Fresno residents speak out against a City of Fresno application recommendation to rezone an area of Elm Ave. for industrial use
By ONME Newswire
Story updated 4-2-21 to add photo and documents
In this episode of It's ONME Local - Fresno, producer host Julia Dudley Najieb reviews excerpts of Friday, March 26's emergency press conference led by Pastor B. T. Lewis of Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church; Mrs. Mary Curry, leader of Concerned Citizens of Southwest; Ivanka Saunders of Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability and community advocates and leaders, Dr. Venise Curry and Mr. Bob Mitchell.
The media briefing was concerning a rezone effort of 92.53 acres near Elm Avenue in southwest Fresno; this effort could change the current neighborhood mixed-use area to "light Industrial" use, amending the community-based Southwest Fresno Specific Plan adopted by the City of Fresno in December of 2017.
The approved recommendation request for rezone application no. P20-01665 goes before City Council on April 7 at 6:00 PM; the community is outraged at the antics used to bypass proper community notification and community input on the matter and intends to express it at this meeting as well, according to the emergency press conference organizers.
Also, community advocate, Dr. Venise Curry addressed members of the community at an emergency Zoom meeting hosted by the West Fresno Resource Center on Tuesday, March 30 to expound on the history of the creation of the community-driven, Southwest Fresno Specific Plan, where over 100+ residents volunteered for two years to prioritize the needs of the southwest Fresno community.
Dr. Curry also explained the numerous health hazards of living near industrial facilities; she gave an example of a 15-year battle with a local rendering plant the community endured for the health-safety of residents. Although they won this battle, the industrial plant is not obligated to move until December 2023.
February Planning Commission Hearing tells all
At a Planning Commission Hearing on Zoom February 3, 2021, it was noted that there were three letters sent to the Planning Commission in opposition to the applicant's requested rezone proposal.
Presenter Rob Holt from the City of Fresno Planning and Development Dept. said that the landowners' properties were already in existence prior to the adoption of the 2017 Southwest Fresno Specific Plan which zoned that area from "light industrial" to mixed neighborhood use (Policy LU-8.1). The representative for this group of landowners, Attorney John Kinsey, was asking for it to be changed to light industrial to be comparable to the past existing ordinance. Kinsey also said that the landowners lost national potential tenants due to this city ordinance because their potential tenants went to their competitors in other areas. The landowners supposedly had not noticed of when this 2017 adopted plan went into effect.
African-Americans currently serving on this commission include: Pastor D.J. Criner of St. Rest Baptist Church, Debra McKenzie, a community advocate, and City of Fresno, civil engineer, Kevin Gray. They seemed shocked at the recommendation approved by the community and questioned the genuineness of the information throughout the hearing; here's why:
Holt continued in the presentation, explaining that the Fresno City Council District Three office conducted community outreach to residents regarding the matter, which included a handful of the committee members from the the original Southwest Fresno Specific Plan Committee (21 members), combined with members of the Council District 3 Project Review Committee--they supposedly approved the recommendation in a 4-1 vote. Based on that premise, no neighborhood meetings were conducted, according to Holt, due to the community representation of the Council District 3 Project Review Committee's input. That committee of volunteers includes: Debbie Darden (former chair), Jan Minami (vice chairperson), Robert Fuentes, Nancy Gray, America Hernandez, and lvanka Saunders.
Planning Commissioner Pastor D.J. Criner questioned Holt concerning the validity of the voted approval to change the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan, (see clip above); however Holt contends that Councilman Arias and his District 3 staff did reach out to the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan Committee.
"I'm wanting to make sure that this does not contradict what the Southwest Specific Plan had already laid out," said Criner. "I would really love to hear whether there was opposition for the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan Team."
Holt was not able to provide hard statements to furnish the claimed approval.
Former Fresno County Board Supervisor, former mayoral candidate, and former District 1 Fresno City Council member, Henry R. Perea who is also part of the management of the landowners with Attorney Kinsey, said approving this recommendation would help his clients ..... He also said he spoke with the mayor's office (Mayor Lee Brand) and with District 3 councilman, Miguel Arias over a year ago where meetings were set up to review this process.
