Residents team up to battle blight
Trio targets suburban decay, finds powerful ally in Clean City Commission
KINGMAN - Things fall apart. It's not just one person's opinion - it's the Second Law of Thermodynamics - the universe tends toward chaos, and it takes effort to keep things in order, lest an ordered system descend into decay.
Lynda French might not be familiar with the finer nuances of thermodynamics, but she can appreciate the basic premise of entropy. After all, she's had plenty of time to watch the concept play itself out in her own neighborhood.
French is one of three co-founders of a group called Residents Reclaiming Our Neighborhoods, a grassroots effort to combat the rural and suburban blight that has been steadily encroaching on Kingman. Formed in 2008 in an attempt to get the city to address a number of ongoing code violations in their neighborhood, RRON is now seeking to expand its efforts citywide, in the hopes that neighbors everywhere can band together to keep Kingman a place where people don't just exist, but live.
French formed the group with two neighbors, Karen Lynne and Shirley Coy, after the three women had spent the past eight years calling the city to deal with various neighborhood code violations, to little avail.
"At that time, there was heavy industrial equipment being stored at one residence and a large assortment of vehicles, auto parts and debris at another," Lynne said. "We've noticed that unchecked residential code violations by just one individual can lead to a spillover effect on the rest of the street."
French said one of her main concerns was the city's adherence to a policy dubbed "voluntary compliance," which gives code offenders leeway to address their problems, which tends to produce a snowball effect in some cases of unresolved violations going on for months at a time.
"Thirty days turns into 90 days, and 90 days turns into six months," she said. "The more a code enforcement officer works to accommodate that violator, the more he works against that neighborhood. There's got to be more of an accommodation to the neighbors who live on the street and are already taking care of their properties."
So French, Lynne and Coy began making overtures to the city manager's office, as well as the mayor and city attorney. In time, they were directed to the Clean City Commission, and it was there that French said the group found kindred spirits.
"We've been very, very happy with the Clean City Commission, I can't say enough good about them," French said. "They're very aware of what we've been talking about and have been very willing to work with us. We spent months with them since last February, and by July they had some recommendations to forward to the City Council."
According to commission staff liaison Rich Ruggles, commissioners have recommended a number of changes to the city's Public Nuisance and Property Maintenance Code, including a stricter timeline to correct violations and the introduction of new fines.
"Voluntary compliance is somewhat open-ended as to the timeframe - when do you take actual action?" Ruggles said. "The commission took steps to better define that timeline in a shorter period. There was also a recommendation that if someone has not complied with the initial violation notice, that on the second go-around they could be ticketed."
Ruggles said City Attorney Carl Cooper is currently working on the draft ordinance of the new code suggestions for the City Council to consider. The code amendments could show up on the Council's agenda by the end of this year.
But even if Council does amend the city codes, French said her group is only getting started. They're eager to enlist new members to begin seriously tackling the issue of blight head on, particularly in the light of foreclosures caused by the housing collapse over the past several years.
"If it was a problem before, it's become even more severe now, and our street like any other has experienced the same kinds foreclosure problems that come along with that," she said. "When you have so many abandoned properties on a street, there's a domino effect that comes with that, too. When people see these properties for sale, they're inclined to believe they can do the same thing, then you begin to construct little industrial corridors in neighborhoods, and that's not appropriate."
With so much focus lately being placed on the Kingman-area's long-term economic development, French also stressed the importance of vibrant, attractive neighborhoods in fostering an environment that is favorable to new business development.
For those interested in more information about Residents Reclaiming Our Neighborhoods, send an e-mail to email@example.com.