City Councilmembers Miguel Arias, Luis Chavez and Nelson Esparza called for infrastructure improvements during a press conference held outside of the Christy’s Donut shop on Belmont Avenue and Fresno Street on Friday, June 1, 2023. Credit: Melissa Montalvo / Fresno Bee/Fresnoland

What's at stake?

Some Fresno city councilmembers criticized Mayor Jerry Dyer's budget, saying it doesn't do enough to "reprioritize the neighborhoods that have been overlooked by previous administrations."

Days ahead of the city of Fresno’s budget hearings, some city council members are warning that Mayor Jerry Dyer’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year is “dead on arrival” — and are calling for greater investments in street repairs in the city’s oldest neighborhoods.

On Friday, City Councilmembers Miguel Arias, Luis Chavez and Nelson Esparza renewed their push for an infrastructure proposal they’ve dubbed “Rebuild Fresno.” The initiative, which the trio first announced in 2021 in response to the mayor’s budget, calls for a five-year strategic plan to repair sidewalks and roadways, especially in central and south Fresno neighborhoods.

During a press conference held outside of Christy’s Donut shop on Belmont Avenue and Fresno Street, Esparza said the “number one” issue he hears about from residents is the city’s “crumbling” infrastructure.

“We need the mayor’s administration to work with council during this year’s budget cycle to reprioritize the neighborhoods that have been overlooked by previous administrations,” he said.

“In our opinion, this budget comes up short, particularly with investing in the disadvantaged neighborhoods of south Fresno,” Chavez said. “Today is a reminder for our community, for the mayor, for the administration that we still have a lot of work to do.”

Chavez said some south Fresno streets have not been repaved since 1955.

Arias said he wanted to see streets such as the intersections of Shields and Valentines avenues prioritized, as well as Braly and Van Ness avenues in downtown Fresno, and the Tower District area between McKinley and Olive avenues. In the latter area, Arias said the streets have “cracks so big” that neighbors use the herbicide Roundup to kill the grass that grows between them.

And he didn’t mince his words about Dyer’s budget, which he called “dead on arrival.”

The mayor should expect “hundreds of changes” to his budget, Arias said, because “it simply just grows the bureaucracy of city hall and deemphasizes the needs and the rebuilding of our existing neighborhoods.”

What does Dyer’s budget do for Fresno streets?

Last month, Dyer released his proposed budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

One key component of the record $1.85 billion proposed budget — the largest in the city’s history — is an entire team dedicated to repairing potholes.

“There are no dedicated pothole teams in Fresno,” Dyer said during his budget announcement, which included almost $1.8 million to establish this full-time team in the public utilities department.

But Arias said Friday that the focus on filling potholes is a “Band-Aid” solution that ignores the challenge of rebuilding older parts of the city.

“The fact is,” he said, “simply filling a pothole is not good enough for a city of our size.”

This proposed pothole team comes four months after Dyer previously announced a $700,000 investment to repair city potholes in January. The winter storms and atmospheric rivers in December and January brought rains that wreaked havoc on Fresno streets, which, without more investment, run the risk of falling into chronic disrepair, city leaders said at the time.

In addition to the pothole team, there is nearly $28 million allocated for street maintenance in the proposed budget, which represents an increase of over $3 million compared to last year’s budget.

Scott Mozier, Fresno’s head of public works, said during a January press conference that a consultant’s report showed one-third of streets are in good repair, one-third in fair condition and one-third in poor or very poor shape.

Councilmembers on Friday did not have a specific budget request as part of their Rebuild Fresno initiative. However, Mozier said in January that street repairs are a long-term budget issue and estimated the amount of deferred maintenance on city streets at $505 million.

Chavez said that one of the motions that city council will put forth this coming week is to “institutionalize” the Rebuild Fresno initiative into policy with a framework that guides the priorities and goals for repairing and rebuilding streets in these older neighborhoods.

“That,” he said, “did not happen two years ago.”

Some say Fresno streets need to be “completely repaved”

Helen Myers, a volunteer with Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church on Belmont Avenue, said in an interview with The Bee following the press conference that streets throughout the city need to be “completely repaved.”

“My tires have hit some of the potholes so hard sometimes, it frightens me,” she said.

She said she’s noticed the rain made the potholes bigger, and worries street racing also damages streets.

Myers said she has tried calling the city to request trimming of city trees on public sidewalks. After months of waiting, the trees have still not been trimmed, she said.

Helen Myers, a volunteer with Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church on Belmont Avenue, said that streets throughout the city need to be “completely repaved.” MELISSA MONTALVO Fresno Bee/Fresnoland

“You can never get anything done,” she said, and she fears the same goes for potholes.

“They’ll come out here and they’ll mark the street, they put the cones out, they say they’re gonna work on them,” she said, “but no.”

The city of Fresno’s budget hearings start Monday at 10:00 a.m. in the council chambers.

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

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