TAMPA — Over the last six months, crews pulled 80 tons of trash out of a handful of Tampa neighborhoods targeted by Mayor Bob Buckhorn for an intensive code enforcement sweep.
On Thursday, Buckhorn came to one of those neighborhoods — Grant Park in the city’s far eastern corner — to tout the program’s success.
“We went at this seven days a week because we knew we had to attack it in a comprehensive fashion,” Buckhorn told a gathering of code officers and Grant Park residents. “The end result is our neighborhoods are in better shape. The amount of trash we hauled out of these neighborhoods is unbelievable.”
Eighty tons is about the weight of the space shuttle without fuel. It’s also the weight of a small blue whale.
Buckhorn kicked off his code enforcement sweep in July after the revelation that former Tampa Port Authority Chairman William “Hoe” Brown was running a squalid, illegal trailer park on land he owned in Seminole Heights.
The Brown incident became a watershed for code enforcement.
Buckhorn targeted Grant Park and parts of Old Seminole Heights and North Tampa as three neighborhoods that needed cleaning up. He added people to the city’s code enforcement staff and cross trained solid waste inspectors to handle residential code violations. He also persuaded Hillsborough County Circuit Court to create two dockets just for code enforcement violations.
Buckhorn began his sweep saying he was going after the “worst of the worst” property owners. What began as a 30-day operation grew into half a year.
As of Thursday, code enforcement officers conducted 4,157 inspections and wrote 906 tickets for everything from overgrown grass to deteriorating buildings, Buckhorn said.
An examination of the citations this summer showed most of the people cited were small-time absentee landlords, some from as far away as Israel and Paraguay. The most common citations were for uncut grass, piles of junk and cars considered unusable because of flat tires or expired license plates.
In most cases, property owners were given a chance to fix the problem. Three-quarters of them did so, said Jake Slater, who oversees code enforcement.
Another 10 percent had to be fixed by the city.
In all, 86.5 percent of properties that got a citation for code violations are corrected now, Buckhorn said Thursday.
“All it took was a little touch from the city government,” Buckhorn said.
He said he hopes the clean up in Grant Park will inspire the redevelopment of vacation properties within the residential community at the southeast corner of North 50th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. About half the homes in the neighborhood are rentals.
“We want to build new things in this neighborhood,” Buckhorn said.
Desmond Key, president of the Grant Park Civic Association, said the neighborhood is pressing its absentee landlords to stay engaged in the community.
“We’ve got to get to a point where absentee owners understand because you won property here, you’re part of the neighborhood,” Key said.
Meantime, the city sweep already has improved the lives of the people who live in Grant Park, Key told Buckhorn and code officials.
“You’ve increased the worth of the neighborhood,” he said.