ONE HUNDRED TWELVE SQUARE MILES
We’re talking the size of Fresno’s geographic footprint. It takes a mighty big city to hold 515,000 people.
And City Hall, in its infinite wisdom, has thick rulebooks explaining how each person is to live and work amid those 112 square miles. Combine all these rulebooks and you get the municipal code. The term for making sure we obey everything is “code enforcement.”
Fresno has more code and more space and more people than code enforcement capabilities. And therein lies one of the smoldering controversies from the Swearengin years.
You see, code enforcement to a significant degree works.
You’re parking your car on your front lawn. Your neighbor complains to the code enforcement division. A code enforcement officer pays you a visit. You tell the officer to go you-know-where. The officer writes you a ticket. The ticket carries a fine. The code enforcement officer knows the phone number to the police department and the Public Utilities Department that provides you with water.
You get the picture. You begin parking your car in the garage. The neighborhood breathes a sigh of relief. Fresno’s quality of life inches forward.
Code enforcement challenges of all types occur throughout the city – in all seven council districts. But Swearengin made a point early in her first term to focus scarce code enforcement resources on selected neighborhoods, most of them to the north of downtown.
The first and most prominent of these test neighborhoods was around Lowell Elementary School, north of Divisadero Street and west of Blackstone Avenue.
The Mayor’s thinking: Combine code enforcement with a host of other government and social-service activities to transform Lowell into a dynamic and permanent model of safety, productivity and potential. Once the process is perfected, repeat it neighborhood by neighborhood all across Fresno.
The only problem: Even if you assume it can work, such a process is monumentally resource-intensive. This is especially true with code enforcement, the idea’s front-line troops.
Some City Council members have long said Fresno would be better served by redeploying code enforcement resources on a more equitable basis throughout the city.
This issue might strike you as small potatoes. But the Swearengin’s neighborhood-by-neighborhood rebirth is at the heart of her Restore Fresno initiative. And, obviously, the initiative has a long way to go before Fresno becomes classical Athens.
A new mayor enamored with Swearengin’s code enforcement idea risks alienating some on the City Council. He would be required to make Swearengin’s idea work and would get little or none of the credit if successful.
If the new mayor reforms code enforcement along more equitable lines, well, we can add Restore Fresno to the groaning shelf of utopian plans.