San Jose attempts to reduce blight, targets vacant downtown stores

- The San Jose City Council is poised Tuesday to require owners of vacant stores to make their storefronts more inviting to shoppers and passers-by.

This, in an attempt to reduce blight and increase safety in the heavily traveled downtown area.

Officials say the problem of blight from vacant buildings traces back to a property at the corner of 1st and Santa Clara Streets..

"The ground floor has been vacant for 30 years--as long as I've been in downtown," said Scott Knies, the executive director of the Downtown San Jose Association.

One door is boarded, windows are covered with packing paper, and homeless routinely camp out here. Residents such Kymberli Brandy say this sight gives the perception downtown isn't a destination.

"It's dangerous and dark at night when we wanna go out and try and enjoy downtown, our neighborhood so to speak," said Brandy.

Tuesday, the city council will vote to amendment existing ordinances, creating a registry for vacant buildings.

"This is a little bit of a stick and a carrot to get these types of owners to move along," said Knies..

Under the proposal, owners with vacant ground floors would have 90-days to register with the city, and pay a $606 a month inspection fee. The property would be required to have lease signage or artwork in the windows, and exterior or interior illumination from dusk till dawn. After two months of abiding by the new requirements, an owner could ask for quarterly inspections and a $202 inspection fee.

"It wouldn't really be that much on the owners. and it's not like they're not making anything on this. They're making tons on the rentals up above," said Brandy 

Some building owners have already taken proactive steps to brighten their doorways while waiting for the next business to move in. But there are still a handful that haven't, leading some to believe this is an idea whose time has come..

"We want to create a coalition here of not only the residents but the business owners, and building owners. this belongs to all of us whether they think so or not. and they need to participate," Brandy said.

The pilot registry would be for 18 months at which point council staff would have to report back on the number of businesses fined and if this program had the desired effect. The vote is set for Tuesday afternoon..

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