What's at stake?
Busseto Foods got the green light to expand their food processing plant, amidst ongoing skepticism by community members over industrial expansion in southwest Fresno.
The Fresno City Planning Commission voted 4-1 Wednesday to approve an amendment to the Fresno General Plan to allow for the expansion of the Busseto Foods facility in southwest Fresno. Commissioner D.J. Criner was the lone “no” vote on the proposal.
The plan rezones 18.9 acres of vacant land on the southeast corner of West and Church avenues in southwest Fresno from Medium-Density Residential to Light Industrial, where Busseto Foods will build a 477,400-square-foot “campus” to consolidate all its operations under one roof.
“It’s a solid proposal,” said Fresno District 3 City Councilmember Miguel Arias, who represents the district where the facility is located. “It got unanimous support from my (District 3 Implementation) committee and from the neighborhood.”
Insisting that he’s still undecided on the proposal until it has gone through all the committees, Arias added, “It should be the framework for future proposals on how to gain support, as well as how to proactively mitigate the carbon footprint impact of a company on any community.”
Robert Mitchell, co-chair of the Golden Westside Planning Committee, and a participant in the creation of the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan process, said he supports the Busseto proposal because of all that it brings to southwest Fresno.
“That land would probably have stayed vacant indefinitely. Or you may have some unscrupulous developer who would like to come in there and claim he’ll build houses but never does,” Mitchell said. “We assess the totality of what is most beneficial. Is it better for our community? Yes.”
Because the land was zoned and planned for over 200 homes, state law requires the city to find an alternative site where those homes could theoretically be located.
Does the plan have community support?
The southwest Fresno community has always maintained that their area is already impacted by a concentration of polluting industries and has fought further location or expansion of industry in their neighborhoods.
They are still battling a proposal by a group of landowners and businesses to rezone a 92.5-acre, 15-parcel site in southwest Fresno from neighborhood mixed use to light industrial use, saying the current zoning jeopardizes the businesses’ ability to obtain financing.
Their fight to rid the neighborhood of industrial zoning culminated in the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan that re-designated industrial sites to commercial, mixed-use or office uses, giving residents more say in how current industry can operate. It was a major shift in land-use policy.
Does the Busseto proposal undermine the intentions of the area’s specific plan?
Not exactly, said Robert Mitchell, who said that had he been a voting member of the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan, he would not have supported the designation of that area – the specific location of the proposed food plant – as a residential area.
“Because that would not be a location I would want to move my family,” he said. “When I think of something for someone else, I think, ‘Would I want that for me?’ And that’s not what I would want for my family to move into an industrial area like that.”
Specifically, “given the geographical location and what was surrounding it – turning that into homes. You have that area, which is bounded on the west side by a junkyard, several junk yards,” Mitchell said. “You then have Busseto across the street, which is not going anywhere; it’s been there forever and ever. Then you have the chicken company (Foster farms) on that street, as well.”
Arias added, “For us, building single-family houses next to landfills would be a repeat of a historical mistake. You’re buffered between landfills, a major street and Jensen.”
Busseto’s environmental record
The company, which is based in Europe, “has been very proactive in mitigating and proposing a zero-carbon footprint operation, which is unprecedented for any kind of manufacturing facility, especially a food producer,” Arias said.
“The key for me,” said Arias, “is their environmental impact study” which he said concludes that the business would actually reduce its pollution footprint.
The environmental assessment filed with the application states, “There is no substantial evidence in the record that this project may have additional significant direct, indirect, or cumulative effects on the environment that are significant and that were not identified and analyzed in the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan environmental impact report.”
According to documents submitted to the Planning Commisssion, Busseto plans to build a “state of the art . . . two-story food production, warehousing, and distribution facility” to “consolidate all Fresno-based operations under one roof.”
That alone, according to Arias, would significantly reduce the company’s “pollution footprint.” Presently, the company operates four separate facilities in southwest Fresno. They’re proposing to merge those locations into one modern facility.
“What happens now is they take the meat from one facility, and they take it to another for different types of processing,” Arias said. “When they make your sausage, they store it at (Highway) 99 and Olive and then bring it back to another facility, moving diesel trucks in a circle in west Fresno, rotating within four facilities in west Fresno.”
In addition, Arias said Busseto will get rid of high-polluting vehicles. “You won’t see any diesel trucks; you won’t see any diesel forklifts; they’ll be using electric vehicles for their workers,” Arias said. “They’re building a trail around the facility. They’re not asking for any incentives. They’re not asking for any fees to be waived.”
Both Mitchell and Arias said that Busseto will create more job opportunities for residents of southwest Fresno unlike in the past when companies promise to bring jobs and fail to follow through. “So you give me a job, maybe? And I say maybe because most companies bring in their upper echelon staff from out of town when they come in,” Mitchell said. “Those are the managers and the directors who are making the top dollars.”
“Their folks are making $25 an hour with pension and health care,” Arias added. “It’s a really good job when you look at their workforce.”
At the Wednesday meeting, when Commissioner Monica Diaz asked if the jobs would be for local residents, the representative for Busseto committed to holding three to four job fairs for local residents in partnership with Fresno City College, according to Heather Halsey Martinez, who documented the event.
Will this open the floodgate for other industries?
“We will evaluate each and every circumstance individually,” Mitchell said. “When we assess any and every other entity that wishes to come, that is what we would have to do; we would have to assess it based upon where it wants to go.”
With every case, he said, “We will assess how it’s going to benefit the community”
Busseto was a special case, Arias said.
Mitchell conceded that “there are some people who were not in favor of it, and I understand their thoughts on that.”
For him though, it is about the best use of the vacant land. “When it comes down to the bottom line, and I ask, ‘Do I want to put my family right there? Would I want to put my family right here?’” he said. “No, I wouldn’t.”