Bakersfield Code Enforcement takes on dangerous buildings with small staff

Code Enforcement Officer Bill Owens inspects a building in Bakersfield, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) – It's one of the smallest departments in the city, tasked with one of the biggest jobs: Code Enforcement officers need to make sure every building in the city is safe.

Code Enforcement Officer Bill Owens said he never knows what he's walking in to. On any given day, he inspects up to 12 properties.

"Hello? Code enforcement!" he yells while entering a vacant property, alerting anyone who might be there.

Eyewitness News went with Owens to inspect three vacant buildings – all of them covered in filth inside and out, as magnets for homeless people.

These properties aren't rare in Bakersfield.

City Building Director Phil Burns said Code Enforcement is constantly inspecting properties, handling about 12,000 cases every year with a staff of only 14.

"Ten code enforcement officers, and then I have two supervisors that work with them, and there's two office staff," Burns said.

Another complication: Some property owners just don't care, they say.

Two of the three properties Owens showed Eyewitness News had multiple cases and violations. Neither owner responded to orders to fix the issues. The city just hired someone to clean the third building a month ago.

"It’s been about four days of just digging piles and piles and piles of trash out," Owens said about the clean-up process.

The vacant properties attract homeless people, creating health and fire hazards.

However, Owens doesn't arrest them, even though they're breaking the law.

Instead, he works to connect them to services to get them off the streets and out of the vacant properties he spends so much of his time trying to get cleaned up and safe for the public.

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