FRESNO, CA—Without money or endorsement, Fresno City Council District 3 Candidate Craig Scharton has garnered a large following of supporters and voters who are aware of his dedicated efforts and achievements to revitalizing Fresno's downtown area, which is a part of district 3.
As the former interim CEO and president of private non-profit, Downtown Fresno Partnership (DFP,) Scharton and a small team of supporters endured a several-year battle to open up the streets of the Fulton Mall to enhance more foot-traffic to the area for struggling downtown businesses. This achievement has not gone unnoticed by the local businesses in that area who have seen an increase in customer sales since its inception at the beginning of 2018.
In fact, Scharton opened up his own local downtown business during the downtown revitalization process to encourage other businesses to do the same; named after his best friend, "Peeve," Peeve’s Public House & Local Market was a hot spot for Valley food enthusiasts, local business supporters, consumers of local art and music, and those who craved an urban experience in their lives.
As a small business advocate, Scharton is aware of the broken system at city hall and Fresno’s lack of business friendliness.
"So far the conversation has focused on the complaints of large developers,” explained Scharton. “The real problem, as I see it, is how terrible the City handles small businesses. Here are a couple of recent examples: • Los Panchos Restaurant wanted to update their storefront and add outdoor seating on Fulton. The new Downtown Code and Specific Plan list these as primary goals. Yet the small business didn’t get their permits for eight months! • Toshiko Sushi and Ramen is a new business on Fulton. Their outdoor dining permit took five months to approve.”
He continued to explain how the problems cut across department lines.
“The culture at City Hall is broken and that’s a problem that can only be fixed with better management and attention. And my main concern is that there are thousands of small businesses directly impacted by this problem, not just the big developers.”
Scharton has not only identified this disturbing glitch in the system, but he has suggestions to remedy it:
“Part of the problem is that when a business applies for a permit, they present their idea to multiple departments. Each department takes the application back to their cubicles, and then they compile all of their changes. This takes weeks,” explained Scharton.
“Then the changes (eight pages, in the Los Panchos example) are given to the applicant who has to redo their application, often disagreeing with some of the suggested changes. This goes back and forth until a permit is issued. I suggest that the City and the small business or property owner stay in a room until they work it all out … Small businesses and property owners need to get to an answer quickly. Upper management needs to see where the problems are within each department so that they can fix them.”
At only age 25, Scharton, was elected the city councilman for district one from 1987 to 1991, now with over 30 years of experience in city government operations locally, California-wide and nationwide. Before its rezoning, district one included Fresno's Tower District and the surrounding areas. At the time, he was the youngest member ever to serve in that capacity, and during his tenure on the council, Scharton initiated the Tower District Specific Plan and wrote the 50% Shade Tree Ordinance. He went on to lead downtown revitalization programs in the cities of Pleasanton and Hanford. (See below his official announcement and campaign initiatives.)
With his mixed ancestry of Irish and Mexican heritage, Scharton has always embraced cultural diversity in the Valley, making sure that all ethnic groups are represented in his business and community ventures; Scharton is a past president of the California Main Street Alliance, a group that focuses on the economic, social, cultural, and environmental well-being of the commercial districts of cities and neighborhoods.
In the forefront of his campaign message, Scharton has constantly voiced his concerns about the high amounts of lead found in children who live in district 3, a key driving force for him deciding to run in the city council district 3 elections.
“One of the issues that I want to raise during this campaign resulted from an article that I read one year ago. The article was a report by Reuters titled ‘Lead Poisoning Afflicts Neighborhoods Across California.’ It reports that in the Lowell Neighborhood, where I live, that 13.6% of the children tested had high levels of lead in their blood. This is nearly three times higher than the children of Flint, Michigan, which received national attention for their situation. There is an interactive map that shows that the problem in Fresno is much larger than just the 93701 zip code,” expressed Scharton.
“Where is the same outcry and outrage for our own children in Fresno as there was in Flint? As I’ve attended community meetings, I’ve asked people if they knew about the problem in Flint, and almost every person raised their hand. When I’ve asked the same question about the children in Fresno, no hands go up. This is baffling and concerning and enough of a reason to campaign.”
Scharton is adamant about the community being informed about what high levels of lead in the body can do to children and people in general: belly pain, headaches, vomiting, confusion, muscle weakness, seizures, hair loss, and anemia (a low red blood cell count.)
“Lower levels of lead in the body can also cause problems, such as trouble paying attention, behavior problems, learning difficulties, and a fall in the IQ of young children. IQ stands for ‘intelligence quotient’ and measures a person’s intelligence … If our children have high levels of lead in their blood, we are failing at this goal from the very start. Diminishing our children’s intelligence or ability to pay attention is unconscionable. When a candidate tells you that they are for public safety, ask them if this includes fighting to eliminate the sources of lead that are handicapping our children unnecessarily.”
Scharton also believes more attention should be placed on the rich agriculture of the Valley: instilling community gardens and supporting the local farmers is an important initiative.
“As your council representative I would work to bring a public market to our downtown to celebrate our farmers, our food-makers, and our rich cultural diversity … In a downtown surrounded by agriculture, everyone should have access to healthy fruits and veggies. Learn about D3's own community garden, and let's find ways to replicate it!”
Scharton was featured on The ONME Network's online TV show, The Conversation, in the above video, explaining why he is running for city council again almost 25+ years later.
Also, find out more about Scharton’s campaign initiatives here.