Understanding how to become involved in local decision-making processes was difficult for Tony Quezada, a Fresno kid’s soccer coach, until he joined the Community Land Use Academy.
The program teaches Fresno residents how they can affect land use and urban planning policies in Fresno.
For Quezada, finding a safe space where his team can practice is difficult. If he can’t reserve space at a middle school gym or Boys and Girls Club, he has to find a park they can use.
While there are plenty of parks to choose from, not all have lights or a field. Quezada sometimes lets his team practice in the dirt if they are lucky enough to practice while the sun is out. However, practice is often canceled during the fall and winter because there aren’t enough spots with lights for everyone.
When Quezada realized how little green space there was in Fresno, he wanted to change that but didn’t know where to start. He noticed that smaller cities like Lemoore and Hanford had sports complexes and plenty of green space community members could use.
Although Fresno has a sports complex and parks of its own, Quezada says a city the size of Fresno needs more.
“That kind of got me going, so me and a friend started getting involved,” Quezada said.
They started the Fresno Parks Advocates United to push for park maintenance and renovation and additions like multi-use courts.
Advocacy was difficult at first as Quezada felt he didn’t know who to talk to to make these changes or how he could speak to them.
Quezada then joined the Community Land Use Academy to learn more about how he could continue to initiate changes. After completing the Community Land Use Academy, Quezada said he better understands the most efficient ways to advocate for his community.
“There’s a lot of things I learned, but I think the main one is that if you want to get something done, you’ve got to unite your people in your neighborhood or in your city and just do community organizing,” Quezada said. “I think that’s the best way to actually move a project into fruition.”
For those looking for a way to learn more about civic engagement, these three programs are increasing participation in local government and communities.
Community Land Use Academy
Every Neighborhood Partnership’s Community Land Use Academy (CLUA) is a series of neighborhood boot camps where participants learn about Fresno’s land use and urban planning and how they can influence the city’s development.
Land use policies and development decisions affect transportation networks, environmental health, the location and type of housing, and residents’ overall quality of life. These decisions and policies can cause economic, health, and housing disparities. Urban planning and other land development processes can often seem too complex or full of barriers for residents to engage with them.
That’s where CLUA steps in.
“All the injustices that we can name, they all come back to land and who’s in control of land and space,” said Ivan Paz, the Community Land Use Academy coordinator. The main goal is really to help the students see that power is in the land and that we have the power to change things.”
Each neighborhood boot camp has a cohort of eight to sixteen participants. Boot camps feature eight sessions – one orientation, six information sessions, and one celebratory session – over an eight-week period, with one session each week.
Sessions are held in person and online. Informational sessions feature panelist discussions about urban planning, how Fresno developed, and how to identify issues within Fresno. Sessions will also include practical activities and discussions.
The program will best serve residents whose main goal is to learn how to organize their community.
The first neighborhood boot camp began in May. The next one is set to begin in July. Every Neighborhood Partnership plans to host three neighborhood boot camps in 2023.
For more information about the Community Land Use Academy or how to apply, contact coordinator Ivan Paz at email@example.com.
The Civic Academy, hosted by Mayor Jerry Dyer’s Office of Community Affairs, aims to teach Fresno residents how their city’s government functions.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know how our city government works. They don’t know the jurisdictions of, you know, county versus city versus state,” said Alma Martinez, the Office of Community Affairs immigrant affairs liaison. “Being aware of things and just knowing where to direct your concerns about anything in your neighborhood in your city can make a difference when it comes to you being an active citizen in your neighborhood, in your city.”
After finishing the Civic Academy, participants will know how Fresno’s city government functions, how to understand city council agendas, engage with their elected officials and participate in public comment sessions or forums. This knowledge will prepare participants to engage with the local legislative process or take roles on municipal boards and commissions.
The first session, held last fall, only had 25 participants. Now, Martinez says they take up to 90 participants per session.
The Civic Academy meets on Wednesday evenings once a month. Meetings are two hours long and can be attended in person or virtually. At meetings, participants can expect to hear from department leads for economic development, planning and development, public works, utilities, and police and fire departments.
The next session will run from September to December. Residents hoping to participate can sign up online beginning in late July. For more information, contact the Office of Civic Affairs at OCA@fresno.gov.
The Fresno Documenters program trains and pays community members to document local government meetings.
Dozens of government meetings are conducted each month, and most aren’t covered by local news agencies. It can be hard for residents to attend their local government meetings when meetings are held during the work day or only held in person.
The Documenters program helps fill this gap in government coverage.
“In a time when our local news coverage is so diminished when local newspapers no longer have the resources to send their own staff reporters to cover public meetings … Documenters fill this need by letting citizens help other citizens know exactly what is going on at the local level, in detail, with transparency, and commitment to community,” said Rachel Youdelman, who documents the Clovis City Council and the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.
Documenters don’t need to have any formal training in journalism. After joining the program, Documenters are taught the ethics of journalism, how to interview people, and the best ways to cover meetings.
Applicants from diverse backgrounds are welcome. People who hold elected or appointed public office seats cannot be a Documenter.
Documenters are paid $20 an hour to cover meetings – most Documenters spend one to four hours on their assignments.
Since the creation of its first cohort in 2020, Fresnoland Documenters have covered over 500 local meetings in Fresno, Madera, Kings, and Tulare counties.
The program expanded in 2022 by joining the City Bureau’s Documenter’s Network, a group of nine cities nationwide paying residents to cover their local meetings.
Although the Fresno Documenters cover a wide variety of meetings throughout the central San Joaquin Valley every month, Documenters Program Manager Heather Halsey Martinez says the coverage of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors is the most read.
“I’ve learned that a lot of decisions are made during these meetings that the general public aren’t aware of. There isn’t a lot of media coverage on the changes that get decided at these meetings,” said Dani Huerta, Tulare County Board of Supervisor documenter. “I like that I can help people learn more about what’s going on in their community. Sometimes meetings don’t even have minutes. The Documentors program allows people who can’t attend these meetings to learn in detail the changes being made in their city or county.”
To become a Documenter, create a profile at Documenters.org. After completing an orientation session, Documenters will be allowed to sign up to cover available meetings. Although there are not currently any upcoming orientation sessions, those interested should apply to join the interest list.
For more information, email Heather Halsey Martinez at firstname.lastname@example.org.