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Gilroy City Hall. Photo: Erik Chalhoub
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The City of Gilroy is looking at cracking down on downtown building owners who have covered their vacant storefronts with plywood for an extended amount of time.

The Gilroy City Council heard a report Jan. 8 from the Downtown Committee about boosting its ordinances around vacant buildings and blight. No action was taken, and the proposals will be brought back for consideration at a future meeting.

Under the proposed ordinance, building owners can keep plywood up for 90 days. After 90 days, it must be decorated with a mural. One year after that, the permanent facade for the building must be complete and plywood removed.

Building owners who do not decorate the plywood with artwork face fines of $500 per month on their property tax bills, and those who do not remove the plywood after one year face a $250 per month fine.

Councilmember Carol Marques, who is part of the Downtown Committee, said its members contacted various other cities throughout the state to ask them how they deal with plywood on buildings. Most said they did not have a problem with it because it was not allowed, according to Marques.

“It is understandable when a building is under construction and the front of the building has to be removed that plywood would be used to protect the inside of the building,” she said. “Unfortunately, plywood has become a permanent front for some of our downtown buildings.”

David Leal, a downtown building owner who is also part of the committee, said the goal of the ordinance is to make downtown an attractive place to be for visitors.

“The whole purpose is if someone comes to our downtown, they will be able to see something that is more vibrant,” he said. “If it’s just plywood and ‘For Lease’ signs, it’s very discouraging for someone coming into town. We are just trying to better our downtown.”

Leal owns the Gilroy Bowl building at 7554 Monterey St., which is currently under construction. When the front of the building was demolished, it was temporarily covered with plywood for five months that was adorned with artwork by Sheryl Cathers. Some committee members pointed to it as an example of what they hope to achieve with the ordinance.

The Downtown Committee is also recommending the council adopt an ordinance that addresses vacant buildings.

The proposal includes requiring building owners to register their vacant properties with the city within 10 days of it becoming empty, which would be subject to inspections to determine code compliance.

Failure to register a building would net a fine of $150 per week.

Committee member Emily McEwan-Upright said the number of vacant buildings is a blight in downtown Gilroy.

“It causes real estate prices to drop and will further suppress the economy of downtown,” she said. “A vacant building that is boarded up or not maintained can turn people away from enjoying downtown or investing in it.”

The proposals will be implemented into city staff’s work plan, City Administrator Jimmy Forbis said, and will be brought back to the council at a date to be determined.

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.


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