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.

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