Code enforcement employees with the City of Fresno inspect the Gottschalks Building in Downtown Fresno. Photo by Edward Smith.
Written by Edward Smith
Inspections began Monday in the City of Fresno on vacant commercial buildings to ensure they don’t pose fire or safety threats.
Increased money for code enforcement was approved in the 2021-22 budget to hold accountable owners of vacant properties. Property owners would be contacted for blighted buildings that are potential fire hazards. The City response would begin with education, said Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias, but would eventually lead to fines. Fines would range between $250 to $10,000. Property owners would be given a checklist of remedies in order to get buildings in compliance.
Inspectors want to make sure fire suppression are in working order and electrical systems are safe, one inspector said.
The priority will be addressing those buildings that have received a number of complaints from neighbors. Increased budget for code enforcement will allow for expedited inspections.
Code enforcement began the initiative with an inspection on the city-owned Gottschalks Building in Downtown Fresno.
There, inspectors found a non-functioning fire suppression system in the building which has been vacant for more than 20 years. Arias said a fire would be devastating to nearby businesses.
Mattresses strewn about the lower floors of the building indicate people have been living there.
Arias said last year there were 6,000 fires in Fresno and this year the city is on track to surpass that number. Vacant buildings also drag down property values.
City officials identified 20 high-priority buildings in Arias’ district, including Downtown, portions of the Tower District and Chinatown.
One building on F Street in Chinatown is next to a new housing development and will pose a threat to residents once they move in, said Arias.
The Berkeley Building, also in Downtown Fresno, across from Chukchansi Park, is in such bad shape it will have to be demolished. Fresno City Council approved selling the building to Noyan Frazier Capital for $800,000. In a previous interview, Mehmet Noyan, partner with Noyan Frazier, said the intent is to build housing at the site.
Arias said city-owned property has fallen into significant repair because short-term leasing structures don’t incentivize long-term investments into building conditions. Month-to-month
The cost to bring Gottschalks up to code is still being determined, and the $25 million city council budgeted for building rehabilitation is limited to housing-related projects. Club One Casino had previously looked at the purchasing the building and adjacent parking structure. The city budgeted $10 million to fix the Spiral Garage.
When asked what would happen if it’s cheaper to pay the fine rather than bring the building up to code, Arias said “we’ll have to revise the fine structure.”