Fresno City Hall officials learned Wednesday never to invite Terance Frazier to “whack-it” demonstrations.
Mayor Ashley Swearengin and other top City Hall leaders gathered in the backyard of a vacant house on the north edge of downtown to trumpet the latest trend in blight abatement.
The event by any measure was serious. City officials and community activists are pushing hard for new laws to solve the problem of decaying buildings in older neighborhoods. It’s part of a larger effort to revive the urban core.
Many of Fresno’s older neighborhoods are plagued by vacant houses in serious disrepair. Many owners try to protect their property from vandals by covering windows and doorways with plywood. The inevitable result, city officials said, is a conspicuous eyesore that sends a damning (and often unjust) message about the neighborhood’s character.
City officials want property-owners to use something other than plywood. Wednesday’s news conference/demonstration was designed to deliver this land-use message at the same time everyone had a bit of fun beating on something indestructible.
City Hall’s game plan was this:
• A vacant “mother-in-law” apartment in the backyard of a vacant house in the 400 block of Glenn Avenue would get the SecureView treatment. A window and a doorway would be covered.
• The mayor, City Manager Bruce Rudd, District 3 Council Member Oliver Baines (who represents the area), various department directors, members of City Hall’s code enforcement task force and reporters would be invited.
• Swearengin would speak. This she did, saying products such as SecureView deliver the double benefit of security and aesthetics.
• SecureView executives would speak. This they did, saying their product could withstand anything the run-of-the-mill troublemaker could throw at it.
• With media cameras going full bore, volunteers would beat at SecureView until they toppled over from exhaustion.
Rudd was first up. He grabbed a metal baseball bat, took his stance in front of the doorway (he’s a lefty), then took two home-run swings. Each produced a big bang. If capable, SecureView would have yawned.
Then it was Frazier’s turn. He is a longtime Fresno developer who played baseball at Fresno State and for several years in the Oakland Athletics’ organization. He knows what it’s like to grab a grounder down the third base line and make the long throw to nab a speedy hitter at first base.
Someone handed Frazier a rock. It was smooth, about the size of a baseball squished into a slight egg-shape. The rock was painted white. It had some weight. Someone had printed Rudd’s name and the date on it.
Frazier (a member of the code enforcement task force) stood 15 or 20 feet from the SecureView door. His days in uniform ended some 20 years ago. But once a ballplayer, always a ballplayer. He let ’er rip.
The event suddenly lost its juice. Frazier had put a good-sized hole in SecureView.
No one knew what to do next.
Someone said, “Try the window.” The window withstood a thrown rock. Few noticed.
Someone said the SecureView door, unlike the window, was a patent-pending product. In other words, there might be bugs still in there. Few listened.
Someone said a SecureView door in the real world would have a bar across the middle of it, giving the sheet more resiliency. Few cared.
Dignitaries who had made sure they were in range of media cameras when things were going according to script fled into the shadowy distance. No one asked them to return.
Frazier, one of inner-city Fresno’s biggest friends and boosters, could only smile sheepishly and shrug his shoulders.
Many came up independently with the same joke. Frazier is known by some as “T.”
Well, the wits said, that SecureView door “sure isn’t T-proof.”