Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer, right, listens as Aaron Aguirre, Director of Parks, After School, Recreation and Community Services for the City of Fresno explains details about possible annexation of the community of Calwa during a Calwa Recreation & Park District board meeting Tuesday evening, Oct. 18, 2022 in Calwa. Dyer explained annexation of residential areas could have benefits for Calwa but it would be up to the community. Credit: Eric Paul Zamora / Fresno Bee

Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer won’t pursue a controversial plan to annex the unincorporated community of Calwa and reversed his position, just days after publicly apologizing to local community leaders for botched communication.

But, in a statement to The Bee on Tuesday, Dyer also left the door open to changing his mind again.

“I continue to believe that the annexation of Calwa would be a benefit for the residents of Calwa,” Dyer said in the statement; “however, after hearing community feedback, I have decided not to continue pursuing this action.”

The idea that Fresno would annex a portion of the county island of Calwa into the southeast part of the city surfaced in July during negotiations around the renewal of Measure C, a half-cent Fresno County sales tax that funds new roads, freeways, sidewalks, trails and public transportation in the county. There are approximately 1,776 residents in Calwa, according to 2020 census data.

During Measure C negotiations, Dyer proposed annexing a 119-acre, largely residential portion of Calwa to offset the deficit Fresno County would see under the city’s proposed Measure C spending plan.

It wasn’t immediately clear how Tuesday’s news would affect the Measure C debate. Fresno County residents will vote on a 30-year renewal plan for the measure on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Tuesday’s announcement marked a stark change of opinion from just a week ago when Dyer met with the Calwa Recreation and Park District board of directors to discuss annexation. During that Oct. 18 meeting, Dyer apologized for the mismanaged communication of the Calwa annexation process.

He also reaffirmed his commitment to annexing a portion of the county island of Calwa because, he said at the time, it was “the right thing” to do.

In that same meeting, Dyer also pledged to annex Calwa regardless of whether Measure C passes next month.

Some Calwa community leaders were surprised to hear that Dyer had changed his mind.

In an interview with The Bee on Tuesday, Laura Moreno, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of Calwa, said she the mayor’s comments don’t match what she’s hearing from Calwa residents.

Friends of Calwa, she said, is knocking on doors and conducting surveys to get feedback from residents on whether they’re interested in annexation.

Based on preliminary feedback, Moreno said Calwa residents are largely “interested.”

Moreno asked: “what community reached out to him that didn’t want it? What did he do that he’s getting feedback from the community to say that they don’t want it?”

The mayor’s decision doesn’t seem to deter other city officials in their efforts to engage Calwa residents.

In a statement to The Bee, Councilmember Luis Chavez, whose District 5 surrounds Calwa, said that his “commitment to the Calwa community continues.”

“My office will go door to door and survey the residents that live there and respect their voice in this matter,” he said. “My position was, is and will continue to be that any annexation of county island into the city should be initiated by the residents that live in those communities.​”

In his statement Tuesday, Dyer also appeared open to changing his mind yet again, saying he would be willing to “further explore this option” and would meet with residents and the Board of Supervisors “should this be a desire.”

Moreno said she was especially confused because she said the mayor had committed to attending their next Calwa community meeting to answer residents’ questions. She said the mayor’s abrupt decision would not change her plans to pursue Calwa annexation.

“We met with him and he was all gung-ho about it, and now all of the sudden he’s not wanting to do it?”

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

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