The real work on the West Area Specific Plan has started.
About 150 people showed up at the Central East High School cafeteria last week to opine on what they want in a growth blueprint for their neighborhoods.
City Hall officials for years have tried to come up with a catchy brand name for this particular part of Fresno. We’re talking about land west of Highway 99 and north of Roeding Park. But we can’t call it West Fresno – we’ve had a West Fresno centered on Edison High School (south of Roeding Park) for eons.
“West Area” is the best City Hall could do.
But make no mistake, the West Area is vital to Fresno’s future.
The meeting at Central East on May 3 was billed as a “community conversation.” Jennifer Clark, head of the city’s Development and Resource Management Department, was there. So, too, were city planners Rodney Horton and Sophia Pagoulatos.
A specific plan, the audience was told, is the key to implementing the 2035 general plan. If that definition does little to clear the fog of what a specific plan does, join the club. But I’ve been around City Hall long enough to know that having a specific plan on the shelf is a good way to focus the attention of city officials on the development and infrastructure challenges of an identifiable section of our fair city.
I live near Bullard High School, at Palm and Barstow avenues. I walked to the community conversation. My journey took me west on Shaw Avenue, across Golden State Boulevard and 99, to Polk Avenue. I headed south to Ashlan Avenue, then turned east until I got to Cornelia Avenue. A short trek south on Cornelia landed me on the Central East campus.
It was a pleasant walk. But there were portions of my path west of 99 without curbs, gutters or sidewalks. And what an experience it was getting from the Costco on West Shaw, east of 99, to Polk on the west side of 99. I’m not a fast walker – about three miles an hour. Yet, even at that modest pace I was flying past the motorists stuck in traffic jams on westbound Shaw.
The West Area Specific Plan’s second community conversation is slated for June 14, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the Central East cafeteria. The gestation period for a specific plan is long. We’ll be talking and writing about this one for a long time.
Three top elected officials attended the May 3 event – Council President Esmeralda Soria, Council Vice President Steve Brandau and Fresno County Supervisor Brian Pacheco. Each represents all or a major part of the West Area.
For the record, the basic outline of the West Area is defined as west of 99, north of Clinton Avenue to the San Joaquin River and east of Garfield Avenue. The area encompasses about 11 square miles. More than four square miles are outside Fresno’s current borders but within the city’s sphere of influence. In other words, it’s all destined to be part of Fresno.
Soria, Brandau and Pacheco individually addressed the audience. I close by giving you the highlights of their remarks. Pay close attention to Brandau’s comments. They are a primer on the West Area Specific Plan’s immense potential and big hurdles.
“I want to thank you for making the time to be here tonight. This is a very important meeting. It’s been a long time coming.
“I want to acknowledge our staff. I know they’ve been working very hard to get to this stage. We’re going to be working very closely with Rodney and Sophia and Jennifer Clark, who is our DARM director.
“Like I said, this plan has been a long time coming. I know that with your great input, putting a plan together will allow us to get state and federal resources to address the multitude of challenges that exist west of 99.
“And I know that I hear from many of you that this side of town has been ignored for a long time. So, again, this is the start of a lot of positive things that will come from planning.”
“Esmeralda, Brian – it’s great to have this crowd, right? A lot of times with our first community meetings, when something new is about to happen, the people aren’t quite sure. They haven’t heard about it. And we get a low turnout. Tonight, this is fantastic. It shows that you’re paying attention to your neighborhoods and your side of the community…
“I want you to know, if you haven’t heard, this is the No. 1 growth area for the City of Fresno. This is where the City of Fresno is going to grow. Whether you like it or not, you’re going to see a lot of neighbors eventually. I imagine, within a decade or two, there will be up to 50,000 new residents living west of 99. It’s the No. 1 growth area. The water is already here. We – the City of Fresno along with our partners in the county – have to begin to work on the infrastructure to make sure that all happens in a very organized and fantastic way.
“All along the way we need your input. It’s going to be very valuable.
“Last week I went to Washington, D.C. It was the second time I took the (One Voice) trip to D.C. We’re working with the City of Fresno’s lobbyists. We applied in November for a grant called ‘INFRA,’ which is short for ‘infrastructure.’ This is about the Veterans Boulevard project. If any of you have come to my ‘West of 99’ meetings, we’ve had standing room only. And traffic has been one of the main concerns. Veterans Boulevard is a component.
“Now, if you live over here, I realize and Esmeralda realizes that we also need help with Shaw Avenue and with Ashlan Avenue. I think work is beginning there, too. But those will take a little while longer.
“On Veterans, we’re keeping our fingers crossed and our prayers up that we’ll be awarded the grant by the federal government. (Veterans is) a $139 million project. It’s grown in size over the years. We’ve got a great blessing from the High-Speed Rail Authority – they’re pitching in about $30 million. But most of the money has come from you and I – those of us who pay taxes in Fresno County. Our sales taxes go to big infrastructure projects. Veterans has worked its way to the very top priority from our Measure C sales tax. We were able to go to Washington, D.C. and say we’ve raised 70% of the money. We need $44.5 million – that’s about 30%. We’re telling them that the City of Fresno has acquired all of the property that Veterans sits on. And the plans (architectural drawings, etc.) are up to 95% (finished). The reason that’s important is Veterans is truly shovel-ready. And we’re looking within the next couple of weeks to hearing from Washington, D.C. if we’ve been selected. If we are, if we’re funded, that project could begin next year.
“Now, I know, hearing from all of you, that it cannot happen fast enough. But I also hear about the Shaw interchange. I hear about the Ashlan interchange. All of these are going to be top priorities for the City of Fresno. It’s going to take some time to get all of those interchanges done, and I know we need them all done right now. We’re committed to you.”
Pacheco: “I know some of you may be a little surprised to have a supervisor here because this is a city-driven project. But when I was chairman of the board last year I set up a committee with Mayor Lee Brand. And I can proudly say that every 45 days the county and the city are now working together. That culture changed when Esmeralda and I were elected, along with Steve. It’s a new day now. Instead of the county being on its island and the city being on its island, we now work together on ventures such as this.”
Pacheco noted that the county will be a key player in the drafting and success of the West Area Specific Plan for the simple reason that Fresno County and the City of Fresno live side by side. What one does affects the other.
“We want to have a nice, smooth transition as we do this,” Pacheco said.
In conclusion, Pacheco said, “In partnership with the city, the county is working closely to make our lives better for everyone who lives on the west side of the community. I think my presence here tonight, with their invitation, is proof of that.”