Documenter: Heather Halsey Martinez

Here’s what you need to know

  • The Fresno Planning Commission further delayed a decision on an industrial rezone of 92.5 acres in southwest Fresno after Planning and Development Director Jennifer Clark requested the item be continued because she, “thought there would be a possibility of a compromise.” At the end of the meeting, they also heard from 11 community members opposed to the rezone due to its detrimental effects on pollution and quality of life in southwest Fresno. 

  • The commissioners approved a rezone from business park to medium density residential for approximately 7.94 acres located on North Fowler Avenue between East Shields and East Princeton Avenues. The Assemi Group will be developing market rate housing on the property.

The meeting (in full)

The Scene

The Fresno Planning Commission meeting took place on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021 at 6:00 p.m. Some of the commissioners met in the council chambers, while others joined via Zoom. The agenda states that public comments can still be submitted electronically or via Zoom. Meetings also continue to be viewable on CMAC and the City of Fresno’s YouTube channel.

Names of officials:

Kathy Bray, Chairperson (also owner of Denham Resources)

Brad Hardie, Vice Chair (also President of Regency Property Management)

David Criner, Commissioner (also pastor at Saint Rest Baptist Church)

Peter Vang, Commissioner (also Associate at Thiesen Dueker Financial Consulting Group)

Monica Diaz, Commissioner

Haley Wagner, Commissioner (also insurance agent for the Arthur J. Gallagher brokerage)

Robert Fuentes, Commissioner (also a staff attorney for the U.S. District Court in Fresno)

Bray was in council chambers and led the commission in the Pledge of Allegiance and dedicated it in memory of the lives lost in Afghanistan. 

Bray, Fuentes and Diaz were in chambers. Criner and Vang joined via Zoom with their videos on. Wagner did not respond during roll call and was not seen on the Zoom. 

Bray said they did change their bylaws to not include correspondence received after 24 hours, but they did not put that in their agenda so they will now. She said that they did receive one letter after the cut off but it will be included. 

Actions

  • Approved unanimously the agenda, continuing item 7a, a proposed industrial rezone in southwest Fresno

    • Planning and Development Director Jennifer Clark requested that the rezone in southwest Fresno be continued to a date uncertain to allow for ongoing discussions. “We believe that there might be a possibility of a compromise,” she said. 

    • Chief of Staff to the Mayor, Tim Orman, was in council chambers. “The Mayor, Councilmember Arias, myself, Jennifer and others met with the community last night,” he said. “I think we’ve got a real shot at coming up with a compromise that is a win, win, win for everybody”

    • Criner asked if they would still be allowing public comments on the southwest Fresno rezone. Clark said that unscheduled oral communications could be done at the end of the meeting.

  • Approved a rezone from business park to medium density residential, a plan amendment and environmental assessment for approximately 7.94 acres located on North Fowler Avenue between East Shields and East Princeton Avenues. 

    • Chris Lang from the Planning and Development Department presented the item. 

      • Environmental assessment was published as a mitigated negative declaration, Lang said there are no mitigations required so it was a negative declaration. 

      • He said there have been a series of applications in the past. 

    • Jeff Roberts of the Assemi Group was on Zoom. He said they concur with staff recommendations. He said they believe the medium density zoning is consistent with the surrounding area. “This will fit right in with the area,” Roberts said. 

    • Lisa Flores said she knows the Assemi Group builds a lot in Fresno. But she asked them to create walkable, central business districts, not just corner liquor stores, as well as affordable housing. 

    • Debbie Darden asked Roberts about the residential that would be built, whether it was market rate or an apartment complex. 

      • Roberts said it is only a single-family project, however the Assemi Group has developed projects to the south called Urban Neighborhoods, which have greater density. They also developed a commercial area to the west. He said these would be market rate properties and they don’t have a map developed yet, but would share it with the commission and any member of the public when they do. 

    • Bray said she is familiar with that area and everything to the east of Fowler is residential and to the west is the light industrial area so, “it would make sense to do this.” 

Bray then opened the meeting for unscheduled comments: 

  • Terry Hirschfield, superintendent of Orange Center School District, asked who the city is working with to come to a resolution and she also asked to receive notifications about all southwest Fresno planning items. She said she has asked before and it has not happened. 

  • Kathy Omachi, chair of Fresno Chinatown Preservation, called in to express concerns about Elm Avenue rezoning. “The cumulative negative impact will be detrimental to the community at-large,” she said. “We are right now trying to survive through High Speed Rail and the destruction of the historic Chinatown.” 

