Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Blight Revisited

If you haven't figured it out by now, I am greatly frustrated by the blight that plagues our city. We're drowning in blight, and the city seems incapable of solving the problem.

This isn't a new problem. Go back to the Waterbury Observer from 1997 and you'll see a full-page advertisement with a photo of a blighted building being demolished--along with Phil Giordano's campaign slogans "Promises Made, Promises Kept" and "Leadership You Can Trust," and the boast that "70 houses have come down under the Giordano Administration."

(On a side note, from a purely political campaign perspective, it's interesting the way the word "trust" gets used. Giordano's ad put heavy emphasis on his being a "trusted leader." Today's Rep-Am included a letter written by a Jarjura supporter putting heavy emphasis on Jarjura being a Mayor he can trust.)

Jarjura's track record in dealing with the blight problem is miserable.

In 2004 Jarjura gave his good friend Joe Davino one of the most important jobs in the city, putting him in charge of cleaning up blight in Waterbury (after Davino abruptly lost his job with the Waterbury Housing Authority). The situation was as "loosey-goosey" (to use Jarjura's own words) as it gets. In fact, Jarjura himself described Davino's working arrangement as "loose" (Rep-Am, May 6, 2010). When the investigation was complete, it was proved that Davino was guilty of defrauding the city of Waterbury and committing second-degree larceny. Specifically, instead of having his crew work on cleaning up blight in the city, he had them stock his private vending machines and work on his house. Mayor Jarjura spoke on his behalf and asked the judge to be lenient.

In that same article, Jarjura apparently "thought nothing of giving him permission to take time off during the week when things were slow" -- seriously??? Slow??? In a city that is drowning in blight, when can there possibly be slow times?

So there you have Jarjura's "leadership" in dealing with blight for 6 of his years as Mayor. He put one of his closest friends in charge of the problem, not because he was qualified but because he was an old friend, and thought it was perfectly okay for him to be "loose" about the job.

After the Davino scandal wrapped up, Jarjura decided to reduce funding for fighting blight from the city budget. His proposed city budget, announced in March 2011, would have reduced the blight team from 4 full time and 4 seasonal workers to just the 4 full time workers (the previous year there were 8 seasonal workers--see Rep-Am, March 31, 2011).

Most recently, Jarjura decided to bond $1 million for tearing down blighted buildings. You know what happens when you tear down blighted buildings? You get blighted empty lots.

Here is an example of what happens. This is the corner of Walnut and Wood Streets. Several buildings were torn down by the city, and then the city walked away. The lot is full of weeds and litter, and the sidewalk is full of weeds and litter.

Here's a different section of sidewalk on Wood Street. Mayor Jarjura walked up Wood Street this summer--he walked in the street because the sidewalks are unusable. Nothing has happened to fix the problem, even though he has now seen it with his own eyes. Tell me again about how there were "slow" weeks for Joe Davino and his blight crew, and I will gladly show you again that there is more than enough blight to keep a crew of 20 working nonstop.

Here's another example I've blogged about before: this building on the corner of Walnut and Wood Street is blighted, there's a giant hole in the sidewalk large enough for a person to fall down, and the intersection is a school bus stop. Mayor Jarjura stood in front of this building this summer and declared that it needs to come down. It's still standing.

Here's a "good" one. This building partially collapsed in January. Now it is October, and the mess is still making the sidewalk unusable.

What possible excuse is there for ignoring this?

There's another aspect to blight in Waterbury. The preceding blight is largely due to abandoned property. But there are also blighted properties whose owners are active in Waterbury and are not being held accountable for maintaining their buildings.

The Rep-Am recently published a story about the former Bristol Company factory, which is owned by Norman Drubner and is severely blighted. Drubner is also at least partly responsible for some of the most blighted eyesores in downtown Waterbury. He may not own them, but his name is the one prominently featured on them.

Let's start with South Main Street. Here's a building viewed by thousands of people going to shows at the Palace Theater. It's dragging down the entire block.

At street level, it's hideous. It reminds me of some of the scarier-looking parts of Bridgeport.

Over on the Bank Street side, things are slightly better, but not great.

The building is crumbling apart.

Graffiti on the front door. Who would want to buy or lease something that looks like this?

And then there's the former Jimmie's Restaurant, on the corner opposite City Hall. Jarjura must see this every day that he goes to work for the city. How can he stand to look at it every day?

Drubner may not own this building, but surely he could do something to make the restaurant entrance more appealing. If it weren't for the efforts of Main Street Waterbury, it would look even worse.

Where is Mayor Jarjura's leadership on blight? Norman Drubner has allowed blighted buildings to remain blighted. Jarjura wants the city to give Drubner nearly $2 million for his open space property. How about getting Drubner to commit to using the money to fix up blighted buildings? Better yet, how about requiring that Drubner fix up any blighted building he owns before the city gives him any money.

UPDATE 10/12: Sometimes I write blog posts because I'm upset about something. This was definitely one of those posts. I've seen the same blight day after day for years. It's very frustrating. In fairness, maybe the building owners can't afford to do any repairs. Maybe Drubner isn't involved enough to help out. That's when I would expect to see leadership from the Mayor. There are a lot of different ways in which a city can help in these situations. Jarjura has shown little interest. Imagine if Jarjura had made the renovation of blighted downtown buildings a top priority. For that matter, imagine if, instead of developing property in Middlebury, he and his partners had chosen to invest in rehabbing our historic downtown buildings? Other cities have made it happen: why not Waterbury?

No comments: