Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias introduces his vacant building ordinance in front of the old Sample Sanitarium building at Fulton Street and Highway 180. Photo by Edward Smith
Written by Edward Smith
One Fresno city Council member wants to hold fire to the feet of owners of blighted, vacant commercial buildings with a proposal to be heard Thursday.
Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias Tuesday held a press conference in front of the Sample Sanitarium at 311 N. Fulton St. near Highway 180 — a now-vacant building that was once a children’s hospital — outlining the proposal he is putting forward.
The measure would hold commercial property owners to the same standards as residential property owners. For commercial property owners, this means repairs to facades, roofs, fire suppression systems, maintained landscaping and even a clean coat of paint, Arias said. Trash would also have to be picked up within 72 hours of a report to the city.
The program would be modeled similarly to residential requirements, beginning with a warning, followed by citations that would increase if they go unanswered. The measure would also allow code enforcement to take buildings into receivership, Arias said.
Vacant buildings can become fire hazards as they fall in disuse. Homeless people as well as arsonists can also start fires. The City of Fresno itself has been guilty of letting buildings fall into disuse, Arias said.
The City of Fresno has experienced a 61% increase year-to-date in fire emergency calls since 2018. To date, there have been 2,500 fires, Arias said.
“As we’ve seen the increase of fires and we’ve responded with an increase in resources for permanent firefighters, we’ve also identified the fact that many property owners have had a past exemption on meeting their legal obligations to maintain their properties,” Arias said. “They’ve become one more opportunity for fires in our city.”
Arias said the City does not currently have the resources to inspect commercial properties on top of City’s other programs to inspect rental properties as well as mobile home parks — which the City Council will weigh in on Thursday as well.
“Right now, we are understaffed in code enforcement and we recognize that adding these two — mobile home parks and vacant commercial buildings — to their responsibilities will require us to provide them with additional resources,” he said.
Arias added many commercial property owners have been incentivized with low property tax rates to keep their buildings vacant. Proposition 13 allows for property owners to pay taxes based on purchase price rather than market rates.
“I’m going to ask my colleagues to remove the incentive from vacant property owners to keep their properties as blight and hold them to the same standard as we do for any other private property owner in the city,” Arias said.