Pick 6 - Editors Picks from Past Week

Saturday, Mar 23 2013 10:30 PM

LOIS HENRY: The dump next door might be cleaned up, finally

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    By Lois Henry / The Californian

    Taft resident Nancy Fletcher talks to Supervisor David Couch about problems her neighborhood has had with numerous break ins and fires at an abandoned house on Pierce Street.

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    By The Californian

    The front yard at 607 North Drive in Bodfish. This photo was taken from the street.

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BY LOIS HENRY Californian columnist lhenry@bakersfield.com

There's a refreshing intolerance building among members of the Board of Supervisors and I hope it continues.

I normally abhor intolerance but not when we're talking about people who load up their houses, yards and garages with junk and let their dilapidated properties become fire hazards and havens for criminals and druggies with no regard for their neighbors' safety.

Related Info

Lois Henry hosts "First Look with Scott Cox" every Wednesday on KERN 1180 AM from 9 to 10 a.m. and broadcast live on www.bakersfield.com Get your two cents in by calling 842-KERN.

A little housekeeping

I was remiss in not reporting that Supervisor David Couch abstained from voting on a request to add three positions to Kern County Animal Control at last Tuesday's meeting.

And he made sure the approval of the positions included a job performance evaluation of Animal Control Director Jen Woodard.

Woodard requested three unbudgeted positions be added to her department for a total cost of $273,000. She justified the cost saying long running vacancies in the department had created enough "savings" to offset the salaries, therefore the new positions would have no budgetary impact -- this fiscal year.

Considering people probably expect to be paid no matter what fiscal year it is, I scoff at the idea of "no impact."

But either way, Couch's pit bull staffer, Mark Salvaggio, has reminded me numerous times in the days since my story that I neglected to say Couch did not approve the increase.

So, here's how it went down: Woodard's request (along with the job eval) was approved by three supervisors with Couch abstaining and Maggard absent.

Sharon Viljoen, of Bodfish, and Nancy Fletcher, of Ford City, say they've been tolerant of bad homeowners and, more so, the county's tepid response long enough.

Their neighborhoods are being held hostage, they said, and "Frankly, we're fed up," Viljoen said.

Both women represent larger neighborhood groups who've been fighting to get action from the County's Code Compliance division for years -- 17 years for Viljoen.

Their stories are almost identical, though Viljoen and Fletcher have never met.

We're not talking about a little peeling paint on the eaves.

In the Bodfish case, the property on North Drive has illegal structures added on to the existing mobile home and a large collection of inoperable vehicles, trash and other junk.

It is a target for taggers and is constantly broken into and used as a drug den, Viljoen said.

The county has had to clean it up once and it was slated for demolition. But that got delayed.

Similarly, the Ford City property on Pierce Street has been "red tagged" by the county as uninhabitable since 2009, Fletcher told me.

From the street, you can see the porch is packed with junk and the ceiling has fallen off at the front exposing wiring in the attic. Fires have started amid the clutter in the back (right next to a neighbor's fence) and break-ins have become routine.

Both women are tired of waiting for the county hammer to drop.

And both have picked up on recent actions at the Board of Supervisors involving abandoned and foreclosed properties.

In late February, supes asked staff to come up with possible ordinances requiring home owners or banks to take responsibility for vacant properties.

"They're interested in cleaning up properties in Bakersfield," Viljoen said. "We figured we're part of Kern County too."

Fletcher echoed Viljoen's comments noting that Supervisor David Couch has recently pushed through demolitions of several Ford City properties that have had serious problems for years.

If there's a rush on by the county to take care of substandard properties, Fletcher and Viljoen don't want their eyesores to be left out.

Supervisor Mick Gleason was just getting familiar with the North Drive property, his staffer said. But his general attitude is owners must be held accountable for keeping properties to a basic level of safety.

Couch, who visited with Fletcher in Ford City on Friday, assured her that the Pierce street home would not be forgotten.

There were 80 open code compliance cases in the 4th district when Couch took office, staffer Mark Salvaggio said. That list has since been pared to 67.

And other properties have even worse problems -- including raw sewage running in the streets.

"That takes priority," Couch said.

"I guess we do have to thank God for problems we don't have," Fletcher agreed.

"Don't give up on us," he said and agreed that the county's approach did seem to be more "carrot than stick."

"I think that's changing."

Chuck Lackey, Director of Engineering, Survey and Permits, which oversees Code Compliance, acknowledged the department has been struggling to keep up since budget cuts several years ago lopped its number of officers from 10 to 5.

He's since picked up one more officer and got the OK to hire another, who starts on Monday. And Couch made a referral a few weeks ago to add more officers when budget talks start this summer.

"The lack of staff means we haven't been able to react as quickly as we'd like and, in some cases, properties probably do merit demolition," he said. "I think there's a revitalized interest in Code Compliance among board members now. They're listening to the community and there is a desire to step up enforcement."

As for Viljoen's and Fletcher's concerns, he said, files show the property owners haven't responded as they should and, so, he'll be sending officers to revisit the properties starting Monday.

Both women said it couldn't happen soon enough.

An elderly woman who lives next to the North Drive property in Bodfish told Viljoen her fondest wish is to see it cleaned up before she dies.

"But she doesn't know how long she has left!" Viljoen said.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail lhenry@bakersfield.com

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