Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fresno's New Focus on Downtown & Revitilization

Congrats to Craig Scharton, Travis Sherdian & Elliott Balch as they began a new adventure at the City's newly formed Downtown & Community Revitalization Department. At the press conference held yesterday in downtown Fresno, Mayor-elect Swearengin announced that this new team will replace the Economic Development department.

Craig spoke to the team’s focus on great design & planning, increasing foot traffic and business districts in downtown, locally-owned businesses and community-led design in the surrounding neighborhoods (Lowell, Jefferson & West Fresno). These are all strategies mentioned in the Creative Economic Council Report that Craig along with others in Creative Fresno helped produce.

Ashley has assembled a great team with the passion and capacity to foster change in our city. Craig has been a man on a mission to revitilize downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods since being on the Fresno City Council in the 1990s. Since 2006, Craig has served as the CEO of the Central Valley Business Incubator and the Claude Laval WET Incubator that provides technical assistance for locally-owned businesses. Craig has also served as the executive director for Main Street Hanford and the Pleasanton Downtown Association, both organizations with the goal of developing and promoting the downtown community (more on Craig and the Incubator). Elliott is the current district director for Assemblymember Juan Arambula (D-31) and Chair of the Fresno Downtown Association. He spreadheaded the Association's successful Fulton Plaza Thursdays that brought thousands to the Fulton Mall for the local music & food festival. Travis is currently at the Central Valley Business Incubator with Craig as the Member Service Director and previous managed Public Relations at Astone. He is currentl the chair of Creative Fresno. But what have they gotten themselves into?

Downtown has many challenges. Fulton Mall foot traffic sometimes is one (depends on when you go). Others included finding the balance of viable businesses that respects the commitment current vendors have made while fostering an environment that encourages new enterprise into downtown.

There is a desperate need to integrate the surrounding neighborhoods into the plans for downtown as they impact the perspective and vitality of Fresno.

The Super Six?

The department will needed all the help they can get. Craig will be joined by Wilma Quan, Elaine Robles-McGraw and Elizabeth Johanson who will focus on redevelopment, neighborhood revitalization and multicultural marketing & enterprise. Elliott and Travis will focus on downtown and local small businesses. Members of the department will start on the same day Mayor Swearengin takes office on January 6.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fresno's Black Buying Power?

Annual Black Purchase Power in Fresno County?

$486 Million (Source: 2000 Census)

Based on the Selig Center for Economic Growth's estimation that national black buying would grow 34% over five years could have local buying power in 2007 more than $652 Million.

Selig estimated national black buying power to be $847 billion while minority toppled more than $2.1 trillion in 2007.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Who passed the Cheese?

The community opposes an odorous milk & cheese waste processing plant in West Fresno

On Wednesday, December 17, a group of about 30 concerned citizens and organizations won their plea before the Fresno Planning CommissionCity Hall Cottonwood Creek asking them to uphold the City's decision to not allow the southwest Fresno Cottonwood Creek South Gate facility to operate. Cottonwood Creek Consultants, a locally owned renewable technology company had operated a single cell protein production facility that processed water waste from milk and cheese industries into caloric feedstock for animals, appealed to the Commission about the revocation of their site plan.

Recently retired planning director, Nick Yovino had revoked the site plan that allowed them to operate this fall after working with Cottonwood Creek for eight months with no resolve on numerous solid waste and public nuisance violations and citations at the plant due to odor and overwhelming air-borne chemicals. The City's code enforcement department was asked by Yovino to investigate the situation after the former director, others members of city staff and the community went on a tour of the Darling International meat rendering plant in October 2007. The group noticed a significant odor that wasn't coming from Darling as it waCottonWood Creek South Gates not online at the time but from the adjacent city-owned South Gate Pre-Industrial Wastewater Plant. Yovino promised to have the situation investigated as the group noticed four uncovered pools of foaming water and milk products.

