Three years ago this Feb. 12, the historic Dick Bruhn building in Oldtown Salinas went up in flames, the result of decrepit wiring meeting unpermitted interior renovations that sparked a fire so intense that a high-rise strike team from the San Francisco Fire Department was put on standby and Mayor Joe Gunter thought the whole 300 block of Main Street might burn to the ground. In the ensuing months, interior debris was removed and the windows were boarded up; new windows were installed on the ground level, and at least one has been shattered by vandals, to be boarded up again.

And in the ensuing years, the gutted building has just sat there.

A few blocks away, over in Chinatown, the city last August raided “The Warehouse,” as the light-industrial building at 1 and 3 Bridge St. is known, and pulled its electrical meters after the city placed notices of code violations on it, plus sent a letter to the property’s Gold River-based owner demanding repairs. Sal Jimenez, owner of the Banker’s Casino and other properties, was in the process of buying the warehouse at the time; in addition to the purchase price, he paid $15,000 for a new conditional use permit, but now finds himself on the receiving end of $25,000 in fines he says were amassed by previous owners, but never paid.

For these buildings and a host of others – including the vacant Dragon House restaurant property on South Main Street and the fire-ravaged Chinatown building at 38 Soledad St. – the Salinas City Council in February will consider passing a blighted building ordinance that would force owners to act to improve their properties, or eventually risk losing them. While the ordinance is still in its draft stage (and the city declined to provide the Weekly with a copy of that draft), Gunter says it will empower the city to enforce against owners who don’t maintain their properties at a certain level.

“Owning property is a responsibility, just like having a child and adopting a dog, but not everyone takes that responsibility seriously,” says Councilmember Steve McShane, whose district includes Oldtown and who most recently brought the idea of the ordinance, first floated after the housing implosion of 2008, before the council.

“The city code enforcement team knows where the troubled properties are and they’re doing proactive enforcement now,” he says. “Owners not doing their part to upkeep their properties will feel the effect.”

If the owners refuse to clean up their properties and bring them into compliance, the city may end up doing it for them, then charging them for it. And if they don’t pay, the city can place liens on the property, and force payment via foreclosure.

The draft ordinance will receive a first reading at the council’s Feb. 5 meeting. If it passes with a majority short of a 7-0 vote on that date, it will come back for a second reading.

“If it passes, we will move forward with whatever actions are necessary to improve these issues,” Gunter says. “We’re gonna do the full gauntlet, for commercial and residential. Let’s do it one time and do it right.”

Salinas code enforcement manager Lorenzo Sanchez, who led the enforcement action on the Bridge Street property, rattles off a laundry list of complaints he receives that constitute blight: overgrown vegetation; broken stairs, exterior walls and windows. For vacant buildings, add people breaking in and illegally occupying the space and setting fires, as was the case on the Soledad Street property.

“It often seems like we’re enforcing more rules, but the rules are coming up because there’s a need for the city to act on them,” Sanchez says. “We want the city to be known for viability, not negativity, as we’ve been getting.”

But viability, Jimenez says, is something of a two-way street.

Jimenez also owns a building at 103 Monterey St., at the corner Market Street, known as the former Hacienda Market building. The city has urged him to rehabilitate the long-vacant, pink-facaded space, which has been subject of numerous complaints. But Jimenez says the current homeless situation in Chinatown, just a block away, makes it untenable.

“I ask them, how do you guys expect us to invest millions of dollars in this community when you can’t take care of the situation in Chinatown? We do see change coming, but it’s going to be a five – or 10-year process,” Jimenez says. “It makes it tough when they handcuff you and throw you a 50-pound weight and tell you to swim to shore.”