|Turner's Getting Tough
On The City's Blight
July 12, 1998
WEST COUNTY TIMES
TURNER'S GETTING TOUGH ON THE CITY'S BLIGHT
* NEW CITY MANAGER SEEKS TO POLISH RICHMOND'S IMAGE AND HELP FIGHT CRIME WITH WAR ON GRAFFITI AND VACANT BUILDINGS
Sunday, July 12, 1998
RICHMOND The city is set to embark on an aggressive campaign to rid neighborhoods of abandoned buildings, weed-choked lots and filthy streets that tarnish Richmond's image and contribute to crime, city leaders say.
The brainchild of new City Manager Isiah Turner, the campaign will stress stricter enforcement of the city code and its abatement programs, which allow the city to clean up vacant lots and board up and demolish abandoned buildings.
But city officials are still looking for money to pay for the effort. And while some critics say the effort is laudable, they contend officials should focus on cleaning up problems on city-owned properties before tackling those of residents.
But Turner and Police Chief William Lansdowne say without an emphasis on cleanup, Richmond will never shed an image of urban decay.
"I want the town cleaned up by the year 2000," he said. "I'd like for us to go into the next millennium with a new image that Richmond is cleaning up its act."
Turner got the idea after taking a tour of some of the city's neighborhoods with Lansdowne. He said he was appalled by what he saw: abandoned buildings, weed-choked lots, filthy streets, graffiti everywhere. Though he's a native of Richmond and was a deputy city manager for three years, Turner said he wasn't aware that so many neighborhoods were in need of work.
"I was saddened that people would be living in such deplorable conditions," Turner said. "These people shouldn't have to live like that, especially when we can do something about it."
The Parchester Village, Coronado, Laurel Park, North Richmond, Santa Fe, Eastshore and Belding Woods neighborhoods will receive the bulk of the city's attention as will four major thoroughfares: Cutting Boulevard, Macdonald Avenue, Carlson Boulevard and 23rd Street.
Turner said the city will be especially vigilant with absentee landlords who neglect their properties. Fines ranging from $150 for failing to file a vacant property registration plan with the city to $8,000 for a building demolition are possible. Lawsuits could be filed against landlords who fail to clean up their properties, Turner said.
"Ninety-five percent of the problems are caused by absentee landlords," said Councilman Tom Butt. "These people just don't want to invest in their properties. We need to come down real hard, but also try to help those who need help."
This place is filthy'
"All the abandoned buildings downtown need to be torn down," said Lillie Mae Jones, a longtime resident of the Iron Triangle, one of the neighborhoods targeted for cleanup. "Windows are smashed. Trash is piled up, and there's rats as big as cats down there."
"No one wants to come into the Iron Triangle," said Julia Petrie, a longtime resident and businesswoman. "It's terrible. You can't get anyone decent to move into the neighborhood."
But some say the city should clean up its own back yard before focusing on private property.
"There are a lot of city properties and thoroughfares that are in horrible shape," Councilwoman Donna Powers said. "To me it's very hypocritical to go after the public when the city itself is not complying. I have a real problem with that."
"This place is filthy, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that Public Works hasn't been doing its job." Councilman Nat Bates said. "These things have to be addressed."
Turner said city-owned properties also will be targeted. Most city departments will be involved in the campaign, and others in the city will be asked to pitch in.
A cleaner city will go a long way toward helping the police fight crime, Lansdowne said.
"There's a true connection between blight and crime," Lansdowne said. "It's not an ethnic thing. It has everything to do with income."
And residents would get the message that the city cares, said Richmond Police Officer LaRaunce Robinson, whose beat includes some of the city's poorest, dirtiest and most crime-plagued neighborhoods.
"People would be more involved in letting us know when someone was dumping," he said. "Word would get out that the citizens of Richmond aren't going to take it anymore."
Turner declared his intention to department heads and council members at a meeting he organized after touring the city with Lansdowne late last month. He told them to make the cleanup a top priority and asked them to marshal their forces and financial resources.
Seeking civic pride
Special attention also will be given to cleaning up litter and graffiti this summer. The initial work will be done by about 45 youths from the city's summer jobs program, and the Public Works Department will revive a graffiti removal program.
Turner said the city will make more of an effort to repair potholes, round up stray shopping carts and stop people from parking cars on lawns. And legal measures will be sought and a public education campaign launched to stop dumping on city streets.
"I'm looking at safety issues, quality of life issues," Turner said "If I can get this town to start feeling better about itself, it helps improve the image."
The details of the campaign will be presented to the City Council soon, he said.
The work already has started in Parchester Village, where three abandoned properties are being cleaned up by city workers and an abandoned house is being demolished.
"It's about time," said Marjorie Hoskins, a Parchester Village resident who lives across the street from the abandoned house. "The weeds were almost 6 feet tall."
Vice Mayor John Marquez said he hopes the campaign will instill a sense of civic pride.
"We have to erase the mentality that being poor means being dirty," Marquez said. "We have to start instilling in our residents the thought that because you're poor doesn't mean you can't clean up around you."