West Fresno fight to change stigma of poverty and crime, they demand revitalization

Residents in west Fresno fight for change

Fresno, Calif. - Residents in West-Fresno have not seen much investment in their community and now residents are fighting for revitalization.

Longtime resident Mary Curry says the historically African American community has high crime and poverty levels because of the lack of investment.

"if you got something to do you got to leave your community to do it," said Curry. "it's very difficult for people to pull themselves up if they are caught up in a situation where housing is not right and jobs are not available."

The lack of housing and jobs is due to a decision made decades ago to zone the Westside as industrial.

"If you wanted to put houses in a certain place in southwest Fresno it was not zoned appropriately," said Oliver Baines, Council Member of the area. "So what you would have to do as a developer is pay a lot of money to re-zone it and do the environmental studies."

Baines says that process could cost up to $500,000.

"So not only do we have the bad stigma of being southwest Fresno, but in a very real way our projects actually cost more to do business than in any other part of the city," said Baines.

That's why last December city council unanimously passed the Southwest Specific Plan, it revised the industrial zoning regulations.

"you may see an old zoning area that was heavy industrial well now it's business," said Baines.

Because of that plan a community college is now in the works to be built on the lot across from Gaston Middle School.

Also the unfinished portion of the old Running Horse Golf Course will soon become single family homes.

"With this new plan they are going to be forced to take some serious actions about bringing this area up to par," said Curry.

Last year the Governor signed his Transformative Climate Communities bill in Fresno.

It's a $140-million piece of legislation to create density and cleaner air in heavy impoverished areas.

Fresno was awarded to $70-million because the westside is considered the number one polluted area in the state.

Curry hoped with the Southwest Specific Plan and this money they'd finally get the investment they desperately need, but she soon found out there's a catch.

In a hearing at Saint Rest Baptist Church with Randall Winston who's on the Sacramento team that handles the money.

Residents found out the state stipulates that the money must be used within a one mile radius of the bullet train hub to be built on Mariposa and H street.

That rule in place would leave out the majority of "93706" zip code, which is area that caused Fresno to get the $70-million.

"Since it was based on the poverty level in this community, then it should be spent to improve the quality of life in this community," said Curry.

"I'm not saying she doesn't have a valid concern, but in my opinion it's a short sided approach," said Lee Brand, Mayor of Fresno.  

Brand believes most of the money should be used downtown within a one mile radius of the bullet train like the state requires.

He says it will bring in new businesses, which will bring in new long-term tax revenue that could be used to revitalize the westside and the entire city.

"The retail, the shopping centers, the pharmacies, the grocery stores it will come," said Brand.

Residents who attended the hearing at St. Rest Baptist Church spent two hours trying to convince Winston that if the state doesn't change that stipulation their community will be left out and not receive any investment at all.

"We are still finalizing the guidelines, so there is absolutely hope and we will take those comments into consideration," said Winston, Executive Director, Strategic Growth Council.

Curry hopes Winston convinces the board to change their policy so her community can get a much needed makeover.

"You can't continue to count poor people, gain funds and go spend it somewhere else.

residents will find out if the high speed rail one mile radius stipulation will be taken out of the guidelines when the final draft is released..
that's expected to happen sometime in june or july
 


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