A tool to help feed people who are food insecure grew in the Sacramento region during the pandemic — community refrigerators.
The group sacfridge4all currently lists about half a dozen of these food distribution locations throughout the area. Their slogan is “take what you need, leave what you can.”
However, some community fridges have sparked neighbors to register complaints, which has mobilized the city of Sacramento to better communicate what’s allowed as a community refrigerator and what’s not.
CapRadio’s host Randol White spoke with Jose Mendez, a code manager with the city, to explain what’s causing problems and what’s working with the fridges.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
The city's code enforcement team has been getting questions about these refrigerators. Is there a common thread among the questions?
Most folks want to know and understand how to operate these and install them. A lot of these referrals are sent over to us when a complaint is filed about somebody installing a community fridge outside of [their] residence. And so then we reach out and we'll provide them education on how they can do that safely.
Currently, there are codes to address community fridges, but there's not a city ordinance in place to address the trend, correct?
That's correct. The city understands what this organization is trying to achieve, and we support it. We're not encouraging it in a sense — because technically, there isn't an ordinance that would allow for a legal operation or for this to be installed legally, but we completely understand what they're trying to achieve.
We support the movement, and so we've provided protocols on what property owners can follow to operate a community fridge safely.
No fines have been issued as of yet, but what sort of fines could a homeowner face if the refrigerator they've placed in their yard doesn't meet the code?
Declaration of a public nuisance can cost fines and fees up to about $750 if they fail to comply.
In this instance, with the community fridges, we usually don't know about them. The way it works is, somebody will file a complaint and our system will automatically send out a letter advising the property owner.
Usually, the operator will call inquiring about the letter, and that provides us an opportunity to explain what is needed to operate the refrigerator safely.
Can you describe the ideal setup for one of these community refrigerators?
There's a list of things. One, they would have to be located on private property with the permission of the property owner, if they themselves are not the property owner, they'd be the operator.
Two, it has to be safe and set in a sanctuary structure that houses the refrigerator. One, they would have to be located on private property with the permission of the property owner … Two, it has to be safe, and set in a sanitary structure that houses the refrigerator.
… It has to be connected to an approved outlet, and it also has to meet setback requirements as required by the planning department.
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