In the appeal case heard before the Commission, code enforcement officers testified under oath that the odor and the chemicals presence were so strong it was difficult for them to stomach staying on site but for a few minutes. The City also cited speaking to homeowners at the Habitat for Humanity subdivision at West & Church stating they could not open their windows due to the pervasive odor that persisted throughout the day. A neighboring business & property owner located at the corner Church & Walnut testified that he had difficult keeping employees and lost potential tenants because of the odor. The site plan was revoked due to violations of the conditions that the City was sold on by the owners that the operation would emit no odor.

The owners armed with the staff, consultants and the Central Valley Business Incubator spoke to the merits of the demonstration site and how it produced 200,000 gallons of recycled water a day available to water-starved Westland Water District for irrigation along with a resalable product from the milk waste-feedstock. One commissioner countered that the quantity of water was relatively small given that 27,000 gallons are needed to do a one inch irrigation of one acre of farm land (how did we calculate that?) and the Westlands is compromised of 600,000 acres.

The Incubator argued that the pain should be tolerated in order to support a locally headquartered company that would produce jobs (presently 18 employees) and build up the renewable/recycling industry. Members of the community countered that the smell was too profound especially in a one-mile radius of five schools (preschool-12), four churches, and hundreds of residents. Also Sarah Sharpe, Environmental Health Director from Metro Ministries and Edison High alumnus spoke to the potential unknown health hazards that the facility may present in its' open air biological processing.

The owner and regional investors also spoke to the $3 million investment they had made into the project, which they didn't expect to make a significant return for another eight years. Tate Hill, Chair of the District Three Implementation Committee stated the Edison/Southwest Fresno Merger II Advisory Planning Committee approved the project on the contingency that the site would do no harm. He was concerned about the odor's impact on the Housing Authorities' HOPE VI Project that has $20 million of federal funding along with the $100 million plus of potential commercial and housing development in the surround area.

Among the individuals that came out for the almost four hour agenda item included representatives from Community Opposing Cottonwood CreekCalifornia Rural Legal Assistance, The Concerned Citizens of West Fresno and the National Network In Action that spoke in support of the city's action. At the end, the Commission agreed the City and voted unanimous to deny Cottonwood Creek's appeal.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Racial scapegoating: Are black voters responsible for the passage of Prop. 8

Weeks after the fallout from California's passage of Proposition 8 that defines marriages between one man and one woman, opponents are blaming black voters for it's victory. According to exit polls (CNN Exit Poll), African-American's overwhelming supported the Proposition in conjunction with voting for the country's first president of color (well, let me rephrase that- self-identified black president as some argue that some past presidents had a mixed Anglo-African heritage). Black women (75%) next to Republicans (82 %), provided the most support of the proposition. So, should the victory or defeat be laid at the feet of African-American voters? Were they the deciding factor? Not really. Let's look at the facts.
Gay marriage black voters
Fact: Black don't control a major voting block in California. African-Americans only make 6% of the California electorate while white-Americans represent 70% and Latino and Asian-Americans compromise one out of five (21%) of the likely state voters (PPIC Just the Facts, August 2008).

Fact: All ethnic minorities aren't political liberal even if they identify themselves as Democrats. One of four African-Americans self-identity as conservative. Asian and Latino-Americans are more likely to identity themselves as moderates (39% of Asians) or conservatives (34% of Latinos) according to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC Just the Facts, August 2008).

Fact: Ethnic minorities and white women with children supported Prop 8. According to exit polls, Asians (49%), Latino (53%) and mothers (61%) voted for the marriage definition proposition along with 49% of whites, who represent 63% of state voters (CNN Exit Poll).
There have been stories across the country and throughout the state about gay activists and proposition opponents claiming that blacks cost gay couples their civic rights. Melissa Harris Lacewell, a African-American political professor at Yale and outspoken Obama supporter, recently on MSNBC compares this proposition to the legality of civic unions vs. gay marriage to a Jim Crow's separate but equal policies.