"They are simply going back to the zoning they had before (light industrial)...They are just trying to get back to baseline where they were 20 years ago," said Perea.
Perea said on the advice of Arias, they went to the neighborhood committee of five persons (Council District 3 Project Review Committee) a few months before the hearing and they did a presentation to that committee who gave them approval to move the project forward to the Planning Commission. Perea said he only remembers one opposition from the committee.
ONME News reached out to Council District 3 Project Review Committee former chair, Darden who said what was proposed to them in regards to the acres in question had to do with being able to upgrade equipment being used at an industrial facility (GSK for example)--not to approve changing the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan from neighborhood/mixed use to light industrial.
Moreover, a letter dated August 20, 2020 agenda from Councilman Miguel Arias' chief of staff was read at the hearing which said:
As written, Council President (Miguel Arias) has conducted community outreach directly to community residents on this project, including members of the Southwest Specific Committee and our Project Review Committee; therefore, request waiving the neighborhood community meeting and placing the item on the 8-25 agenda.
See full City of Fresno City Council Rules and Procedures below:
Attorney Kinsey reiterated that they are not attempting to build anything new with the current clients who reside in the area, and that the presentation they gave August 25 highlighted all the landowners involved. He also said his landowner clients received a mailer of the new map, but not that the land was going to be changed from industrial use to neighborhood mixed use in 2017. He said his clients did not get the opportunity to attend these community meetings or know about them.
During the public comments of the Feb. 3 Planning Commission, members who served on the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan, the Council District 3 Project Review Committee, and general residents spoke out against the rezone recommendation with disdain because of the numerous amount of hours residents spent during the two-year process to complete the plan, originally presented by the previous councilman of District 3, Oliver Baines.
Also, members of the community continued to voice their concerns of the health hazard many of these industrial plants contribute to and are already existing in southwest Fresno-- from poor air quality to dense truck traffic on Elm Ave., residents are suffering from asthma, to low birth-weight of infants, and low life expectancy living in west Fresno.
It should also be noted that the industrial-based businesses already located in the Elm Ave. corridor were recognized as grandfathered in; businesses cannot expand as an industrial facility but they can upgrade their business equipment---there is no need for a rezone application for such cases, just a permit request.
March brought more public comments and more community outrage
On March 3, community members spoke out again about the lack of public notice on the attempt to pass the rezone application without the community's knowledge --the March 3 meeting was supposed to include City of Fresno staff to do additional research to present to the community, based on the recommendation of the Planning Commissioners, who addressed this at the February 3 hearing.
The community still felt frustrated for not being heard by the City of Fresno.
In fact, journalist and community advocate, Kevin Hall, noted the lack of presence of District 3 City Council representative, Miguel Arias at the community meetings to clarify who he contacted in the community about the rezone application request to pass through the Planning Commission--or at least clarifications on this matter.
March 3 Community Meeting Regarding Rezone Application Request
According to Hall's article, Stop the Perea Rezone – Elm Ave., Fresno 2021.3.1.
Part 1, he noted that Annalisa Perea’s (Henry R. Perea's daughter) campaign to replace councilperson, Esmeralda Soria as the District 1 City Council member has raised more than $100,000 as of January 1. At least $28,000 of that came from one major warehouse developer alone, ICC Construction — with $4,000 of that coming through the San Joaquin Valley Latino Leaders PAC which received $5,000 from ICC in December.
The March 17 Planning Commission Meeting was to be in continuance to the April 7 meeting due to the wrong Zoom link posted for the public prior to the March meeting.
Planning Commission Meetings are held every first and third Wednesday of the month at the City Council Chambers on 2600 Fresno Street, 2nd floor at 6:00 pm; you can register for this Zoom meetings here or call their office for additional information, call (559) 621-8277.
ONME News will continue to follow up on this local story.