Fresno City Hall in early 2019 is busy making complex decisions involving limited resources and unlimited demands.
In this particular blog, I’ll be discussing the political minefields that are Parks and Southeast Fresno development.
I’ll set the stage with a look at an item on the City Council’s Jan. 31 consent calendar. The council without comment approved a $67,975 contract with Milton Design Group to prepare a master plan for Quigley Park (or Quigley Playground).
Quigley is on Dakota Avenue, between Fruit and West avenues in West-Central Fresno. The tony neighborhood of Old Fig Garden is a 15-minute walk to the east. But for the most part the immediate Quigley neighborhood has serious social and economic challenges. If, as green-space advocates claim, good parks featuring strongly supported community services can redirect the future of forlorn neighborhoods, then Quigley clearly is ripe for public investment. Melton Design will help us get a sense of what’s needed.
The eight-acre Quigley Park is in Council District 1, represented by Esmeralda Soria.
The staff report says of Melton’s mission:
“The scope of work includes: (a) community engagement activities for the purpose of building community consensus on the programming and park amenity needs of the neighborhood; (b) preparing a detailed and developed design plan with programming, park design, and site character based on public comment; (c) preparing two formal and comprehensive concept designs; and (d) providing an engineer’s estimate of probable costs for both designs.”
City officials expect Melton’s work to be done in six to nine months.
The Quigley project would have been overseen (if not actually directed) by a new Parks Commission had the contentious Measure P sales tax initiative been approved by voters in last November’s general election. The wounds from the Measure P campaign continue to fester in much of Fresno. The Quigley/Melton deal is another signal that the Administration of Mayor Lee Brand is trying hard to show its commitment to the overall Parks Master Plan with the funds at hand.
But the failure of Measure P (an ample majority of voters said yes, but not the necessary two-thirds) also means taxpayers won’t be infusing annually some $40 million of new money into the local Parks/Arts system. That’s a lot of potential resources, gone before it ever got there. Mayor Brand and the council must be bold and creative to at least partially fill the funding gap, thus keeping the hounds of political discontent at bay.
Which brings us to the upcoming Feb. 13 meeting of the Housing and Community Development Commission (HCDC). The commissioners will have before them a proposed slice of the funding for the proposed Fancher Creek Senior Housing project.
The commissioners will hold a public hearing on a proposed amendment to the current plan for spending federal Community Development Block Grant funds. The city’s Development and Resource Management Department (DARM) wants to reprogram $2,259,784 of CDBG funds.
The staff report to the HCDC says the feds want CDBG recipients to spend the money in a timely manner. Fresno allocates its CDBG money each year to a lot of recipients. Some of those projects are experiencing delays. The rules allow a recipient such as Fresno City Hall to send money allocated to delayed projects elsewhere as long as “elsewhere” meets federal criteria.
The commissioners will make a recommendation to the City Council on the proposed reprogramming of $2.26 million of CDBG funds. The commissioners, in essence, are a sounding board for what could be a controversial issue.
Where would the $2.26 million go? Where would the money come from?
The staff report says: “CDBG funds in the amount of $2,259,784.43 are proposed to be reprogrammed for land acquisition and acquisition related costs for the Fancher Creek Senior Housing Project. The property to be acquired is located on Clovis Avenue and Tulare Avenue in southeast Fresno. The affordable senior housing will include 180 housing units.”
Fancher Creek in local development circles has become shorthand for Ed Kashian’s most ambitious master-planned project of the 21st century. When it comes to housing, commercial, retail, public transportation, outdoor recreation, public safety and schools, Fancher Creek is to have it all. If all goes according to plan, Fancher Creek will be a marvelous example in the fast-growing Southeast Fresno area of what federal housing regulators call a “high opportunity” neighborhood. Fancher Creek wouldn’t deserve such a designation if it didn’t have a first-class affordable housing option in the project itself or nearby. It behooves City Hall to have such an egalitarian housing option at Fancher Creek. City Hall and the Fancher Creek project need each other.
So, where does City Hall get the $2.26 million in reprogrammed CDBG funds? For our purposes, it’s interesting to note that more than 25% is to come from the same department that operates Quigley.
The staff report going to the HCDC commissioners says $620,000 slated for Parks Department improvements at Dickey Youth Development Center, Fink-White Neighborhood Center and Victoria West Park will be reprogrammed.
Says the staff report: “Due to delays in these multi-year projects, a small portion of CDBG funds will remain in the 2018-2019 Annual Action Plan to allow for continued progress, with the majority of funds being proposed for reprogram. Additional funding will be proposed in the 2019-2020 Annual Action Plan to complete these multi-year activities. PARCS staff has indicated a new project manager will begin shortly with the City’s PARCS Department, and the scopes of work and budgets will be refined for the 2019-2020 funding cycle.”
If I’m not mistaken, Dickey, Fink-White and Victoria West are in Council District 3 represented by Miguel Arias. The Fancher Creek project is in Council District 5, represented by Luis Chavez.
Kashian’s Fancher Creek project sounds great. The Fancher Creek Senior Housing project sounds great (it’s not clear to me from City Hall documents and records I’ve found on the Internet if the two are connected in some way). Swift improvements to the Dickey, Fink-White and Victoria West facilities sound great (it’s not clear to me from City Hall documents exactly why those projects are being delayed, other than the absence of a new Parks Department project manager).
Apparently, there’s simply not enough money to tackle everything at once.
The HCDC commissioners on Feb. 13 will merely make a recommendation. The City Council will decide.
It’s my understanding the issue will go the council on Feb. 14. It’s also my understanding that Arias will be there.