Mounting Richmond blight demoralizing for city staff: report

Incidents of illegal dumping and blight such as this one near 23rd Street, which has since been abated, are on the rise in part due to budget cuts and the homeless crisis, according to a report by the Department of Infrastructure Maintenance and Operations.

City staff say they’re facing a disheartening uphill battle against blight.

On Tuesday, the city’s Department of Infrastructure Maintenance and Operations (DIMO) is set to deliver a report to City Council stating morale among staff is low as they struggle to keep up with illegal dumping, graffiti, homeless encampments and abandoned properties in the city.

In a city report comparing the years 2007 with 2019, DIMO reported a 98 percent increase in homeless encampment locations, from 2 in 2007 to 33 this year, and a 27 percent increase in illegal dumping locations, from 9,014 in 2007 to a projected 11,451 this year. To put the latter figure in perspective, San Jose, which has a population of over 1 million residents, reportedly abated 4,395 illegal dumping locations this year, the report by DIMO stated.

While the blight problem is growing, city personnel tasked with addressing it has been shrinking due to budget cuts during the last six years, according to the city report. The city currently has nine maintenance staff members performing abatement when it had 16 in 2007, and 13 in 2013. Meanwhile, full-time code enforcement staff reduced from 11 in 2009, to 8 in 2013 to 6 in 2019, according to the city.

In addition, a ban on the city’s use of herbicides, passed in 2015 by City Council over concerns of their health impacts, has made it more difficult to keep up with overgrowth on city properties, according to DIMO.

“It is estimated that an additional 8,500 man hours (equal to 4 groundskeepers) would be needed to restore landscaping to the conditions prior to the spray ban directive,” DIMO reported.

Without additional funding, the report states the city will continue to be reactive rather than proactive about solving blight issues. DIMO recommend reallocating funds or finding new revenue sources to tackle the problems. It also recommends amending the 2015 herbicide ban “to allow staff to use alternative products that will help staff better manage existing vegetation and weed abatement efforts.”

“The homeless crisis, the City’s ongoing budget constraints, consistent staffing and resource reductions, low staff morale, increased staff injuries due to repetitive motion, and the 2015 herbicide ban have all contributed to our inability to manage blight within our City,” the report states in summary.

A presentation regarding the blight problems can be found here.

A city report on the herbicide ban can be found here.

The City Council meeting is set to take place Tuesday starting at 6:30 p.m. in Richmond City Council Chambers in the Community Services Building, 440 Civic Center Plaza.