But even blacks part of the NO for Prop 8 understood that groups that have experienced discrimination don't necessarily support all issues labeled as civil rights-orientated. "African Americans are treated with 'a presumption of civic obligation' to support other liberal causes", said Andrea Shorter, a No on 8 spokeswoman. Some black scholars refer to the phenomenon as "exceptionalism" - a mistaken belief that because African Americans went through slavery, Jim Crow and other systematic forms of oppression, that they automatically have greater moral understanding on all issues (SF Gate, November 16, 2008).

So, what explains why blacks voted for Prop 8? Religion and faith. According to the CNN Exit Poll, 82% of those who voted yes attended church on a weekly basis, with 65 percent proclaiming to be Protestant or Catholic. In numerous surveys, 92% of black Americans say that they practice some faith or identify themselves as 'religious' (81%). Blacks represent a large block in the Baptist church (9.8 million) and count for one of out every four Muslims in the United States (American Religious Identification Survey, 2001, The Graduate Center of City University of New York). When asked in a recent Pew survey, parishioners of historically black churches (46%) and Muslims (61%), believed 'homosexuality is a way of life that should be discouraged by society'. Even with this moral belief, a majority of them voted for or leaned towards democrats, 78 and 63 percent respectively (Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life , June 2008).

Californians continue to be split about this as a moral issue that will play itself out in the California Supreme court in the following months.

READERS: What should the CA Supreme court do? Do you see the gay marriage as a civic right or moral issue? Post your comments and thoughts here.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Where were you when President-elect Obama delievered his victory speech?

I was sitting along Edison alumni Sarah Sharpe (Class of '96) in a crowd of about twenty at the Perea campaign party in the Tower District. We were huddled around a small television provided by one of the news camera crews listening with others including my Valley Black Talk co-host Julia Dudley-Najieb and Councilmember Cynthia Sterling.
There was a certain energy all about us as we cheered like other across the country that America--a country of dreamers-- made history with a resounding choice for change.

Share where you were and what you felt on Election Night.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

YES WE DID: Obama Wins the Presidency!

There were crowds of cheers, student streaming, and youth yelling "Obama" all across our city and nation when elections results came out that we as a country elected the first African-American as president of the United States (hear Valley Black Talk interviews on election night comments). Over 100,000 people filled Grant Park in Chicago as President-elect Barack Obama delivered a rousing acceptance speech that echoed "Yes We Can". Tears filled the eyes of one-time presidential candidate, Rev. Jesse Jackson who stood in the crowd celebrating an Obama Family Election Nightunquestionable victory for civic rights. Jackson later spoke to Robin Roberts of ABC's Good Morning America about the progress our country has made. "Once the walls [of race] are broken down, we can begin to build bridges". During Obama victory speech he stated that we will get there. It may be in the first year or the first term but that we will get there.

Some commentators questioned whether this election was a referendum on America's morals. Others argue with the statement that the Obama election restates the greatness of the country. This would be a great country no matter what happened but it's a better for it.

We as a country and a people are turning a new chapter in the history and evolution of America and I look forward to seeing what we will write.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Arizona Black Expo

Last week, I traveled with (BXC) to the 2008 Arizona Black Expo in Phoenix, AZ. We took the BXC Tour RV there, which was my first RV experience. Dan Gambel was right... RVs are cool! We hit the Dock Weiler State beach near LAX airport before driving across state boundaries into Arizona. After capturing a great AZ sunrise, we headed into Phoenix.

The Expo attracted about 1500 visitors to the Glendale Expo Hall, which sits next to the University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals. BlackXChange was one of about 150 vendors present along with a number of local performers from hip hop dancers, inspirational speakers, spoken word poets and new inspirational artist, Tarsha McMillian Hamilton.

BlackXChange was the official Expo internet and media host with an eight-station internet cafe and the VIP station. Hundreds learned how to connect with black-owned businesses not only in their community but across the nation as they approached the BXC station with the 38-foot RV backdrop. BXC staff video interviewed vendors and recording artist Anthony Hamilton and his wife that were broadcsted live on two huge projector screens.

