Blight battle progress slow

File photo Johnny Gomez of Clovis said he had a vision when, in May, he purchased a boarded up car sales lot at 1504 Mabry Dr. to house his auto detailing business.

Sharna Johnson

In the last year some progress has been made to clean up blighted properties in the community, but overwhelmingly there has been little change, says beautification crusader Rose Riley.

In January 2010, a special report in the Clovis News Journal highlighted blighted areas near four main entryways.

Since that report, some things have happened for betterment of the community and other areas have remained untouched or, in some cases, gotten worse, Riley said.

“I have hope … baby steps,” she said. “There’s a lot to be done but it’s a good start. We have a lot more to go.”

Riley said progress has been with new welcome signs at the entrances and through the demolition of dilapidated buildings that were unsightly and unsafe.

“I’m delighted to say that the City of Clovis code enforcement has really taken seriously getting demolitions done,” she said.

“They’ve been very good on getting (several buildings) demolished and getting those properties cleaned up … It has made such a difference in the appearance of the residential and business areas.”

Johnny Gomez said he had vision when, in May, he purchased a boarded up car sales lot at 1504 Mabry Dr. to house his auto detailing business.

The building was highlighted in the CNJ report.

“It was pretty bad,” he said. So he replaced $3,000 in cracked and broken windows, painted and fixed up the place.

“I just knew we could fix it up,” the retired contractor said. When other people look at a building in poor condition they just see the problems, but for contractors, “we can already see it fixed — it’s no big deal for us.”

Gomez said the response has been positive.

“We do care, we wanted it to look very professional here. We’re here to do a service for the community,” he said.

“Several customers have said it looks great. They’re glad that we’re here.”

Even though it may not be visible from the outside, progress is being made on his property, said Duane Castleberry, a Curry County magistrate judge who owns the former KC Mufflers shop on the southwest corner of East First and Prince streets.

While the property is not in violation of any city codes or ordinances, the paint is faded and signs point to a business that no longer exists.

Repairs and improvements have been done inside, he said, the lot has been kept weed free and clean and contractors have been hired to replace the door and repaint the building, hopefully “before spring,” he said.

Interested in selling or leasing the property, Castleberry said, “It behooves me to have it in good shape where somebody might be attracted to it and that’s the plan.”

Outside city limits, Riley said there has been no significant change in Curry County.

“I don’t think any of those properties that you pinpointed in the paper have been touched,” she said. “Most of the problem is out in the county.”

The majority of the 19 properties featured in the 2010 CNJ report are unchanged, though some have had obvious help; for instance the demolition of an old book store at 2402 South Prince, removal of a fuel tank and other items from 2102 South Prince and demolition of an old barn near the Red Barn, 1404 New Mexico 209.

In the county there are no ordinances or zoning regulations. In the city, there are regulations for junk, abandoned vehicles, trash, weeds and other issues considered a public nuisance.

City records for the past 12 months list 14 building demolitions, five along thoroughfares in the community.

Marcus Brice, the city’s chief code compliance officer, said his staff has fine-tuned how they deal with code violators. He thinks things are getting better.

“One thing that I’ve realized through the years is if you talk to people and people talk to us, then we can get stuff done quicker and easier,” he said.

Brice said in 2010 his three compliance officers conducted 22,042 complaint responses and inspections.

But no citations were issued, he said, because he has learned in 12 years on code enforcement that citations don’t resolve problems.

Often, a person cited is tied up in court and their resources end up directed toward fighting the citation instead of addressing the problem, he said.

“It’s a tool that we have at our disposal … (But) the only time we use citations is by last resort,” he said.

“A lot of the people we work with don’t have the means to clean up their property. (Communication is key), instead of just citing people to court, because that doesn’t get the property cleaned up — that’s basically our main point, rather than just bringing monetary hurt to people.”

Citations for weeds, trash, junk cars and other issues, have penalties which can include a $500 fine and 90 days in jail.

In most cases, Brice said violators don’t know they are violating an ordinance or need help addressing the problems.

The city can send out work crews to address the problems or suggest civic groups to assist residents, though Brice said a greater pool of volunteer organizations is desperately needed in the community.

Riley, who serves on the Keep Clovis Beautiful committee and several subcommittees geared toward community improvement, said efforts are being made to get more volunteer groups involved in cleanup projects.

Many property owners, Riley said, have legitimate limitations, financially or physically, that prevent them from fixing their properties.

“I think that generally the whole city of Clovis does care,” she said.