Fresno mayor proposes using clear plastic instead of plywood on abandoned buildings

FRESNO, (KFSN) -- The mayor's task force on blight identified boarded up homes as one of the city's biggest problems. The goal is to get them fixed up, but until then, the proposed solution is to replace the ugly plywood covering the windows and doors of thousands of homes with clear plastic panels that are supposed to look better and be unbreakable, designed to keep squatters out.

While the plastic, called "Secure View" looks like regular windows from the street, after a news conference and demonstration on Wednesday, their durability is being questioned.

Fresno's city manager wasn't able to crack the secure view covering a door opening with a baseball bat. But, give a rock to a former professional baseball player and it's a different story.

The rock hurled by Terrance Frazier, a former baseball pro with the A's organization and a standout at Fresno State busted right through the door covering. Frazier, who's a long time Fresno real estate developer, was surprised as anyone to punch a foot wide hole in the plastic.

Frazier said, "I was not expecting the rock to break through the window it was kind of discouraging in a way but on the other hand I felt a little strong, like I still got it."

It was a light note to a serious effort to address the blight caused by boarded up homes and buildings. Mayor Ashley Swearengin says, despite Frazier's prowess the city could require property owners to use a product like this to replace plywood boards.

Swearengin explained, "We know vacant buildings with plywood in front of them are a huge eyesore, it's a small first step."

The group called Fresno Faith in Community has been using social media with daily pictures of abandoned homes to pressure the city to do something about the problem. They applaud the Secure View approach as a small improvement for now, but want the city to use tougher enforcement to get rid of the boarded up homes. Andy Levine is a member of the organization and says one suggestion is actually assessing the big fines against negligent property owners which are allowed under state law.

Levine added, "They actually give local communities the power to fine problematic property owners up to a $1,000.00 a day per home per violation that are not only not up to code but just being left vacant."

Mayor Swearengin says imposing big fines is a possible option. She said, "We are going to use every law available including state law that allows us to crack down on negligent property owners as well as comprehensive neighborhood efforts."

Critics have long complained the city has not done enough to deal with blight and irresponsible property owners. One big problem is the shortage of code enforcement officers. Two years ago the city employed 60 people to deal with the problems of urban blight. But budget shortages and complaints from property owners and the city's desire to be "business friendly" the mayor and city council decided to slash the department so only 18 code enforcement officers now remain on the job.

Local attorney Patience Milrod owns rental property and says the blight caused by some negligent owners is lowering property values and city tax revenues. She attended the mayor's press conference and said she believes more eyes on the street are needed.

Milrod said, "I believe the mayor is very serious about this if the question is will, I think the will is there. So the question is can they come together and find some creative solutions to the situation part of which will require the city to invest more in code enforcement officers. Because people have to come and see. Let's say we say we landlords have to put lexan (plastic) on their windows, well so who's going to find out if they do it or not? That's something code enforcement officers have to do."

In the coming weeks the Fresno City Council is expected to consider whether to ask, or require property owners to use the clear plastic material instead of plywood to cover their empty buildings. Other recommendations to ease blight are expected to follow.

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