Like many cities, we heard the complaints of a fragmented black community and concerns with B2B (black to black) business partnerships. For this reason, BlackXChange was well received as many signed up for free membership and several event coordinators asked when we would be back to AZ.

About Phoenix
Though Phoenix is a pretty large city (1.5 million), it has a relatively small black population at 5.1% according to the US Census. Black businesses only account for 2.1% of the approximately 92,000 firms or companies in the area.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Obama's Rap Biography

Just when John McCain thought Senator Barack Obama couldn't get any more popular, someone does a rap biography about the presumptive Democratic nominee.

The song is informative... check it out

Obama 08 (Do the Knowledge)

Track credits:
Artist: Alpha
Title: Obama '08 (Do the Knowledge)
Producer: J. Brookinz
Engineer: Warren 'Three V' Harris
Encoding: Shadowkat Nightson

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Best of Black Fresno survey

This past spring, In the Black e-newsletter, focused on providing an African-American perspective to local topics, conducted a survey administered by Constant Contact to its over 230 readers in a desire to gain an African-American perspective on leadership, civic participation, business and local market preferences. The survey entailed a series of questions asking participants to rate the performance, effectiveness and satisfaction with individuals, organizations and agencies in Fresno.

The Best of Black Fresno Survey Summary

Go to Blog Talk Radio to hear the radio program about the results that airs Monday, July 28, 2008 at 8 PM on KFCF 88.1 FM. Guest included Councilmember Cynthia Sterling and Keith Kelley.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

No PAL takeover at Frank H. Ball Park

On Saturday, July 19, 2008, Hester Ricks and other West Fresno residents looked on as they listened to Assistant City Manager Bruce Rudd and Parks & Rec. Director Randy Cooper who apologized on behalf of the City and assured listeners that Frank H Ball Park & Center would retain its services. The audience applauded as Rudd mentioned that Fresno Police Activities League (PAL) would operate in southwest Fresno but not at the Center.

Bruce Rudd compared the park's value in West Fresno to the Yankees playing in the Bronx. "Frank H Ball is like Yankee Stadium to the community", said Rudd demonstrated by the community's response to originally proposed changes.

Neighbors expressed their concerns about the maintenance of facility, new technology, and the need for staffing support. Within the hour plus of comments and suggestions, many expressed their frustrution that the City "...decides what's best for us" without consulting with the community.

"All the monies in West Fresno has been allocated to other part of Fresno. Oh course there's no money because you've built up other parts of the city and when you come here money runs out," stated Hester Ricks, a resident of the Golden West Side for over 50 years to many applauds. "We want what's due to us given to us." Hear Hester Ricks comments

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Its starts today, vote Senator Obama

We will possibly mark Tuesday, February 5, 2008 as the day that will change of course of American politics. Voters all across the country will exercise their rights in the ultimate democratic process. Over the years, many disenfranchised group within our society have felt alienated from the electoral process because they lacked representation that truly addressed the core of their needs while inspiring them to look forward to the future.

The 2008 Primary will act as an opportunity for individuals like you and I to support a candidate who challenges stereotypes and will transcend the social barriers within our country. One that will inspire both young and mature members of our community and mobilize them to see cast their vote with confidence that we are on the brink of change beyond just a catchy political phrase. I believe this candidate to be presidential hopeful, Senator Barack Obama.

One of the defining moments for me have been the numerous calls and conversations with young black men from the hood to the college campus following the details of the election— speeches, debates and previous primaries. Thousands of nontraditional voters and supporters are joining their enthusiasm in states like Idaho and Delaware where Obama drew crowds of 10-15 thousand people. But its’ more than record breaking rally attendance, raising $32M in January alone (2.5X more than Clinton) and the endorsement of the Kennedys, Oprah, and Maria Shiver. Obama has substantive plans regarding universal healthcare, access to equitable education, energy independence and a withdrawal of our troops from Iraq war that will boost our economy, provide and prepare generations to come with a higher quality of life and restore our global relationships.

