Ruben Espinoza, a policy advocate with Fresno Barrios Unidos, speaks at the State of the People of the City event in downtown Fresno’s Cultural Arts Park on May 19, 2022. Credit: Alissa Burton / Fresno Building Healthy Communities

A week after Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer gave his State of the City speech at Chukchansi Park, community members responded with the State of the People of the City address to highlight the challenges facing the city’s working families – and to demand public engagement in the city’s budget planning process.

“The City of Fresno budget priorities must be grounded in the needs and demands and experiences of BIPOC communities, immigrants, working-class families, and unhoused community,” said Marisa Moraza, a campaign strategist with Power California, to a crowd of around 30-40 local community activists, organizers, and residents gathered at the Cultural Arts Park in downtown Fresno on Thursday.

The speakers – a mix of community advocates from Power California, Barrios Unidos, Leadership Counsel, We Are Not Invisible, and Faith in the Valley, among others – called on the city to prioritize inclusive housing policies, infrastructure needs, youth, and homelessness in this year’s budget, as well as involve the public in the budget process.

“The community knows best what the community needs and has those solutions,” said Ruben Espinoza, a policy advocate with Fresno Barrios Unidos.

During his State of the City address, Dyer announced a proposal for a new trolley service, celebrated the success of the Southwest Airlines route in Fresno, and spoke about his vision for “One Fresno.” His speech also highlighted HART, the homeless assistance response team, and Project Offramp, his effort to relocate unhoused folks from freeways into shelters while also addressing the city’s housing and public safety challenges.

But during Thursday’s “State of the People of the City” event, community advocates said the city needs to take bold action to address the housing crisis and other community needs.

“The city of Fresno does not need to repeat the mistakes of the past by making the same decisions that left our communities and families behind,” Moraza said.

What are they asking for?

Community groups named a number of priorities for the city’s upcoming budget planning process, primarily aimed at protecting renters and the housing crisis.

Among the priorities are:

  • $3 million for homeowner and rental assistance
  • $6 million per year for three years to fund a comprehensive eviction protection program, inclusive of all residents regardless of immigration status
  • A rent stabilization ordinance
  • $10 million for infrastructure and park improvements
  • $9 million for youth and community resilience centers
  • Funding for homelessness
  • More affordable housing

“For too long, predatory landlords, who don’t even live in our city, have raised our rent and made it impossible for many of us to stay in our neighborhoods and homes that we love,” Moraza said.

A youth organizer with Power California, Violet, who did not share her last name, shared her experience as a renter. Violet shared that she is able to afford rent in Clovis by living in a triplex with two to three people per room. She added that due to rising food prices, she and her roommates often skip a meal, sometimes eating only once or twice each day. ​

“I know that I’m not the exception, that I’m the rule,” she said. “This is what life is for a lot of people (in Fresno).”​

Fresno’s upcoming budget process

The city of Fresno will commence its annual city budget planning process from June 10 to June 16.

Speakers at Thursday’s event called on the city to engage in a more participatory process and to hold a workshop to teach attendees about the budget.

“The city of Fresno’s annual budget process must be as transparent, accessible, and responsive as possible,” said Espinoza.

Speakers expressed frustration at how the city handled the $171 million budget planning process for the federal American Rescue Plan stimulus funds. The city held an ARPA hearing session and sent out an online survey on how residents want the funds spent; it received 868 individual responses.

Dez Martinez, homeless advocate and founder of We Are Not Invisible, said she is “tired of yelling” at the city leaders for change and hearing, “we’re working on it.”

Community groups said they would continue to pressure the city to prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable residents.

“When we have a participatory budget process, we can create change in Fresno to better serve our communities,” Moraza said. “We need to be included, and we will be included.”

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Melissa is a labor and economic inequality reporter with The Fresno Bee and Fresnoland.