Group's placing of stickers on blighted properties sparks backlash

Published: Saturday, Jul. 20, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Jul. 21, 2013 - 10:40 am

It sounded like a novel approach to combating blight – a grass-roots shame campaign in which citizens call out the owners of Sacramento eyesores by placing stickers on blighted properties.

In Sacramento – like most major metropolitan cities – the candidates are plenty.

But before WTF Sacramento could get stickers printed, launch a website or garner more than 39 Twitter followers, swift backlash has members of the group backing away from the plan.

WTF is often-used Internet shorthand for "What the (rhymes with truck)".

The controversy centers on whether calling out blight with a sticker would in fact create more blight.

"It sounds a little bit misguided to me," said Jim Rinehart, the city's director of economic development. "They are adding blight to a property they think is blighted."

In a televised interview, one city official threatened to fine the group $300 for each sticker placed on city or private property.

"Defacing someone else's property is not something we recommend," said Dion Dwyer, director of community services for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership. "We love the idea of engagement, but this is not the right medium."

In response to the pushback, Demetri Gregorakis, one of the group's creators, said Friday that the sticker idea might not … err … stick.

"We are currently looking to the legality of it," Gregorakis said. "We may pull the stickers entirely."

The group has also talked about using its fledgling Twitter account to point out blight.

Response on the Facebook page it created has been mixed.

"Quit complaining. Get involved in the conversation and be a part of the change," offered West Sacramento resident Verna Sulpizio.

But Ross Hendrickx said he applauded the group's plan and invited its members to give Del Paso Heights some attention.

Gregorakis said WTF Sacramento's overall goal is to create a conversation about underutilized properties to encourage a better use that fits with the community.

"It's all about getting the building back to a useful, functional state," Gregorakis said.

Dwyer said the Downtown Partnership, a cooperative of business owners, has its own plan to spur new economic activity. One approach is a block-by-block analysis to understand the obstacles to development.

"At the end of the day, we're about a vibrant downtown," Dwyer said.

Rinehart said the city's job is to create a positive environment for new economic activity, but he lamented that redevelopment agencies – the primary tool cities used to renovate blighted areas – were shut down by the state.

But former City Councilwoman Lauren Hammond said sometimes pressure is needed to force absentee property owners into action.

"Sometimes you have to shame them," she said.

She said nowadays Twitter and Facebook can be good tools for shaming property owners. She also recommended joining forces with the neighborhood association in the area where the blighted properties are, for an old- school letter-writing campaign.

"We have a good address (for owners) because they pay taxes" on the property, Hammond said.

Call The Bee's Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @newsfletch.

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