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V.I.C.E. program up and running
VICE members will be helping the city to get rid of eyesores like these illegal yard sale signs. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier file photo

Two qualified individuals have stepped forth to volunteer to help kick off a program designed to make Ceres a cleaner community.

Late last year the city announced that it was starting up the Volunteers in Code Enforcement (V.I.C.E.) program to help the city reduce blight and crack down on code violations. The program didn't get off to an immediate start because the city failed to receive applicants from volunteers to do office support. Having someone do paperwork will allow Code Enforcement Officer Frank Alvarez to go more work in the field.

Bryan Nicholes, the city's fire chief who is in charge of the code enforcement program, announced at the Oct. 13 City Council meeting that two retirees are being trained for the volunteer positions. One has 32 years in management experience and the other has a human resources background.

Both volunteers will be riding along with Alvarez to get an understanding for what he does in the field and then will be introduced to computers.

"We're hoping for at least a minimum of anywhere from four to 12 hours a week for each one," said Nicholes.

The city hopes to get more volunteers in the future.

Nicholes hopes the volunteers can help the city clear out some old cases first. The city averages 100 to 125 new cases per month and has about 250-300 open cases in any given month.

"If we can get them out there kind of doing the double checks on some of those just to make sure they've been taken care of, that'll be a large start to when we can get back to business and be more proactive than reactive," said Nicholes.

Code enforcement covers a gamut of issues, including the removal of illegal business and yard sale signs, addressing blight in commercial and residential areas, cleaning up eyesores and hazards and abating nuisances as a result of general violations of sections of code.

Councilmember Linda Ryno mentioned a proliferation of illegal signs that were plastered along Hatch Road that came from the new Halloween supply store.

"It looks so terrific to drive down Mitchell because we really got all that cleaned up and now we have this one store that has opened it looks horrible," said Ryno. "Then I noticed around the corner there's another business that's putting their sign out and I'm just afraid it's going to take off again."

Nicholes said the Halloween City store was going to be paid a visit to have the signs removed.

Ryno wondered why new businesses couldn't be given an information sheet that spells out the city's law on signs.

Applications for the VICE program are available at the Ceres Fire Station.

Code enforcement activities have been lacking since tough budget times forcing the City Council to make serious cuts to code enforcement personnel.

Volunteers will not be enforcing the law nor being confrontational but will be reporting instances of violations as well as taking photos to document conditions. Some may assist in the office doing paperwork. Volunteers could help the city search and cite for certain aspects of code enforcement such as excessive amounts of yard sales, illegally placed yard sale signs, trash accumulation on properties, illegal auto repairs being conducted in neighborhoods and general conditions of blight.

Volunteers must possess a high school diploma, and a valid drivers' license, offer references and undergo a background check before training would commence. Applicants would be matched up with jobs to their skill set.