Ray Bryars: Why allow vacant homes? | TheUnion.com

Ray Bryars: Why allow vacant homes?

I read with great sadness the front page article in the Jan. 28 edition of The Union about the house that burned down on Broad Street in Nevada City.

I learned that the house was empty. Then I learned that a gentleman named Michael Kent was proposing to buy the property and rebuild it, but was denied the opportunity by the Planning Commission.

Now I admit I know nothing about the details of this proposal and the reasons why it was denied, but it does make me wonder why it is preferred to have an empty home than for the city and the developer to collaboratively work out a way to improve the property for the benefit of the owner and the city.

I then wondered whether it is legal to own an unoccupied property. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be any laws against owning a vacant property and this seems to apply throughout California.

A simple Google search informed me there are 1.2 million vacant homes in California. Now that includes those for sale or rent, but it’s a big number.

At the other end, there are apparently 150,000 homeless people in this state. If your brain works like mine, you’re probably thinking, What an opportunity! Match up some of those empty homes with homeless people and voila, problem solved. Unfortunately nothing is ever that easy, but it is certainly worth looking into.

In my opinion, a property should fit one of four categories: Owner occupied, rented, on the market, or being renovated. Add whatever I’m missing, but “vacant” should not be allowed.

So I challenge our county and local cities to investigate the possibility of limiting the number of days that a property can be left vacant. There could be incentives or penalties applied to encourage property owners to make better use of their property. This should benefit all members of the community and reduce the number of empty home break-ins we read about in the Police Blotter.

The article said that firefighters tapped into seven fire hydrants to get enough water to fight the fire. This is for one house! What if the fire had been on one of those hot windy days in August? Would there be enough water to save other homes on Broad Street? I would hate to see the city go up in flames because of a Planning Commission decision.

I don’t think we should ignore what just happened. Let’s hope that Nevada City can put some expert thinking into ensuring this doesn’t happen again.

Ray Bryars lives in Nevada City.

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