The parking lot at the Maxie L. Parks Community Center in west Fresno is gated shut on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. The West Fresno Family Resource Center had to move their operations to the Mary Ella Brown Community Center weeks ago after being told the Maxie Parks building was contaminated with chemicals.

ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

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Good afternoon, and welcome to the Fresnoland Lab newsletter. Today is Monday, Dec. 7.

This week in Fresnoland, Dayana told the story of Buena Fortuna residents in Visalia who complained of roach infestations, leaky roofs, extra charges and illegal evictions. The story is encouraging other tenants throughout the Valley to share their unacceptable living conditions.

It’s Dympna Ugwu-Oju, editor of Fresnoland, here.

Has the city of Fresno done everything it can do to reassure West Fresno residents about the contamination of the Maxie Parks community center? It depends on whom you ask.

One term comes to mind — environmental justice — which is defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as being about fairness, regardless of race, color, national origin or income, in the development of laws and regulations that affect every community’s natural surroundings, and the places people live, work, play and learn.

When one considers the contamination and what steps the city of Fresno has taken in the context of race, socioeconomic status, plus a history of racism and redlining that still plagues southwest Fresno, some can’t help but wonder if the situation could have been handled differently.

The community center is located in one of the state’s most polluted and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, according to data from CalEnviroScreen — a cumulative metric that measures exposure to a variety of pollutants and socioeconomic factors.

So, on Tuesday, the residents of southwest Fresno finally got a chance to air their frustrations about the way the city has handled the contamination of the Maxie Parks Community Center in a virtual town hall meeting organized by Miguel Arias, their city hall representative who also happens to be the president of the Fresno City Council.

The residents complained of the city’s lack of urgency in addressing their needs in the following ways:

  • Not alerting people who worked in and used the center for as many as 10 hours each day that the center and its grounds were contaminated with hazardous toxins, including petroleum hydrocarbons, low concentrations of chlorinated solvents such as perchloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE), concentrations of benzene, and high levels of gasoline and benzene.

  • Not informing people who live near the center about the toxins and potential danger in their air and water.

  • Not convening a meeting of the community to officially inform them of the status of Maxie Parks and answer questions they have and calm their fears.

Arias had invited experts, including Michael Carbajal, director of the City of Fresno Department of Public Utilities; Scott Dwyer, a toxicologist; Rais Vohra, interim health officer for Fresno County; TJ Miller, director of the City of Fresno’s Parks Department, and Jim Betts, a contract attorney for the city of Fresno , to answer questions that residents may have on the topic. and the experts who participated in a virtual meeting that was arranged to address the contamination of the center.

The meeting — which was called to reassure the community and allay fears — turned into a forum for the expression of their frustrations, mistrust and disappointment.

Many asked why there are no records of a required analysis of the site to determine if there were any historic problems with contamination, prior to construction. Jim Betts, the legal counsel, admitted that the analysis, had it been done and processed, would have revealed that the property once housed a dry cleaning business in the 1950s and 1960s.

All the toxic chemicals identified in the toxicology report of the Maxie Parks Center and its grounds are widely used by dry cleaning businesses, and can last in the environment for decades because they don’t easily degrade.

Public Utilities director Carbajal has maintained that nearby residents don’t need to worry about contamination into their groundwater. “We don’t see any indicators that there is widespread groundwater contamination.”

But the community wants assurances that the city cares about their well being, their right to clean air, drinkable water and clean space, and most of all — peace of mind. We’ll continue to follow this story as more information unfolds.

And now, the week’s top reads:

(For the most recent local coronavirus updates, visit www.fresnobee.com/coronavirus.)

Housing, Transportation, and Land Use

The City of Fresno is preparing to sell off the Selland Arena property downtown to a new Fuego soccer enterprise, giving Fresno a second chance at professional soccer and a boost for downtown revitalization efforts. Fresno Bee

Evicted in the San Joaquin Valley: Sociologists Dr. Amber Crowell and Dr. Janine Nkosi share their research on the precarious situation many tenants across the San Joaquin Valley are in. Boom California

The San Joaquin Valley has some of the best value for property taxes paid in California. According to a study released by online finance advice company SmartAsset, Kings County has the 2nd best all-around value. Fresno County was just behind Kings; Madera and Tulare Counties came in 7th and 8th. Fresno Business Journal

As the pandemic makes an already terrible housing crisis worse, a new version of house-sitting signals a broken real-estate market, as people who are unsheltered are helping guard empty homes. The New Yorker

Nearly 19 million American renters could lose their homes when eviction protections expire Dec. 31. CBS News

Will the Biden Administration tackle zoning reform? City Monitor

Economy and Neighborhood Inequality

Fresno city officials expected to name Oklahoma City deputy police chief as the city’s new police chief. Fresno Bee

How long before the millions of jobs lost during the pandemic – mostly in hospitality and services – come back? Here’s what experts say. Fresno Bee

Madera County’s economy is feeling the full effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and this may continue into 2021. Survival for small businesses may depend on the industry and the size of one’s business. Fresno Business Journal

The chances of a bipartisan stimulus deal appeared to brighten on Friday as Speaker Nancy Pelosi projected fresh optimism that the House and Senate could come to terms and pass a measure to provide aid to millions of Americans who have lost their livelihood because of the pandemic. New York Times

The American economy has slowed significantly, and millions who lost their jobs because of the pandemic are yet to find work. The Labor Department reported Friday that employers added 245,000 jobs in November, fewer than half the number created in October. The pace of hiring has now diminished for five straight months. Washington Post

The California Dream Index launched on Dec. 3 by nonprofit California Forward to track the state’s fight against economic inequity shows that the state still has a lot of work to do to attain its goals. Sacramento Bee

Over the past two weeks, 193 workers at the 1,400-person Foster Farms facility in southwest Fresno tested positive for COVID-19, according to the vice president of communications for Foster Farms. Fresno Bee.

Water and Air Quality

Unpredictable wind gusts and dry conditions in Southern California are keeping Fire danger high even as crews made progress against blazes that burned several homes and injured two firefighters. Fresno Business Journal

Water managers urge patience after initial 10% allocation for the State Water Project. Bakersfield Californian

California regulator may become Biden Administration’s new EPA chief. Here’s why some environmentalists oppose the pick. Fresno Bee

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