It has been 17 years and 100 days since the city’s pledge to build the West Branch Library.
Broken windows remain a problem in so many Glendale neighborhoods, especially in south Glendale. There are many “Broken Window Neighborhoods” (BWN) in Glendale but they are especially prevalent in the Ocotillo, Cactus and Yucca council districts.
The Broken Window Theory (BTW) is a result of a 1982 article by criminologists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling. The Broken Window Theory states that signs of disorder, like graffiti, dirty streets, overgrown weeds, abandoned shopping carts, illegal dumping in vacant lots, etc., leads to social disorder…not just petty crimes but eventually more serious crimes such as robbery, burglary and murder. The authors of BTW offered that one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares and ignoring little problems creates a sense of irreversible decline that leads people to abandon the community (neighborhood) or to stay away.
A case in point is a Broken Window Neighborhood in the Ocotillo district in the area of 70th Avenue and Sierra Vista Avenue. The people who care in that neighborhood are frustrated and angry beyond belief. Over 6 months ago they contacted their council representative, Jamie Aldama. His response was to send them thank you notes for their concern and a promise that he would take action. Since then the neighbors contend that he has been AWOL. Their contention to Aldama, in part, remains to this day, “Not only are things still not resolved, (some of them you claimed to already be working on prior to meeting with us), and some situations have become worse. I have spoken with many City employees regarding the outreach you claimed to have been involved in to solve several of these issues. No one has reported any interactions from you and/or representatives of your office.”
They feel it is almost a full time job for them to fight the City to take care of these issues. They recognize that city silence and its consequent inaction is acquiescence and they believe that is the root of the problems they have in their neighborhood.
This is an age old problem but perhaps it is time for this city council to take a fresh look at a cancer that can consume a neighborhood almost overnight. Here are some initiatives that have been suggested over the years by neighborhood leaders fighting this persistent issue:
- The action to save a neighborhood must involve all city departments, from the city attorney’s office to zoning. All departments must play a part in a concerted and targeted effort to revitalize a neighborhood.
- For purposes of code compliance and action, legal or otherwise, a special zoning designation of “Broken Window Neighborhood” (BWN) must be created.
- Within the BWN specific, targeted code enforcement and legal action will be allowed.
- Any businesses within a BWN should be audited to make sure that they have a business license and are paying the required sales tax.
- Multi-family within a BWN would be required to have its management take the city’s Crime Free program that targets apartment complexes.
- Code compliance often falls back on rhetoric that they do not have the legal authority to enforce certain actions. It’s time they were tasked with creating innovative actions that would not only allow them to do so but would actively require such action.
- City attorneys often do not take code infractions to court claiming that the case is not strong enough and therefore not winnable. It’s time that these attorneys worried less about their win-loss records in court and realized that making a bad actor go to court to defend irresponsible actions are in and of itself a deterrent to future bad actions.
- Some specific codes will need review and reform. One that comes to mind is window coverage of a business. Have you ever seen a convenience store where nearly every inch of front window space is covered with ads? Not only is it a safety issue but it is one that contributes to visual blight. What about a business that puts 20 or 30 items out in front of its store? An example is a tire repair store with racks of tires in front of the business. More visual blight.
- Codes relating to residences also need review but more importantly code compliance needs to be aggressively enforcing existent codes. If they achieve compliance without going to court, that is wonderful. But if the resident does not comply, the situation should not be allowed to fester for months and months.
- While code compliance is working within the BWN, it requires the public works department to repair broken sidewalks, make sure all existent street lights are functioning properly, adding further lighting where necessary and applying resurfacing of streets where applicable. The fire department should be checking all fire hydrants in the BWN neighborhood and offering fire hazard education and smoke detectors. Even the police department has a role to play by intense patrolling of the BWN and enforcing even the most minor violation. Streets and transportation can check to see if there are streets that are more prone to speeding and following up with actions to decrease the activity. The water department can outreach neighbors whose yards are less than spectacular and work with them to install an irrigation system or to desert landscape. Sanitation can educate about the appropriate time to place trash receptacles on the street and can enforce existent law when some put out loose trash the day after it has been collected for the month. How about putting out a dumpster to encourage neighbors to clean up their properties and remove visual blight? What about using the Community Action Program to assist low income or seniors to get a house painted or a yard desert landscaped? When you start to think about it, there is so much that could be done that is not being done.
- Other departments, such as media and communications need to join in the effort by preparing and distributing media that alert and educate a neighborhood to the action about to begin. The councilmember should hold a district meeting in the designated neighborhood to offer contact information and to educate. Even parks and recreation has a part to play by creating neighborhood activities for children that brings families together, introduces neighbor to neighbor and also becomes another catalyst for action and education. The point is, every city department has a role to play, working together to attack one BWN at a time.
- All of the above should be applicable only within a specific, newly created zoning designation of Broken Window Neighborhood.
The first BWN should be small as a pilot project to see what works and what doesn’t work. Make no mistake, so many of these neighborhoods have been ignored for years. Attacking a long festering problem is like guerilla warfare. It’s tough, brutal and takes no prisoners but many of these neighborhoods need the city’s attention with new and innovative strategies. They need city departments that say “I can” rather than “I can’t because…”.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Glendale created a model program that is emulated by other cities? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Glendale generated positive publicity about itself rather than having the world focus exclusively on its financial stresses? You bet it would.
© Joyce Clark, 2015
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