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Beautification panel presents ideas
• City Council listens to a host of ideas to reduce blight in Ceres
Ceres blight 2
With its discarded waste and abandoned grocery carts, the frontage road to Highway 99 often presents an ugly view of Ceres to those traveling up and down Highway 99. The Beautification Committee has a plan it hopes will reduce the visual assault. - photo by Jeff Benziger

The Ceres City Council reviewed a list of recommendations of the recently-formed 10-member ad hoc Beautification Committee.

The group meets quarterly at 5:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month and has met three times since being formed. Code enforcement representatives participate. Heading up the committee are former Ceres mayor and former state Senator Anthony Cannella with Richard McKay as vice chairman. Brandy Meyer serves as the secretary and other members are Charlie Fernandes, Gene Yeakley, Alyssa Long, John Warren, Larry Lopes, Steven Whitney and Krishan Malhotra.

In the first recommendation the committee suggested reducing the notification time for specific municipal code violations like overgrown grass and weeds on their property from the current 10 days. However the city attorney and Code Enforcement Division said that the standard for most cities is allowing violators 10 days to rectify violations of the code. City Manager Tom Westbrook said that for health and safety violations, the city can reduce the noticing time to three days, but for property maintenance violations utilizing the 10-day notice would be necessary.

The second recommendation is that the city increase garbage fees by $1 per month to deal with illegal dumping and blight issues. That idea did not carry unanimous support of the committee, however. 

Prior in the Aug. 24 meeting the council had a discussion about that proposal as the city looks to modify the contract for garbage service with Bertolotti Ceres Disposal. By January 1, 2022, the city will be required to move to a three-can garbage (waste, recyclable, organics) system by the state. This will require an adjustment of the current garbage fee structure for residents and businesses within Ceres.

Part of the fee increase and contract change will help Berolotti recover some of its costs in cooperating with the city in cleaning up illegal dump sites. Bertolotti has never been under contract to pick up illegally dumped materials but were under contract to accept the illegal dump materials picked up by Ceres city crews and delivered to the company transfer station. Public Works Director Jeremy Damas said the company has, however, done a majority of the lifting of illegal dumps on city rights of way. City staff continues to provide labor to clean up alleys and private property in forced cleanups.

The committee spoke about the need for a strategic plan to deal with blight issues, illegal dumping and code violations. Part of that effort, the panel felt, is to take a robust public outreach to notify residents what the city does and does not offer in the way of services. They also think the city should utilize service clubs, church groups, schools and youth clubs to get the word out and in multiple languages. The committee was provided a copy of the city of Modesto’s blight abatement strategy adopted by the Modesto City Council late last year.

The committee also feels the city should bolster the existing Adopt-A-Park program by encouraging service clubs, neighborhood groups, schools to clean a park on a regular basis. The program is administered by the Recreation Division with support from the Public Works Division. The city provides the pick-up grabber devices and garbage bags and will discard the garbage.

The panel also hopes to encourage residents to participate in the Volunteers in Public Safety (VIPS) program to assist in code enforcement efforts. The idea is to complete lower level tasks to free up the sometime for the enforcement officers.

“There’s a lot of value here,” commented City Manager Tom Westbrook, ““when we get back into, hopefully, a COVID-free world.”

Police Chief Rick Collins believes that volunteers could perform some code enforcement tasks, specifically follow-up on property maintenance issues as well as posting of door hangers in neighborhoods where code issues arise.

Another idea is to create a list of specific projects that can be completed by neighborhood groups. It was also suggested to have more frequent cleanups, such as monthly, under a similar effort to Love Ceres conducted by churches. There has not been a Love Ceres event for a few years now.

“I’m glad we’re addressing some of these issues of beautification,” said Councilman Channce Condit whose idea it was to form the committee.

Committee member John Warren weighed in on the aesthetic problems in Ceres.

“I do feel that our code enforcement folks need a helping hand in doing their job,” Warren told the council. “Right now we only have two people that are involved in that particular operation. We should probably have at least four.”

Westbrook said he wants to have the committee mull over their priorities of the tasks and begin implementing those.