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Fixing blighted is in interest of youth

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POSTED April 19, 2010 12:50 a.m.
The city of Lathrop is concerned about blight and public safety. That’s why it’s opening bureaucratic doors to fast-track the solution to a problem that has long been a black eye in an area of town that is rich not only in historic legacy but also one that has a direct and immediate impact on hundreds of youngsters.

Scores of Lathrop Elementary School students walk to and from school every weekday in the hulking shadow of several boarded-up apartment units just across the street from the school campus. On a number of occasions that I happened to drive by the nearly empty building with bare dirt for a front lawn, the walls of the vacated buildings are covered with blatant gang graffiti. Thankfully, the city has an aggressive anti-graffiti ordinance that gives little or no tolerance to such criminal acts. If the property owner does not act within 48 hours to abate the graffiti, the city will do the job and then bill the property owner for the cost of labor and paint. If the collection is unsuccessful, the city puts a lien on the property.

Even more important than simply getting rid of the apartment units as eyesores is the safety of Lathrop’s young residents, and of course, the neighborhood and the community as a whole.

Just a few years ago, a house located directly across the street from the school was raided by law enforcement officers. It turned out, a meth lab was actively operating in one of the newer homes literally just a skip and a hop away from playing students. Taken out of the rental house were meth and other drug paraphernalia used in cooking methamphetamine and other tools used in the sale of the drug.

The lack of curb-side appeal does not, in any way, reflect on the people living in the not-so-visually-appealing apartments, of course, just as you cannot judge a book by its cover. But if you can intermarry visually appealing curb-sides and home interiors, that would be even better.

Planning Commission Chairman Bennie Gatto, who happens to live just a few blocks down the street from the apartment complex in question, had a valid concern when he asked about a deadline for fixing the blighted buildings on O Street. City Attorney Salvador Navarrete said that since there has been no application filed for the rehabilitation of the shuttered apartments, there is no deadline set for the blight to be corrected.

That should be enough incentive for city officials to continue talking with apartment owner Remedios Mercado, especially since she has gone on record telling commissioners and city officials that she has every intention to rehabilitate her property. In fact, she was quite annoyed and frustrated that she can’t get the job done right away, that she has to go through the bureaucratic rigmarole before a single nail can be  pounded on the buildings.

As the trite old saying goes, strike while the iron is hot.
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