Bus tour pinpoints 'blighted' areas of NW Jacksonville


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – City Councilwoman Denise Lee and members of the Blight Ad Hoc Advisory Committee were touring Jacksonville on Thursday morning to locate problem areas.

A Jacksonville Transportation Authority bus that seats 38 people left City Hall at 10 a.m. for a two-hour tour.

The goal was to pinpoint areas in Northwest Jacksonville, the Mid-Westside and the Eastside that need to be cleaned up. That includes yards and streets that need care and people who are living illegal and violent lifestyles.

"You can sit in a room all day with paper and you can talk about things, but to be able to visualize them and feel them," Lee said.

Blight, as Lee refers to it, bombards neighborhoods in the areas, with overgrown grass, trash and gutters that need cleaning.

Human blight, including illegal activity and loitering, also poses a problem.

"Would you put your business near a corner where that many people are hanging out all day? Would you?" Lee said. "I wouldn't. That's what we've got to curtail."

The city gets 6,000 calls from residents a week, and 1,200 are related to blight. So Public Works created a new division called Mowing and Landscape Maintenance.

Dave McDaniel is the chief and has hired 13 inspectors to drive around town using a database to drop icons in problem areas. Then they email the PDFs to the agencies responsible for cleaning it up.

"I think it's a worthy cause," McDaniel said. "I think that it's something that will help bring better business to Jacksonville, boost our economy and make Jacksonville the kind of place we want to live in."

The initiative will also require help from the community, like people mowing their lawn, which, if ignored, could lead to a city citation, lien on the property, foreclosure and demolition.

Lee said the blight committees aren't messing around.

"We need to be responsible for what it is we're responsible for first," she said. "And when we step up to the plate, we expect the citizens to step up to the plate as well."

Lee encourages the community to join a Blight Ad Hoc Advisory Committee to share their problems and ideas for solutions.

The landscape and mowing blight committee deals with people who don't keep up with their yards and homes. It meets every other Thursday at 10 a.m. on the first floor of City Hall, in the Lynwood Roberts room.

The other is the Human Blight Committee, which deals with people who commit crimes. It meets every other Friday at 9 a.m., also in the Lynwood Roberts room.

If you have information about a crime, you're asked to make an anonymous call to Crime Stoppers at 866-845 TIPS.

The city is also working on an app successful in other cities that will be available in the next three to six months. On it, residents can take a picture of blight with their cellphones and send it to the city.

A smartphone's geotagging lets the city know the location of the problem, and then alerts the appropriate agency responsible for taking care of it. The government worker then takes a picture of the completed work, which sends back to the original person who sent in the picture of the problem.