What's at stake:
Southwest Fresno residents say that their community is already impacted by a concentration of polluting industries and that the rezone would undermine the integrity of the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan.
When the Fresno City Council began its hearing on the application by developers to rezone 92.5-acre, 15-parcel site in southwest Fresno from the current Neighborhood Mixed Use zoning to Light Industrial Use, the potential outcomes seemed straightforward.
The council had four options: to approve, to reject, to table, or to approve with modifications.
The council members went beyond their options, and by the time the session ended, the council had voted 7-0 to support a motion by Miguel Arias, essentially combining a part of his 11th-hour compromise plan with parts of the overlay plan, proposed by Mayor Jerry Dyer in December.
About 25% of the original 92.5 acres, including the tracts on the east side of Elm Avenue between Annandale and Vine avenues, has been rezoned to industrial.
In addition, the council tasked Jennifer Clark, the city’s director of planning and development, to meet with the community and the business owners and come up with an overlay plan that would be acceptable to both groups. She has 90 days.
“And the council will make a decision, whatever the parameters of that overlay will be,” Councilman Garry Bredefeld said. “ If they [community and businesses] do not have agreement with it, the council will make the determination exactly what will be encompassed in that overlay.”
Several community members expressed disappointment after the vote.
“The council decision is not a compromise for our community,” Robert Mitchell, co-chair of the Golden West Side Planning Committee and a southwest Fresno resident. “[Miguel Arias] completely went against the wishes of his constituents who have spoken vehemently in opposition to it.”
Before the surprise ending, speaker after speaker, some representing business as well as people from the southwest Fresno area, had pleaded with the Fresno City Council to approve or reject the application to rezone the 92.5-acre, 15-parcel site in southwest Fresno from the current Neighborhood Mixed Use zoning to Light Industrial Use.
“This is an age-old story –influential people buying land in the poorest areas of our cities, and then building businesses that help them maintain their rich lifestyles,” said Booker T. Lewis, senior pastor of the Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in southwest Fresno and a liaison for the southwest Fresno community, in opposition to the rezoning application. “They live in other places. They do not live in the area that I live in.”
Dennis Woods, chairman and president of United security bank, the only bank headquartered in downtown Fresno, asked the council to vote in favor of the rezoning.
“If we lose the zoning and we lose the tenants, the values will drop,” Woods said. “They [the businesses] will not be able to get financing, and so that will just become the next blighted Park. It’s very important that we get the zoning back.”
The applicants, consisting of landowners, business owners and developers, including Mid Valley Disposal, Madera developers Peter Stravinski and represented by attorney John Kinsey — asked that the Fresno City Council uphold a decision made by the Fresno City Planning Commission in May to advance the application to rezone the 92.5-acre, 15-parcel site in southwest Fresno from the current Neighborhood Mixed Use zoning to Light Industrial Use because the present zoning jeopardized the businesses’ ability to obtain financing.
The southwest Fresno community, on the other hand, remained singularly focused on — defending the integrity of the Southwest Pacific plan, “because we believe it is what residents want for our community,” Pastor B.T. Lewis said.
“A lot of what we tried to do through this specific plan was to ensure that the future development of our community would be one that does not burden us again with heavy industry adjacent to residential,” Robert Mitchell, co-chair of the Golden West Side Planning Committee, said in an earlier interview. “The integrity of the [SWFSP] plan is very, very important.”
‘It’s important to my community’
They say that their community is already impacted by a concentration of polluting industries and that the rezone would undermine the integrity of the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan, approved in October 2017 by the Fresno City Council after a two-year process involving a 21-member steering committee and hundreds of community members.
Of that Southwest Fresno Specific Plan, Dr. Venice Curry, resident of southwest Fresno, reminded council members during Thursday’s hearing how they had embraced it.
“When we brought the Southwest Specific Plan for its adoption in 2017. it was voted on unanimously . . . at that time you said, ‘of course, it makes sense to invest in an area that we have purposely and intentionally not invested in, to the extent that their health and welfare and economic lives have been changed and altered generationally’.”
Curry focused on “the health issues that are so prominent and so predominant in West Fresno” that result from short term and long term exposure to chronic pollution, over the course of a life cycle, “interrupts not only the preconception, but preterm birth, infant mortality, maternal mortality as well as early and excessive premature deaths.
“I’m a physician, and it’s important to me,” Dr. Curry said. “But it’s important to my community.”