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Fresno mayor declares emergency at apartment complex

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin signs an emergency proclamation Wednesday that could accelerate repairs at the Summerset Village Apartments near Fresno Street and Clinton Avenue in central Fresno.
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin signs an emergency proclamation Wednesday that could accelerate repairs at the Summerset Village Apartments near Fresno Street and Clinton Avenue in central Fresno. Special to The Bee

Mayor Ashley Swearengin signed an emergency proclamation Wednesday for the Summerset Village Apartment complex, where residents have been without heat and hot water for two weeks.

The proclamation will allow the city to hire a contractor if the property owner fails to fix the problems.

If the landlord complies with all the city’s requirements, the City Council will not have to ratify the state of emergency. The City Council is scheduled to consider the proclamation at a special meeting at 9 a.m. Monday. If the landlord doesn’t act, under the state of emergency the city can move more swiftly by not having to seek a low bid for the work.

Between 800 and 1,200 residents live in the 220-unit complex near Fresno Street and Clinton Avenue in central Fresno. They have been without heat or hot water since Nov. 12 because of two broken natural-gas lines.

“This has become a crisis due to irresponsible ownership and blatant neglect that has put the health and safety of over 1,000 people in jeopardy,” Swearengin said. “This declaration of local emergency gives our administration the authority to ensure that the work is done to our standards.”

The Mayor’s office contacted the city attorney’s office Tuesday to begin the legal process.

“We are determined to hold the property owner accountable and ensure that the repairs are made as soon as possible and just as determined to make sure that all code violations are addressed,” Swearengin said.

Clint Olivier, who represents the district where the apartments are located, said he was encouraged by the mayor’s action.

The emergency proclamation removes “red tape,” he said.

“I’m glad that the city has moved so swiftly and forcefully to correct the situation out here,” Olivier said. “But I think the time is here to have a wider discussion about slumlords in our city in an effort to avoid having this happen again.”

A lawyer for apartment owner Chris Henry was to meet with a contractor on Wednesday to map out the repairs, which are expected to cost more than $300,000. Inspections by the city and PG&E indicated the rusty, old gas lines will need to be replaced.

Residents have been making do with propane-fueled grills outside their units.

Wednesday, residents received relief from the Southern Baptist Convention when workers for the nonprofit organization arrived with trucks containing a large generator, two shower trailers each holding six showers and a large cooking unit.

Although Southern Baptist will cook meals for each resident, at least 25 volunteers will be needed each day to help serve the food, officials said. The city is asking for donations of electric blankets, not portable heaters, because PG&E officials say the blankets are more energy efficient and pose less of a fire risk.

Because of the fire risks associated with portable heaters and outdoor stoves, firefighters will be stationed at the complex each night. Security will also be provided to ensure resident safety, said city spokesman Mark Standriff.

PG&E donated $25,000 to the relief efforts, and Standriff said Granville Homes is expected to also donate “a significant amount.”

Anyone interested in volunteering or donating can call 559-487-1500 or visit Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries (FIRM) website at www.firminc.org.

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