Fort Worth officials have said that they are dedicated to working on a solution that will allow the city’s community fridges to stay open, despite a series of antiquated laws that say fridges can not be left outdoors, unattended.
Both an official from the city’s office of code enforcement, and District 9 Councilwoman Ann Zadeh, have said they are working with Richardson and the city to negotiate a compromise to keep the Funky Town Fridges open.
At issue is a series of archaic laws meant to prevent children from becoming trapped in abandoned fridges. Both the State of Texas and City of Fort Worth have versions of the law, which were part of a movement in the 1950s and 1960 that began when a number of American children became trapped in old-fashioned fridges and suffocated. Manufacturers have since changed the way that refrigerators close, but the state and city laws remain.
The Texas law says that a fridge or airtight appliance (like a washing machine) must not be left outdoors or unoccupied in a way that makes it accessible to children. The Fort Worth law is more specific, saying small fridges — with a capacity of one and one-half cubic feet and an opening of less than 50 square inches — are fine, but that anything larger is in violation if left unattended. All three of Funky Town’s Fridge’s community fridges, which are publicly accessible and do not have locks, are currently in violation of those laws.
In December, in a meeting with the city code officials, Richardson said she was told her fridges violated the Fort Worth fridge law. Officials gave her a few options to modify the fridges to bring them into compliance by January 17 — adding locks, asking volunteers to man the fridge, or replacing them with smaller fridges — but Richardson feels those changes make the project less accessible to both those who donate to it and the people who need it. Instead of making the changes, Richardson is asking the city to make an exception.
Diane Covey, public information office for the city’s code enforcement department, said it’s not just the state law that concerns city officials, but issues like making sure the fridges maintain food-safe temperatures, and ensuring that no one tampers with the food inside them.
She also says the fridges are a zoning violation, specifically violating two sections of the city’s zoning law that relate to the placement of “non-habitable accessories.” Even though Richardson said she was told she was in violation of the 1964 city fridge law, Covey said the city isn’t even citing that law. Instead, they’re citing the state law, and the zoning violations.
Covey was adamant that the city wants to work with Richardson to find a solution. “We want to help them,” she said. “We love what they’re doing. They may have to find a different location, and we’ll work with them on that.”
She also said the city has not issued any citations or even a warning to Richardson yet.
Richardson said her city council representative, Ann Zadeh, attended the first fridge’s opening party and even brought donations. When Richardson’s dustup with the city began, she reached out to Zadeh for help. In an email, Zadeh said she helped Richardson get in contact with city and code enforcement officials to resolve the matter.
“I have supported the efforts of Kendra and Fort Worth Community Fridge since the beginning,” Zedah wrote. “Recently I became aware via a social media post that there were still concerns. I immediately sent that information to the staff I had originally connected Kendra to. I appreciate the work and passion of Kendra and all those who support Fort Worth Community Fridge and will do my best to assist with the important service they provide in these challenging times.”
For Richardson’s part, she said she feels the city went looking for a law that would allow them to shut her down. She had secured pro bono legal aid to help her in negotiations with the city, but she also doesn’t want to get into a protracted legal battle. Her main concern is that the fridges stay accessible to those who need them.
Covey, with code enforcement, said that’s exactly the crux. She again cited the Texas state law, which is literally titled “Leaving Refrigerator or Container Accessible to Children.”
“I think the key word is going to be ‘accessible,’” she said.