The City of Fresno began inspecting a series of blighted, vacant commercial buildings on Monday as part of an ordinance the city council passed in June.
The first is the former Gottschalks building on Fulton Street in downtown Fresno. On the outside, most windows are smashed out and boarded up.
City councilmember Miguel Arias heads inside with inspectors. They’re all using cell phones as flashlights.
“This is the kind of stuff we gotta look at, the gas line is off completely,” Arias says, pointing toward the ceiling.
The 60,000 square foot building is completely dark and cavernous. It’s been vacant for more than 30 years, last occupied by Gottschalks in 1988.
Arias says buildings like these have become more than just eyesores. He says they attract criminal activity and create fire hazards, forcing an already understaffed police and fire departments to respond.
“Our firefighters cannot keep up with the amount of fires that are taking place in commercial vacant buildings,” he says.
The inspections are part of the Blighted Vacant Commercial Building Ordinance approved on June 17. Code enforcement officers will present private property owners with a list of needed improvements. Other properties are located in downtown, Chinatown and along Belmont & Olive Avenue in the Tower District.
“So they’re going to have to spend money,” he says. “ And either they spend money on fixing the building and leasing it out, or they’re going to have to spend money on paying the fines.”
And that includes the city, which owns the Gottshalks building. In a report released Monday by the code enforcement team that inspected the Gottschalks building, it found a number of property nuisances, including fire, electrical, plumbing and mechanical code violations.
The other 19 buildings are privately owned and will be inspected in the next two months. Owners will be offered a financial incentive if they decide to turn the properties into housing units. As part of the ordinance, the city has budgeted $25 million to invest in turning any of the vacant commercial buildings into housing.