The Busseto Food plant in Fresno

What's at stake?:

Many at the hearing argued that approving this plant undermines the integrity of the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan.

The Fresno City Council voted 6-1 to approve an amendment to the Fresno General Plan to allow for the expansion of the Busseto Foods facility in southwest Fresno Thursday. Councilman Karbassi  was the lone “no” vote on the proposal.

The council voted to rezone 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.

“I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the council in their vote, realizing that the area was not one suitable for residential location,” said Robert Mitchell, co-chair of the Golden West Side Planning Committee and a southwest Fresno resident.

But Brunette Harris, a 65-year-old southwest Fresno resident, disagrees.  

“This is a Southwest Fresno Specific Plan issue, and what they’re doing is, they’re basically taking bits and pieces out of [SWFSP],” Harris said after the vote. “You can’t just vote on one thing and not include the specific plan.”   

Harris is a member of HEAT (Hope-Effort-Appropriately-Thriving in Southwest Fresno), a group that focuses on “informing our community” to become familiar with what’s going on.

Councilmember Miguel Arias, who represents the area where the plant will be located, said he is glad that the city council “corrected a past mistake that zoned property by a landfill, a poultry plant, and a rendering plant for single family development.” 

“Not even an attorney general would want to live next to those uses, and this (vote) allows a $250 million modern facility that will be state-of-the-art and a premier example on how we can do food processing in an eco-friendly way,” Arias said.

About 15 members of the public commented on this matter; only two – attorney John Kinsey who represents the group that seeks to rezone 92.5 acres of land in southwest Fresno and a landowner in the disputed area – spoke in favor of approving the Busseto application.

Others, including Ivanka Saunders of Leadership Counsel and and Nisha Vyas of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said the rezoning would severely impact an already overburdened population.

“The approval of this rezone will be confirmation to the communities of southwest Fresno, where it is majority residents of color, that again, this city does not truly believe that they matter, nor have the same right to a healthy way of life,” Saunders said.

Why this rezone application got some 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.

The city council will also take up the  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.

On Wednesday, Mitchell had discussed why he supported the Busseto Foods application while opposing industrial expansion in the southwest Fresno neighborhood.

Mitchell’s reasons for supporting the 18.9-acre rezone include: that the Busseto plant “will not put any pollutants from its operation,” hence “a greener facility.“  The organization has “also committed to partner with our community,” Mitchell said and has been making contributions to support “one of the older recreational centers in our community which has been neglected by the city.”  

Mitchell said the most compelling reason is the location of the property which had been  under consideration for possible future housing.

“I don’t think anyone should support housing that is surrounded by salvage yards and across the street from a set of plants that are already there in operation that are highly polluting,” he said.

Mitchell added that to ensure other industries do not read the approval of the Busseto plant as an open invitation, “We intend to be vigilant and make sure that what occurs within our community is what’s in the best interest for our community. In every aspect, economically, and most certainly, as the health issue from further pollution.”

On what’s next for the plant, Arias said, “They get to break ground now, because we not only approved their rezone, but we approved their development permit, so they get to break ground as soon as this year.”

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Dr. Dympna Ugwu-Oju is the senior editor for Fresnoland.

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