Fresno prepares for zealous code enforcement with many question marks

After two disasters, Fresno is putting “force” in “Code Enforcement.” How activists, cops and City Hall will handle it.



Then, just for the sake of argument, I pretended to be Bruce Rudd.

Levine had firmly established the immediate and historic beefs that his “leaders” (as the residents served by Faith in Community are called) have with police.

But I wanted to know what Faith in Community and its allies will do in Phase Two now that Rudd has taken “Public Health” to a whole new level with the inclusion of cops to the Code Enforcement Strike Team.

“Andy,” I said (as Bruce Rudd as I imagine him), “we agree 100% with you. The interiors of apartments and rental houses are vital to public health. So are neighborhoods free of gunfire and drug dealing. So, when we find complexes with lots of code violations and lots of calls for service to the police department, we’re going to bring out code enforcement officers and police officers at the same time. We want all-around good health for everyone, the poor and minorities included. We sure hope the tenants provide a ton of intelligence to both types of officers so we can achieve that good health. Andy, you couldn’t possibly see anything wrong with all-around good health, could you?”

Levine saw my analysis as unfairly moving the code enforcement goal posts in mid-game.

“This is exactly why tenants living in complexes like Summerset and in housing conditions that are unsafe need to be engaged in a way that they weren’t in Phase One,” Levine told me. “Again, to be clear, (Phase Two) is about addressing housing conditions that are unsafe and unhealthy. This isn’t about anybody looking for anything beyond that.

“There are state laws that are very clear, and there are people that are living in complexes where owners are violating those laws. This is leading to unsafe and unhealthy conditions. There were no tenants (on the Phase One task force) who lived 24 hours a day seven days a week in these conditions to speak first hand on their experiences. That needs to happen.”

I again assumed the role of Rudd.

“Fine, Andy, let’s put Mrs. Smith on the Phase Two task force,” I said. “But she has no authority to tell City Hall to enforce some laws on public health and ignore other laws on public health. Crime laws are health laws. So, when Mrs. Smith calls code enforcement about plumbing and electrical problems in her apartment, and we know Mrs. Smith’s apartment complex is full of criminals, we’re bringing out a plumber, an electrician and a cop. If Mrs. Smith is serious about her health and the health of her family, she’ll speak frankly about what she knows to all three. We’re building healthy communities, Andy, with the help of our police.”

Levine and I both knew what might go through the mind our make-believe Mrs. Smith. It’s the same thing that Dyer discussed at the CrimeView session. It’s the idea of neighbors, acting out of sympathy or fear or ethnic/racial/class politics, keeping quiet about crime in their neighborhoods, and thus helping perpetuate the bedlam that plagues so much of our city.

“I hear you – point definitely taken,” Levine told me.

Levine spoke more about the desire of most Fresnans for crime-free neighborhoods. He spoke more about the mistrust of police to be found in many poor and minority neighborhoods.

In the end, Levine said, City Hall shouldn’t try to connect any perceived dots between code enforcement, Phase Two and police.

“To be clear,” Levine said, “Faith in Community, all of our partners and, most importantly, all of the residents we engage care about all aspects of health. This is not about anything but that. But I would say with regards to the Code Enforcement Task Force, the reason it needs to be specifically about unsafe and unhealthy housing conditions is because, as Summerset shows, there is an urgent crisis in our city. And one, frankly that can be addressed pretty quickly by the city. It should have been addressed decades ago.”

When it comes to the wide scope of public health issues, Levine said, “we can’t take all of this at once.”

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