Monday, August 27, 2007

Trusting Community Relationship = Good Communication

What happens when in a relationship there is a sense of mistrust because of a perceived lack of sincerity, forwardness, and commitment to open communication? Without purposeful action to remedy such apprehensions, the relationship spiral towards a dismal end where both parties are viewed as adversaries centered on destroying the other. How is this problem magnified when this relationship is between a community and those that lead them— political and social leaders? This is a dilemma facing many urban and ethnic communities across the country and Fresno is no different.

Over the summer, residents of southwest Fresno have been bombarded with scenarios and real life situations that have heaped onto years of feeling neglected, unimportant, and disregarded by their representatives at all levels of government. From gang violence to the Running Horse ‘gone wild’, the attendance at recent town hall meetings demonstrates residents’ frustration with the circumstances surrounding their quality of life. At the most recent town hall meeting hosted by Councilmember Cynthia Sterling, residents repeatedly raised concerns about the lack of communication from City Hall. Their fears regarding the Trump Running Horse, redevelopment and eminent domain stemmed from mixed messages transmitted by mainstream media. These rumors and media stories were put to rest in a truth-telling setting where Sterling, Mayor Alan Autry and current owner, Mick Evans along with a host of city officials from police, redevelopment and city management provided the community with an in-depth explanation of past and current events surrounding Running Horse.

What I heard was not that residents’ were resistant to development but objected to the fact of not knowing. For most people, one of the greatest fears is uncertainty or unpredictability. It’s what drives the purchase of insurance of any type (reallocating risk) to the value of modern technology that allows accuracy and access to information. The politics of yester generations, where information was held tight and confidential by the government leaving citizens in the dark is over. Due to technology—instant messaging, camera phones, television/radio news, the internet along the Freedom of Information Act, people can readily obtain information on just about any subject within a short period of time thus demanding its government to respond respectively.

One good outcome from the last town hall meeting was the Mayor’s commitment to continuous communication and the establishment of a community communications taskforce. The taskforce compromised of Dr. Mary Curry, Keith Kelley, Les Kimber, LaVera Williams amongst others were charged to manage the governance of the taskforce including how to increase the composition of the group and act as a liaison between City Hall and the community. Some may ask, why is direct contact the form of communication key to maintaining a respectful relationship between leaders and an urban ethnic community? Despite today’s many mediums, leaders must not forget that direct oral communication is the one that leaves residents with a sense of sincerity and the opportunity to express their concerns.

Hopefully, the taskforce will take this as an opportunity to open a true channel of communication between an often disfranchised group of residents and those with the given authority to be their voice in our representative government.

Monday, August 13, 2007

West Fresno Town Hall Meetings: Two Down, One to Go

In the past two weeks, there have been two community-driven Town Hall meetings:
  1. August 3-dealing with police brutality. Facilitated by Rev. Floyd Harris
  2. August 9- getting questions answered about Running Horse and eminent domain. Facilitated by Dr. Mary Curry and Gloria Ponche-Roderiguez.
Both were well attended by concerned residents and decision makers from the City of Fresno. The third planned Town Hall will happen this evening hosted by Councilmember Cynthia Sterling at Macedonia COGIC. The meeting's original scheduled guest included members of the Trump team before he withdrew his $30M offer. The meeting is scheduled to continue that will no doubt have carry-over questions from Augsut 9 Town Hall's crowd of 200+ residents (some attendees estimated the audience closer to over 300) about jobs, the petition to stop the closure of Kearney Blvd. or California Ave., eminent domain, and more.

To be honest I'm like many others who are on the fence regarding Running Horse and its project scope. I hope City leaders will take into consideration the overall socio-economic impact to current residents in the area, as southwest Fresno contains some of the highest levels of concentrated poverty in the country (Brooking Institute, October 2005). Will this concentration increase because low-income residents are relocated via the market or eminent domain, thus reducing the number of neighborhoods with available affordable housing? Will West Fresno become gentrified like West Oakland and the Fruitvale communities in Oakland, CA because of redevelopment where high rents forced long time residents out?

At the end of the day, the problem with being on the fence is the potential fall. Land one way and no development happens and the community remains as it has been for decades-- destitute of community amenities and deprived of economic growth. Land the other way and the community forever changes, forcing low and moderate-income families and individuals out, which perpetuates bad land use planning of the previous decades that has resulted in residents in 15 of the 26 census tracts south of Belmont living in extreme poverty (40%+) and all West Fresno tracts in moderate or extreme poverty by concentrating low-income, public and Section 8 housing into a small area. Neither has to be the case for West Fresno.

This project is a prime opportunity for us as a city and community to build a bridge between often polarizing neighborhoods through the policy and practice of mixed-income housing. This land use & development policy incorporates housing that people can afford while transforming a distressed community through the injection of market-rate housing and conscious economic development.