Archive · Fresno

Chukchansi Park, the political football, is back

On Jan. 30, 2001, the council (as RDA board) spent $267,300 to demolish six old houses for Phase II of the Regional Medical Center expansion project. (Remember the days when our Downtown hospital was essentially a single building? How soon we forget.)

The council that same day got the ball rolling on a reform of the 25-year-old Urban Growth Management fee program. (This would lead to a scrapping of the clunky and outdated UGM program, replaced by the development impact fee program that will soon be updated.)

Over the next five months, the council debated curfews for minors to deter crime; picked a clean fuel for FAX buses; bought concrete and steel for the stadium; spent $3.5 million for Downtown parking needs; started a Downtown streetscape beautification program; hired a consultant to redesign Fulton Mall; directed the administration to negotiate with the Ophelia family for a parcel next to the New Exhibit Hall so someone could build a 400-room hotel; jump-started efforts to get a federal Empowerment Zone designation; initiated the public review of the new 2025 general plan (the first such plan in 18 years) that, according to Perea in the minutes, “would rebuild the inner core to provide for a healthy community”; welcomed new City Manager Dan Hobbs; suggested that Hobbs consider a hiring freeze because a severe downturn in the national economy (the dot.com bust) was hurting local finances; and, at Perea’s urging, advised the administration to build a pipeline from the Friant-Kern Canal to the proposed Northeast Surface Water Treatment Plant.

In one way or another, all these issues would be front and center throughout Autry’s eight years as mayor and the seven-plus years of current Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s time in office. This isn’t to say the City Council of 2001 was perfect. It is to say the City Council of 2001 can make a case that it was (to use the title of former Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s memoir) “present at the creation” of modern Fresno.

Before I get to the council’s most important act from the first half of 2001, let me add a small, seemingly insignificant item from the Feb. 26 minutes.

To wit: “Councilmember Boyajian noted the City would be losing the Fresno State (men’s) basketball team and stated the success of the Fresno Falcons and the Grizzlies showed there was support, and made a motion to approve his request.”

That request was to have City Hall send a letter to the National Basketball Association informing the NBA of the city’s interest in having the NBA develop a team in Fresno.

Sure, the idea was a long shot. But Boyajian’s thinking reveals the unique pressures that City Hall faced in the early years of this century. The city had a lot invested in the Convention Center. Fresno State was finishing construction of the Save Mart Center. Indian gaming in the area was taking off, and with that came more entertainment options. Elected officials couldn’t be paralyzed by indecision. They didn’t have time to seek the perfect solution to every challenge. That was the province of armchair generals.

Now we come to the council meeting of May 15, 2001. It was here that a second Great Stadium Vote occurred.

At issue was 1.) authorization to issue $46 million in construction bonds, and 2.) selection of a general contractor.

Things got complicated because of the Grizzlies’ timeline. The team wanted to play its first home game on May 1, 2002. It would cost more money to get the stadium built that fast. In the end, the council voted to spend the extra money.

Two things are worth noting from the meeting’s minutes.

First, Robert Baida from the City Manager’s Office told the council that it wasn’t too late to erase the City Council’s decision of Oct. 17, 2000.

The minutes: “Mr. Baida stated for the record (that) Council also had the options of rejecting all bids and terminating the lease with the Diamond Group because it was over budget ….”

Second, neither of the two council votes was unanimous but that was only because members disagreed on the best day for the stadium’s opening day. The minutes make clear that all seven council members supported the stadium idea.

So, who voted to build the stadium? The answer: Garry Bredefeld, Henry Perea, Dan Ronquillo, Sal Quintero, Tom Boyajian, Brad Castillo, Jerry Duncan and Brian Calhoun.

At one time or another, the council member for each of Fresno’s seven districts, duly elected by the voters, strongly supported the building of the nearly $50 million baseball stadium that now sits at Tulare and H streets.

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

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