  • Kimberly McCoy, project director for Fresno Building Healthy Communities, expressed her dismay with the rezone item being tabled. She said she was not included in the meeting to come to a compromise and worked two years on the Southwest Fresno Plan. 

    • “You guys are making decisions without including all of the community,” she said. “For you to allow this zoning change to take place it opens up a lot of other industrial uses to move into southwest Fresno, then again we’re going to be set back another 40 years.” 

  • Madeline Howard, attorney with Western Center on Law & Poverty  speaking on behalf of Central Valley Urban Institute, said she was concerned that this was continued again. She said they did submit several letters and is concerned that some members of the community were involved in coming to a compromise, but not all community members were. 

    • “Any changes that are made to this specific plan that open the door to more industrial development, whether it’s these proposals or some other proposal, anything that allows more industrial development in this community of color that is already subject to so many environmental hazards is going to constitute discrimination on the basis of race and that is obviously something that the city can not engage in,” Howard said. 

  • Lisa Flores said, “I would like to openly ask Jennifer, Jerry and Miquel, ‘who did you meet with last night and where, in what bar?’ because typically when you go to a community and try to broker a deal it is with the community of interest and the community of interest by legal standard is everybody that’s been involved in this specific plan.” She said this is in an AB617 area where there is only a win on the side of the community. “I am just appalled at the community outreach that was done at this meeting,” Flores said. 

  • Ivanka Saunders, policy advocate for Leadership Council for Justice and Accountability, said they resubmitted their comments requesting that the rezone be denied. 

    • “This decision goes against everything that the community and stakeholders worked hard to change for the betterment of the community of southwest Fresno through this plan and the implementation process of the specific plan,” she said. “Moreover the proposed changes will also go against state law and local municipal code section c, which the city has acknowledged.” 

    • She said that SB330 requires jurisdictions to replace housing units that are lost in the case of a rezone, for example, however this has not occurred yet in this instance. She said also questionable is the CEQA findings that there would be no impacts to the surrounding community. 

  • Michaelynn Lewis, a resident of southwest Fresno, said she was on the southwest Fresno specific plan steering committee and was not notified of the meeting the night prior. She asked for full transparency and to be included in the meetings. 

    • “I would like the city of Fresno to change its narrative for once to start going forward that yes, now we are very much interested in southwest Fresno and no longer poo pooing anything that we want to do over here to advance our community, to improve our community and our health and our chances of having a long life.”

  • Kevin Hall, Fresno resident, said this sounds like, “old Fresno, back-door politics, divide the community in order to rule.” 

    • “A yes vote in the future on Elm Avenue rezone means more pollution in west Fresno, specifically more diesel garbage trucks, more diesel semi-trucks and more early death by people who are denied clean air by toxic polluters and politicians who serve them.”

    • He said the commission has been under public pressure from Councilmember Miguel Arias to bring this to the city council because, “there he can vote no and pretend to care while four others vote yes.” 

    • He said that former council member Henry T. Perea said that he failed to include SKG in his corporate lobbyist registration on file with the City of Fresno in 2020. Hall went on to say that he has been acting as an “unpaid advisor to the firm for more than a year” and during that SKG key employees and principles donated $27,500 to the Annalisa Perea campaign for city council

  • Debbie Darden, of the Golden Westside Planning Committee said they have been following this 92.5 acres and told everyone that they can call upon Arias to ask him for a public meeting about this. She said she was hoping this item would be pulled and not tabled. 

  • Sylvesta McQueen Hall, who called himself the last cotton picker, told the commissioners they had a great responsibility. He said he is going to sue the city for all the hours they spent on the steering committee of the southwest Fresno plan. 

    • “This is not a rezone, this is a racist act, “ Hall said. 

    • After talking for a few minutes, Bray cut him off to tell him his time was up before he could finish speaking. 

  • Christina Olague of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition added her opposition to the rezone to light industrial. 

    • “Allowing more industrial use would further increase the negative impacts of air pollution on our health,”Olague said. “This proposed rezone undercuts the investment in protection for this community, which was deliberately selected for this community through AB617. Alternative solutions other than rezoning this area are available to these industries and should be pursued instead.” 

The meeting adjourned at 6:57 p.m. The next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 15 and they usually occur on the first and third Wednesdays of the month.

If you believe anything in these notes is inaccurate, please email us at Documenters-admin@thefresnoland.com with “Correction Request” in the subject line.

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