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Ever since humans crawled out of caves and moved into cities, they've found it fashionable to criticize police as lazy, well diggers as slow and city workers as too inclined to lean against shovels.

But lately in Fresno, the Rodney Dangerfield Award for no respect goes to the city's code enforcement division. Even as it rolls out new approaches, cuts down its response time and gets more staff, it's suffering a bad rap for not doing enough and taking too long.

In budget hearings May 19, a frustrated City Council unleashed a torrent of carping about how long it takes to remove blight in this city. The complaining went on for 90 minutes about excuses and delays, wrist slaps and warnings, the sheer inability of Fresno to make its most incorrigible slobs clean up. In the neighborhoods, their constituents were frustrated; now the politicians are.

Even Oakland and Stockton, they said, Fresno's rivals for the worst blight and crime images in California, are cracking down and DOING SOMETHING. Why can't Fresno? It's killing our neighborhoods, said midtown and southside council members. It's driving out the good people we need for stability.

If that tirade wasn't enough to trigger heart attacks and nervous breakdowns in the Department of Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization, city planning commissioners unleashed another one Wednesday night. In the City Hall council chambers with no public present, commissioners groused about "giving lip service to good planning and high ideals" while the city undermines the effort, tolerating commercial property owners "with no social conscience."

Commissioner William Civiello offered a pair of examples:

An abandoned Exxon gasoline station (high weeds, dead grass, broken windows) at West and Griffith avenues. It anchors the southwest corner of Westlan Shopping center.

The abandoned Phoenix West nightclub (sagging roof, dead grass, dumped tires) at West and Holland avenues. It's south of a nice office complex for lawyers, consulting engineers and court reporters.

Civiello said it's neither right nor fair that a neighborhood trying to be viable must endure these eyesores for YEARS.

"We're constantly asked to protect property rights," he said. "But people do nothing, and we can't seem to anything about it. And the rottenness has now spread to other areas."

There was not a lot the city staff could tell them. The city's codes only go so far. You can make owners board up a building. That's mostly where it stops.

Commissioner Lemarr Treadwell huffed sarcastically about the resulting shabbiness. "That smacks of the good-old -boy image that Fresno has," he said. The others had their own scenes - a closed bank, another sagging roof.

The city is full of these places. Increasingly, the politicians and their appointees are asking why slobs that lack consciences have more power over neighborhoods than the city does. While Fresno is no Cleveland, or a Detroit of abandoned blocks, it is encouraging to see this anger continue to rise. Code enforcement has become a political issue. City Hall is getting it. Keep complaining.

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