IL­LE­GAL FLOPHOUSE COSTS MER­CHANTS

Fire dam­aged build­ing still plagues down­town

Manteca Bulletin - - Front Page - By DEN­NIS WY­ATT The Bul­letin

Zaya Ariz is frus­trated. For more than two years he’s been pay­ing a hefty price for the city’s in­abil­ity to deal with the big­gest health and safety is­sue down­town — the fire dam­aged Sy­camore Arms ef­fi­ciency apart­ments at Yosemite and Sy­camore av­enues.

The home­less and drug­gies at­tracted to the two-story com­plex that burned in Novem­ber 2014 is hurt­ing his ten­ants, dis­cour­aged him from in­vest­ing more

in the prop­erty by adding a sec­ond story, and chased away a po­ten­tial buyer for his build­ing next door to the two-story fire dam­aged struc­ture.

“I don’t un­der­stand how the po­lice don’t see the problems,” Ariz said.

He said dur­ing the Pump­kin Fair week­end a fairly large num­ber of va­grants were seen en­ter­ing and ex­it­ing the build­ing.

His ten­ants have been tar­geted nu­mer­ous times.

The cig­a­rette store one month saw their power bill soar from $400 to $700. When they looked to find the cause, they dis­cov­ered the home­less liv­ing in the boarded up Sy­camore Arms build­ing had il­le­gally tapped into power sources.

“They were run­ning heaters to keep warm,” Ariz said.

It’s a prob­lem that’s been echoed by build­ing own­ers through­out down­town. Amer­i­can Le­gion Post 249 Com­man­der Bob Gon­za­les re­ported the Le­gion Post’s power bill more than dou­bled as well. The cul­prits were the home­less plug­ging in all sorts of elec­tronic items from smart­phones to space heaters in an out­side out­let when they bed­ded down for the night.

His other ten­ant — a baby nu­tri­tion shop — has had their sky­light bro­ken into twice and items stolen.

Ariz — who also owns other prop­erty in­clud­ing in Modesto and San Jose — said that when there are problems in other cities the po­lice re­sponse is more ef­fec­tive.

“In San Jose there was a home­less wo­man scream­ing in front and we called the po­lice,” Ariz said.

He noted the po­lice re­sponded, took her away, and the wo­man never re­turned.

In Manteca that has not been his ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Noth­ing hap­pens in Manteca,” Ariz said af­ter po­lice re­spond.

Manteca Po­lice Chief Jodie Es­tarziau said of­fi­cers have been in­structed to do ad­di­tional pa­trolling in the area and to pay par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to the Sy­camore Arms struc­ture whose owner has a no tres­pass let­ter on file with the depart­ment.

“The of­fi­cers will walk around the build­ing to see if a door is open or if some forcible en­try was made,” the chief said.

If they find no ev­i­dence of en­try, po­lice can’t legally en­ter the build­ing even with the no tres­pass let­ter. That doesn’t mean some­one didn’t hop the cin­der block wall along the al­ley or gain ac­cess the sec­ond floor via a neigh­bor­ing roof top.

Es­tarziau said of­fi­cers are not go­ing to scale a cin­der block wall to check for va­grants that may have breached the premises.

The dy­nam­ics change some­what if re­spond­ing of­fi­cers talk to a re­port­ing party that ac­tu­ally saw some­one en­ter the struc­ture.

Ariz did say the city was ef­fi­cient at try­ing to ding him for fines. At one point last year he was told he owed al­most $800 in fines for false alarms charges that a pre­vi­ous ten­ant in­curred that he was un­aware of. Af­ter the ten­ant moved out, he got a bill for the city fines. Ariz en­listed the help of Manteca mer­chant and down­town ad­vo­cate Brenda Franklin to help him fight city hall. He ended up pre­vail­ing.

Ariz said he wished the city was as ef­fi­cient at deal­ing with the qual­ity of life crimes that are plagu­ing down­town as they are at try­ing to gen­er­ate rev­enue. Ariz bought the build­ing a decade ago. While the city likes to point to ab­sen­tee land­lords, Ariz lives out of town but he main­tains his prop­erty. He said, how­ever, it is get­ting harder and harder given what he be­lieves is the lack of willpower on the city to em­ploy tools it can legally ac­cess to ad­dress pub­lic health and safety con­cerns.

He noted if he knew this was how the city would be en­forc­ing its prop­erty up­keep rules and city or­di­nances re­gard­ing il­le­gal be­hav­ior he wouldn’t have in­vested in Manteca 10 years ago.

Ariz noted the problems pro­ceeded the fire. Gangs had chased off the apart­ment com­plex man­ager mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble to keep staff. Then a seedy el­e­ment took over squeez­ing out law abid­ing ten­ants. The pre­vi­ous owner closed the apart­ment op­er­a­tion and boarded the build­ing. It was then that home­less and/or drug­gies started break­ing in and trash­ing the in­te­rior. Af­ter it be­came an il­le­gal flophouse is when the fire broke out.

On Thurs­day af­ter­noon a quick in­spec­tion of the ex­te­rior of Sy­camore Arms re­vealed new boards — ac­tu­ally planks — ham­mered across door win­dows ply­wood cov­ered win­dows where the home­less had been pry­ing them off and en­ter­ing the build­ing on a rou­tine ba­sis ac­cord­ing to Franklin and two other nearby mer­chants that de­clined to be iden­ti­fied.

Franklin noted the man­ner in which the door is boarded over flies in the face of city rules that were adopted dur­ing the hous­ing cri­sis on the le­gal way to se­cure and board long-term va­cant or aban­doned build­ings so as not to plant the seeds for blight. To con­tact Den­nis Wy­att, email dwy­att@man­te­cab­ul­letin.com

DEN­NIS WY­ATT/The Bul­letin

LEFT PHOTO: The cig­a­rette store own­ers next to the fire dam­aged Sy­camore Arms in the 100 block of West Yosemite have had squat­ters in that build­ing steal elec­tric­ity from them. RIGHT PHOTO: The Sy­camore Arms en­trance is not boarded in the man­ner the city re­quires.

Home­less in Manteca

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