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What makes for community blight? Lets give examples
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Multiple examples of blight at one residence in the 2600 block of Roeding Road a tattered and broken awning, abandoned car, unmowed yard, Christmas lights, house that needs paint and a dead stump that is feet high. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

There is a radio ad for Verbal Advantage that states that "People do judge you on the words you use."

Very true.

In the same way, it's also true that people judge your city or neighborhood by the way it looks. Some even judge you based on the way you keep your yard, or if Christmas lights are still hanging on your eves in March.

At a recent community workshop on the Ceres General Plan, participants were asked to write their ideas on sticky notes about the pros and cons of Ceres. On the negative side, I read some responses like Ceres has a trash problem, residential neighborhood blight and "businesses looking like they don't care."

I don't believe for a minute that Ceres is much different from its neighbors, whether you're talking about Turlock or Modesto or Newman or Riverbank or Oakdale or Waterford, in that they all have trash problems or some businesses that look sorely neglected. But all communities suffer from the presence of trash littering the streets and some suffer more than others.

Consider that trash is a barometer on the quality of a community. Take Ripon for instance. Ripon is known as being a fairly upscale community and it's also a very clean town. There seems to be a community expectation that if you live in Ripon, you take care of your part of the world. Homes there sell for more than ones in cities like Ceres. Just roll through the neighborhoods and see manicured yards and note an absence of trash. Incomes may be higher but so is the level of care. Freeze that image in your head, and then take a drive south on 99 through south Modesto, if you dare. You'll see what I'm talking about.

Where is it written that trashiness must be symptomatic of one being poor? Last time I checked, it doesn't cost a homeowner anything to pull weeds, lest we're talking a bad back. Bags of bark are inexpensive too and most everyone can find an inexpensive used lawnmower or pay the neighbor kid $5 or $10 to mow the grass. Where there is a will, there is a way.

I had difficulty putting into words the problem of blight Ceres had so I randomly drove through Ceres. The truth is sometimes painful but some introspection may help. Here's a sample of what I found:

• On Alphonse Drive I saw garbage cans stored in many front yards, directly in front of fence gates they are supposed to be stored behind. I also saw a lot of weeds, a shopping cart, unmowed yards, a camper shell leaning against the house. I also saw overgrown vegetation blocking the view of one house.

• At Rosewood and Mitchell I saw another cart, tipped on its side.

• A fishing boat was on Shusan Drive, just down the street from a very classy piece of horticulture (no really). (Why do owners of boats and RVs and abandoned cars think it's okay to store them in public view all the time?)

• An unpainted house on Hoyle Court.

• A horse trailer parked in high weeds on Garrison Avenue.

• Christmas lights hanging from eves on Charlotte Avenue.

• A hideous lime and aqua blue painted house at Ninth and Magnolia.

• Weeds and an overgrown yard kitty-corner to the beautiful Ceres Community Center.

• A hideously exposed example of unfinished construction in the 3000 block of Sixth Street.

• Tattered awning draping an abandoned vehicle in the 2600 block of Roeding Road.

• A severely neglected weed-filled yard and home with rotting shingle siding at Roeding and Rose.

• Discarded mattresses laying in front of a residence on Hackett Road.

• Garbage cans stored in full view in front of the McMansion on Castiglione.

• Pink trim on a house on Buenaventura Drive.

• Four jet skis parked on trailers in the driveway on
Avenida Real - with garbage cans in full view of the road.

• A pickup with flat tires on Willow Lake Way.

I haven't even scratched the surface.

Aside from the loose shopping carts, there's trash in the streets.

I suppose littering is a matter of culture. The $64,000 question is how do you train the trashiness out of people? We all know police never cite for littering.

I'd say most of the trash on the streets is being tossed by the 25 and under crowd and by referring to my examples of blight, I think I know where they learn using the community as their trash receptacle. By far the trash I am seeing are soda cups, water and soda bottles, cigarette cartons, fast food containers, paper napkins and garage sale signs (which are illegal). Schools teach our kids civility and to stay out of canals and not to do drugs - all important things - but do they teach kids that trashing the town is a no-no? Perhaps it's time for a lesson on being a good citizen.

Even the business community has fallen into this ho-hum state of affairs.

The fact that there are some Ceres businesses that neglect their façade or grounds could mean the difference between making a profit and closing the doors. Let's face it, it's a competitive world out there and businesses must court the customer for his dollars, never take him or her for granted. If a business looks cared for, has value and friendly service, it's going to attract more customers than a business that opts for deferred maintenance and uninviting facade. That's why you're beginning to see a reformation of the Save Mart Shopping Center at Whitmore and Mitchell. Vacancies are a huge problem and with its rotting facades and 1970s style of looks, the center is long overdue for a makeover.

I remember that the Carl's Jr. at Mitchell and Whitmore as being a busy lunch place several decades ago. You might argue that there is noticeably less trade there today because of the nation's trend toward healthier foods but you might say the business's appearance doesn't help. Dry rot is apparent on the plywood parapet. Swing open the front door and hear the sound of grinding metal against the bottom plate - something that has been a problem for years. Let's not even talk about the men's restroom.

There's nothing attractive about the small shopping center at the corner of Mitchell and Roeding roads. Nor is there anything attractive about the commercial/industrial area on the west side of Mitchell Road between Hatch Road and River Road. Maybe trees and landscaping would help. And I'm sorry but recent efforts to spruce up the shopping center at Mitchell and Fowler seem wasted given the fact that the colors are hideous, landscaping is neglected and an exposed and weathered piece of 4' x 8' OSB is part of the northern elevation.
Punjab Plaza is dirty and downright scary.

Years ago I wrote about the planters in the Taylor Shopping Center being nothing more than barren trash receptacles. Nothing has changed.

The transformation will only occur property by property. People have to care. You can't legislate people into caring if they don't. And the truly depressing thing is that the community will forever be held hostage by people who don't care - nor ever will care.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing him at