of Ceres. This issue has been addressed through establishment of a Code Enforcement Officer to handle complaints received by the city. Over the past several years the problem has intensified in appearance despite halfhearted attempts by city personnel to improve the aesthetic quality of presentation to the general public.”
He suggested the group would assist city staff in “strategically tracking areas that may require some attention as it relates to discarded trash and other debris cast aside by unknown persons without regard for others.” Condit suggested civic engagement is important because “the city does not have the personnel to visit all areas of the city specifically looking for deteriorating sites.” He suggested the charge of members would be to observe and report conditions of blight such as accumulation of trash and debris “that may affect the aesthetically pleasing appearance of the city.” The committee member would then report such condition – documented with photos if possible – to a city representative assigned as liaison to the committee.
Condit suggested that the committee consist of 10 members appointed by the council for a two-year term and to meet four times a year with a code enforcement officer present.
Arrollo submitted a statement of support to the city, saying he understood the committee would consume “a minimal amount of time relative to city staff, except for the Code Enforcement Official who may become involved in citizen contacts and perhaps a small amount of paper work involved to ensure the ordinances of the City of Ceres are in compliance.”
He also stated that “the more citizens at large are involved in the issues facing a community the more likely problems may be more easily resolved and a sense of ownership and pride instilled in the community as a whole.”
Kline said the committee is a “start in the right direction.”
“There are parts of it I like but then other things I might like to make suggestions on,” said Mayor Vierra, who originally was against the idea.
The actual framework of the committee will come back to the council.
“This could be something that would be a benefit to the city,” said the mayor.
He expressed a desire to make the code enforcement team more efficient “whether that means we give a code enforcement person an iPad with everybody’s address and as they’re driving through the neighborhood if they see an issue they can click on the address and they can click on the issue and bring it back and download that information and if a letter or something needs to go out it can be.”
Vierra said he wants to see a “visionary” committee to make recommendations to the council on “best practices from other cities and not necessarily just a session where everybody gets together and complains about how bad everything looks and ‘there’s a trash pile over there and pick it up.’”
He disliked Condit’s notion of limiting committee involvement to Ceres residents only, pointing out that some property owners who care about Ceres but live out of town – he singled out Shane Parson – would be unable to participate. Condit said while was open to suggestions, he said meetings would be public and anybody could provide input whether they live in Ceres or not.
“My only caveat is that code enforcement do attend these meetings,” said Condit.
Former Mayor and state Senator Anthony Cannella lent his support to the committee and spoke to the council.
“I am very encouraged by this proposal,” Cannella told the council. “I think that blight is a problem in Ceres. I don’t think it’s unique to Ceres; I think this is a societal problem but I do think that there are things we can do better.”
Cannella said the committee could be expanded to a “blue ribbon commission, if you will.”
“I know the city manager rightfully was concerned this commission would turn into a group of people telling code enforcement what to do – that’s obviously inappropriate. It’s inappropriate for you (the council) to tell staff to do and certainly inappropriate for citizens to tell staff what to do. All things work through the city manager.”
He said he wants to apply “and I assure you it would never turn into a situation where I’m to direct staff to do something.”
Supportive of the committee’s charge, Brandy Meyer said sometimes Ceres residents see things so much they no longer see things that need attention.
Ceres resident John Warren suggested the committee could make a slot for a citizen at large who doesn’t live in Ceres.
Durossette said he remains skeptical about getting enough people to serve.
“It’s not like people are going to be banging down doors to really want to maybe jump in,” said Durossette who asked the audience to help recruit members. He noted how the recent election for the Ceres School Board garnered only one candidate in two of the trustee areas, saying “that’s not good.”
The committee framework and charge will likely be formally adopted at the Dec. 9 City Council meeting which starts at 6 p.m.