But it all starts today with a casted vote for Senator Obama.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fresno's Ethnic Professionals under 40: Changing the way we think about leadership

Last week Business Street, a local business newspaper announced their list of “top business professionals in the private and public sectors in central California who are leaders in the community, and have experienced great success before the age of 40”. Of the 40 individuals listed, only nine were of color. This say one of two things: (a) this is another example of how ethnic minorities are excluded from mainstream media messages and the dominant culture’s concept of power and success; or (b) there is continued concentration of real power and influence amongst Caucasians in a community that is 55% comprised of Blacks, Hispanic/Latinos and Southeast Asians. One would hope those undesirable traits of previous generations would not be passed on as a rite of passage as our age bracket proclaims to stand at a higher level of equity and social justice.

Some satisfy their internal struggle of being perceived as socially equitable when developing comprehensive lists such as these or collecting community data by stating they aren’t aware of members of disconnected, disenfranchised or minority groups (it’s the same rationale used by those over 40 to exclude those under 40 from the conversation). OK….. why don’t you? With access to the internet, six local cambers and business associations of which four are ethnic based, and the thousands of ethnic business owners alone the age of ignorance is inexcusable. Even if none of those resources existed, one could make a good ol’ fashion telephone call to a few knowledgeable people of color in their network (there is an assumption there) as I did to come up with these individuals:

Debbie McKenzie, came to the Valley four years ago as a AmeriCore VISTA and now works under the County Administrator’s Office as the coordinator of the County of Fresno’s Gang Taskforce.

Dwayne Ferguson, owner of Overcolor Print & Design and developer of, a nationwide black business directory and search engine

Darrell Stamps & Veda Ramsay-Stamps, formerly the County Housing Manager and City Council Budget Analyst, they are now managing partners of Catalyst Development and The Ramsay Group whose clients include The California Endowment, City of Fresno, and The Redevelopment Agency and Fresno Works for Better Health. Veda is the co-chair of the City’s 10X10 Housing Taskforce.

Crystal Smith, City of Fresno management analyst who administered the City’s $9M CDBG funds now working in the Mayor’s Office as a budget analyst.

Terence Frazier, Frazier Realty. FSU and professional baseball athlete turned owner/broker/real estate developer. Terence seats on the board of the Central Valley Business Incubator.

Sandy Cha* is the local Community Development Officer for Wells Fargo Bank and sits on Wells Fargo Asian Business Services Strategic Advisory Board. Sandy is on the board of the Fresno County Women’s Chamber of Commerce and a graduate of Leadership Fresno.

Yammilette Gutierrez Rodriguez, government relations liaison for PG&E and the former Director of Admissions at Fresno Pacific University

Lawrence D. Garcia, since taking over his father’s business in 2000, he has grown AmeriGuard Security to a $4M private security company with 12 times the number of employees. AmeriGuard is one of the largest locally-Hispanic owned businesses that employs 180 Valley residents and has been featured on the Hispanic Business 500 List and in The Business Journal’s Book of List. Lawrence is the treasurer of the Central CA Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a member of Chief Dyer’s Advisory Board.

Rev. Shane Scott* is the newly installed pastor of largest African-American church in the greater Fresno area, Saints Rest Baptist Church with over 1100 members. He is overseeing an onsite 20,000 sq. ft expansion that will include a new recreational and community center. Because of his work in the SF Bay Area before moving to Fresno, he is well connected and resourced nationally.

Silas Cha is the associate director at Fresno Center for New Americans serving the Valley’s 30,000 plus refugee community. Silas leads Hmong-American Concerned Citizens and is a recognized advocate in health care and refugee-related issues. This UC Berkeley alumus is a graduate of Great Valley Center’s IDEAL program and sits on the regional advisory board for the Central Valley Health Policy Institute.

