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Homeless flock to Kmart lot

Council pushes for crackdown on homeless in parking lot

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Homeless flock to Kmart lot

The Manteca Kmart store on Northgate Drive before it closed in September.

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POSTED November 8, 2017 12:59 a.m.

The homeless with vehicles have turned the parking lot for the shuttered Kmart store on Northgate Drive into an overnight spot to sleep.
Some have even taken to using the parking lot as a 24/7 trailer park of sorts leaving RVs and other vehicles in place.
They have also brought other problems including piling up trash and providing cover for illegal drug deals according to nearby frustrated residents.
The Manteca City Council made it clear Tuesday they won’t tolerate the situation.
Councilman Gary Singh, who brought the issue up during the council meeting, said the situation is unacceptable and that it needed to be addressed before blight takes hold and makes the property impossible to lease or sell and hurts the viability of nearby businesses.
The property owners already have a no trespassing letter on file with the Manteca Police. That gives police the authority to go onto property and order unauthorized people camping and such to leave when they receive a complaint or if they have time during the graveyard shift to drive by and address the situation.
Councilman Richard Silverman said he was glad to see that some officers have taken to parking and catching up on report writing in the Kmart parking lot in a bid to do double duty
The property management firm for the Kmart location has informed city officials they will soon have a security guard on the site for five days a week for 12 hour a day.  The firm that owns the building is actively trying to sell the 107,489-square-foot structure and can ill afford to have the parking lot turned into a homeless encampment.
Police Chief Jodie Estarziau noted given it is private property it made sense for the city to work with the property owner and get them to take steps to clean up and secure the parking lot. That’s because one RV that has been sitting there for weeks represents a $2,000 charge just to tow it. If the city had to do that, the funds would come out of the police department budget.
The police chief said the department could tow it but that she didn’t believe it was wise to turn the Manteca Police Department “into garbage guys” to address cleaning up trash. She noted that it was it made sense to give the property owner a chance first to address the situation.
Singh’s  concerns that the city needed to address the Kmart issues now was embraced by his colleagues who also steered the conversation into the need to be more proactive addressing unmaintained buildings in downtown Manteca.
“This is not a ghetto, this is the downtown of Manteca,” Councilman Mike Morowit said of vacant buildings not being maintained and burned out structures allowed to stay in place more than two years after being ravaged by fire.
He said the two-story Sycamore Arms building at East Yosemite and Sycamore avenues should be condemned and torn down due to it being a public safety and health hazard.
Morowit also expressed frustration with landlords that have had buildings vacant for years and have made no attempt to rent them by either posting contact information in windows or even selling them. Instead they are sitting vacant and being broken into by the homeless and others.
Over the past six months, several merchants have said they have been contacted by people interested in storefronts to rent that were at a loss on how to contact the owners. Brokers have noted that in almost all cases none of the properties are listed on any real estate forum either for sale, lease or rent.
Morowit suggested the city find a way to address the problem by bringing together code enforcement, the city manager’s office and possibly other municipal departments such as economic development.
City Manager Tim Ogden said the council might also want to consider reducing the time that municipal ordinances allow a property owner to correct an issue once they are cited from the current 14 days down to five days. He noted that the city’s two code enforcement officers are fielding a large number of complaints and that it may appear that the city is doing nothing due to the lag time before the next step in the enforcement process is triggered thanks to the 14-day wait.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com

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