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Citizen quick to report blight, code violations
Homeless camp Hatch Road
This homeless camp was spotted by John Warren last week behind the Hatch Road Shopping District marque and reported promptly to city officials. It was removed later that day. - photo by Jeff Benziger

If there’s an eyesore in town, Ceres resident John Warren is usually quick to spot it – and fire off a message to city officials to hold them accountable to deal with it faster than they do.

A former law enforcement officer who moved to Ceres in 1986, Warren has a knack to report abandoned vehicles, piles of debris and homeless camps in addition to his input at City Council meetings.

Warren isn’t content to let the city delay dealing with blight and often prods City Hall to act quickly. While they don’t say so, his persistence might be viewed as a constant source of irrigation.

Last Wednesday Warren rolled down Hatch Road and saw a staggering homeless encampment behind the marque sign of the Hatch Road Shopping District. He quickly fired off a message to city officials about it and asked them to “please have someone check behind Hatch Road Center sign at old Kmart corner of H/H (Hatch and Herndon). Officers patrolling must have missed that mess? John W”

The mess, which consisted of some transient person’s clothing, bedding, sleeping bags, a five-gallon water container, stolen Target and dd’s discounts grocery cart, metal shelving and Foster Farms milk crates, had been moved across the street by Thursday, Warren reported.

“I don’t want to be too sarcastic,” Warren told the Courier. “I mean I don’t know how many Ceres policemen must have driven by that and just completely ignored it. When the Ceres Police officer drives by a pile of s--- he should at least call it in to the appropriate agency that deals with it and not just drive on and ignore it.”

The city’s Code Enforcement unit is under the supervision of the Ceres Police Department, directly overseen by Captain Pat Crane and Police Chief Rick Collins.

City Manager Alex Terrazas responded to the message, asking Police Chief Rick Collins to look into it. Terrazas then asked Warren: “is there a reason you’re not using the My Ceres app to report issues? I’ve used it recently to report a couple of items. Thanks, Alex.”

Warren felt it was Terrazas’ way of telling him to quit bothering him.

Warren reported back that “yes there is a reason and that has been reported to you and members of City staff and CC members.  The problem has not been fixed. So this seems like the best way.”

Specifically, Warren wonders if anyone sees or acts on the complaints channeled through the app.

“There’s nobody there to answer and they’ll say the case is closed and it’s been assigned to Code Enforcement and you’ll go by and it’s still there a week and a half, two weeks later.”

The retired law enforcement officer cited an example in the 2200 block of Moffet Road where a wrecked Chevy SUV and junk vehicles have not been dealt with in months. He also cited a couch sitting on Caswell Avenue for three weeks.

“I know that police officers drive up and down that street. Code enforcement does some driving around the community. What about the chief of police and the captain and all the city employees that drive around and see that stuff? They don’t report it to the right person. And the response you get is, ‘well, it hasn’t been reported yet.’ Well, why does it take John Warren driving up and down Moffet to send it in before anything is done?” 

Warren also said the app does not allow a user to delete previous complaints. He said the prior reporting app used by the city allowed a user to swipe to delete prior cases.

The MyCeres app was made available as a GoGov app. It is advertised “About this app” as follows: “See a pothole that needs filling? Graffiti making a mess of your neighborhood? Tap right into your city and report the issue fast with My Ceres!” Over 50 downloads have been made. Users may remain anonymous.

In May, Terrazas himself said that the city has to do better in responding to complaints made through the app. At a special council workshop the city manager said that he reported a dump site on Go Gov and was told the eyesor had been addressed. Bertolotti (Disposal) indicated the mess had been picked up but noted: “I knew for a fact that it hadn’t been picked up because I picked up the dump site myself. I threw it in the back of my truck after driving by it for about a week and a half; I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Hours after Warren’s Wednesday complaint about the debris behind the Hatch Road marquee, city Code Enforcement officers had the pile tagged with a notice to abate. Chief Collins said that the Ceres Municipal Code requires abatement within eight hours. The problem is likely to move somewhere else to be dealt with again.

“It’s a constant battle,” reported Chief Collins.

City officials have responded to the growing blight and messes left by the homeless – and the pressure applied by citizens such as Warren and Gene Yeakley, both fixtures at City Council meetings, who often chide the city for letting things slide. In May the council decided to add one additional full-time code enforcement officer and two part-timers using federal COVID relief funds allocated by Congress in the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA).

The council allocated those funds at Monday’s council meeting. Chief Collins said filling those positions should take two to three months if candidates pass a limited background check. Since short-term ARPA funds are being used, the council will have to find funds to keep the employees.

“We should be able to make a lot of progress over a two year time span,” said Chief Collins.

Warren somehow drew the ire of Ceres Mayor Javier Lopez in January after he inquired about an illegal outdoor tent style peddler’s faire that popped up at Whitmore Avenue and Blaker Road. In response to the inquiry, Mayor Javier Lopez fired off an email to Warren on Jan. 21 (and CC’ed a number of officials) that read: “In no shape or form will I continue to allow you gentlemen to disrespect my city staff, with your comments. In addition, in this matter at hand in which you both seem to believe you are the only priority. Regardless if it’s a pop up event ‘local business for whom I support’ the real evidence only shows how negative and anti-small businesses you are. In the end I also support freedom of speech and the right to have an opinion. These are yours. Our city council and city staff work day after day to move this city forward. I’d suggest you be apart (sic) of the solution not apart (sic) of the problem.”

John Warren
Ceres resident John Warren is a frequent attendee at Ceres City Council meetings.