The days of neglected vacant structures being commandeered as flop houses for the homeless and drug users while posing a serious fire safety threat to nearby buildings may be numbered.
The Manteca City Council on Tuesday will consider making significant changes to the municipal code section dealing with neglected vacant structures.
In a nutshell, the changes would give the council the legal authority to conduct public hearings to order the abatement of problem properties. If the owner fails to comply within a specific time frame the council can order that the city repair or demolish the building and place a lien against the property allowing the costs of the abatement to be reimbursed through the San Joaquin County property tax roll.
In recent years Manteca neighborhoods and downtown have suffered after homes and other buildings that have partially burned and left standing without being repaired or simply left vacant have become breeding grounds for crime and a lead weight on property values.
Law enforcement experts repeatedly reference the “broken window theory” in explaining how crime takes root. Simply said, if blight is allowed to go unchecked it spreads like a cancer breeding crime and driving down property values and the quality of life.
In the last year there were at least five fires in long-term vacant homes and buildings — including one across from Manteca High, a former used car lot sales office on Yosemite Avenue and two homes on North Lincoln Avenue — that homeless trespassing were suspected of starting
Last summer a home that had been abandoned and secured was broken into by the homeless that started a fire in the early morning hours that destroyed the entire structure. In that case, neighbors woke up in time to call 9-1-1 allowing Manteca firefighters to stop the fire from spreading to nearby homes.
The list of fires the homeless are believed to have been started by the homeless is long and growing.
The city was finally able to get the small house that once was a used car sales office at Lincoln and Yosemite avenues in downtown Manteca torn down after three fires were started there over the years either by homeless trying to stay warm or to cook food. Four blocks away the biggest eye sore in downtown — the two-story Sycamore Courts apartments — was created more than 26 months ago when homeless or vandals started a fire there after breaking in an commandeering it as a flop house.
Over the years there have been a half dozen fires started by the homeless in vacant structures that have since been torn down. The homeless are believed culpable in burning down a meat processing building that was in the process of being sold on West Yosemite Avenue next to Cabral Motors.
They also started numerous fires at the home on Union Road down the street from the fire station that has since been razed to make way for an Islamic school.
The biggest and most high profile neglected vacant building is the Sycamore Courts structure. Since the fire 26 months ago Manteca Police have responded to numerous reports of homeless breaking into the building to use it as a flophouse. Neighboring merchants have complained it has been used as a base for criminal activities including breaking into adjacent stores.
Manteca firefighters have expressed concern that another fire at the structure could spread quickly given the 200 block of West Yosemite has buildings abutting each other that were built before modern fire wall standards were put in place.
In a memo to the City Council Police Chief Jodie Estarziau noted, “Continued code violations throughout the City of Manteca with regard to neglected vacant structures erodes property values leading to attractive nuisances which in turn negatively impacts the surrounding neighborhood, and the community as a whole.
“Additions to this code provide the tools needed for the City to abate and hold accountable responsible parties not maintaining vacant structures. These changes provide the City Council authority to make decisions regarding the repair and demolition of vacant structures. It further allows the City to assess abatement costs to the San Joaquin County Property Tax Roll.”
The council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.
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