Marcus Davis & Nickolas Crawford* of Creative Solutions Marketing Group is one of the upcoming marketing solutions firms being incubated by the Central Valley Business Incubator. But don’t think these guys are beginners. With clients from CSU Fresno, Cool Hand Luke’s and the National Baptist Convention of America. Not sure if you’ve their work? Think about the Bruce Bowne Foundation, FWCED or Cooper River Ranch websites, the website and materials for the Worlds Aparts, Future Together Summit (Fall 2006), CSUF Football tickets… that’s Creative Solutions.

Tate Hill*, former Vice President of Program Services at Fresno West Coalition for Economic Development who helped bring $1.1 M of new grants to southwest Fresno, finalized the West Fresno Association serving over 350 Empowerment Zone residents with access to the Fresno County Federal Credit Union and participated in the launch of African-American micro loan fund through Valley Small Business Corporation. Tate was the founding chair of Creative Fresno and member of the Mayor’s Creative Economy Council. Currently, he is the Central Valley Vice President for Youth Leadership Institute.

* under 30

Monday, January 14, 2008

Fresno MLK Events- 2008

click poster for larger view

Graffiti Walls "What Will I Commit to do to Fulfill the Dream?"
Think of this Holiday as a day to ACT! Write your commitment to action on one of our Graffiti Walls.
Date(s): January 15-18 2008
Location(s): Free Speech Area, University Courtyard, USU Pavilion @ CSU Fresno

Dr. King's Birthday Tribute to Dr. King and Acknowledgement of the 100th Anniversary of the founding of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
(The Sorority of Coretta Scott-King)
Date: Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Time: 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.
Location: Free Speech Platform
@ CSU Fresno
Speakers: University President John D. Welty, Associated Students President Juan Pablo Moncayo, Black Student’s United President Dalitso Ruwe and Assistant Vice-President Joyce Ester

Poetry Jam!
Come hear local and regional poets, musicians and performing artists give tribute to Dr. King.
Date: Friday, January 18, 2008
Time: 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Location: Satellite Student Union (SSU) @ CSU Fresno

Contact for CSU Fresno Events: Central Valley Cultural Heritage Institute at CSU Fresno

23rd Annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Breakfast
Enjoy a delicious breakfast, wonderful speakers, and musical performances.
Start Date: 1/19/2008
End Date: 1/19/2008
Time: Breakfast: 8:30am, Program: 9:30am
Location: Clovis Veteran's Memorial Building Independence Room - 453 Hughes Ave.
Contact Info: Fresno MLK Unity Committee: Caroline Carlson - (559) 324-2416

23rd Annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Candlelight Vigil
Enjoy a variety of community speakers and musical performances.
Start Date: 1/20/2008
End Date: 1/20/2008
Time: 5:00 - 6:00pm
Location: First Congregational Church, 2131 N. Van Ness, Fresno
Contact Info: Fresno MLK Unity Committee: Dr. David Howard - (559) 277-9552

23rd Annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. March
Start Date:
Time: March begins 9:30am,
Location: St. John Cathedral, 2814 Mariposa Ave to Saroyan Theatre, 700 "M" St.
Contact Info: Fresno MLK Unity Committee: March & Food Drive - James Lett lll - (559) 284-6420

23rd Annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Program
Commemorate the contributions of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by marching from St. John Cathedral to the Saroyan Theater. Listen to local leaders honor Dr. King at the steps of City Hall and conclude with an inspiring program of local talent. The march also supports a food drive to end childhood hunger, with donated food being collected at the church.
Start Date: 1/21/2008
End Date: 1/21/2008
Time: March begins 9:30am, Commemoration Program 11:00am
Location: St. John Cathedral, 2814 Mariposa Ave / Saroyan Theatre, 700 "M" St.
Contact Info: Fresno MLK Unity Committee: Commemoration Program - Julia Dudley - (559) 352-1444