Finger pointing and a fire: How failed homeless response boxed in a Fresno business owner

A Fresno businessman was stuck in the middle of a bureaucratic tug-of-war over how to handle homeless people near a highway embankment. Then they started a fire on his property.

California’s burgeoning homelessness crisis is putting a strain on local businesses as vagrants are breaking into buildings, damaging property and burglarizing. 

Raffi Pilavian, the owner of International Torque Converters located on N. Abby St. adjacent to Highway 180, finds himself with a recurring issue that has not been solved by either the City of Fresno or Caltrans. 


The Sun spoke with Pilavian about the situation and his dealings with Caltrans and will have a follow up story on how the city has dealt with his situation. 

The backstory: International Torque Converters has existed at its current location since 1975 and had never had any issues with the homeless. 

  • That all changed around six to seven years ago, when vagrants started breaking onto the property, vandalizing the business and stealing. 
  • The latest issue came last Saturday when a group of homeless vagrants torched one of the buildings. 

The big picture: Vagrants are accessing Pilavian business from the adjacent embankment for Highway 180. 

  • The gates on N. Abby St. that lead to the embankment were not secured, and the homeless have been cutting through the fence that Caltrans has separating the embankment from International Torque Converters. 
  • Caltrans visited the property on Tuesday after a city employee filed a service request after Pilavian complained about the situation yet again. By Thursday morning the fence along the property line was fixed, as well as gates that give access to the highway embankment. 

What they’re saying: “We never had a homeless issue, never ever ever,” Pilavian said. “I mean the worst we saw on Abby were a few prostitutes, and I haven’t seen them in 20 years.” 

  • While Caltrans sent out a crew to fix the fence and the gates, the state did not provide a permanent solution to keep vagrants from cutting through the fence and continuing to access Pilavian business. 
  • When asked if Caltrans fixing the fence and gates will put an end to the issue, Pilavian answered, “Absolutely not. This is not the first time they’ve repaired those gates or my fence, and they come right back.” 
  • Caltrans will fix its fences and gates, as it has done so in the past, but will not take any other action. 
  • “If a business or property owner wants to put up their own fencing on their property line, they are welcome to do so,” a Caltrans spokesperson told The Sun. “If they do that they are responsible for any maintenance or repairs.” 
  • Pilavian said the state should pay for a block wall to solve the issue. 
  • “I was crushed by the pandemic,” Pilavian said. “Now I’m being crushed by the bureaucracy here.”
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