Community-based organizations trying to torpedo plans by Gov. Gavin Newsom and Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer to invest $250 million of state funding in downtown Fresno’s aging infrastructure are dodging GV Wire questions about their tactics and motivations.
A May 31 letter to Newsom and other state leaders signed by 10 nonprofits demanded funding for housing and transit. Dyer had cited the need for infrastructure to build new downtown housing in his conversations with the governor. And, the mayor dedicated $20 million to an intermodal transit center to connect different transportation types throughout the city.
The CBOs wrote: “We are surprised that there are no apparent transit access or affordable housing requirements attached to this significant grant of funds.”
In addition, the social justice groups stated that Newsom’s earmark for Fresno should require that 50% of all downtown housing be “deed-restricted, affordable housing units available to Low, Very Low, and Moderate Income households … .”
Despite the letter, Fresno will receive $50 million from the state’s 2023-24 fiscal year budget and Dyer said he is optimistic that the city will get $200 million more in the two succeeding budgets.
Why, given the highly delicate and political nature of budget negotiations in a year in which California has a $31.5 billion deficit, would these groups try to scuttle funding vital to downtown Fresno’s future?
They’re not saying.
An interview with Ivanka Saunders, the top signatory on the letter, was declined. “We are trying to have a much larger conversation with all involved parties on this matter and are on a very short timeline,” a text message read from Saunders stated.
The following groups also did not return requests for comment:
- Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability
- Fresno Building Healthy Communities
- Faith in the Valley
For his part, Dyer told GV Wire on Friday that he doubted the letter had much influence in the Capitol.
“Based on inside information I had from some of the decision-makers, the vast majority of them never read the letter,” Dyer said. He added that if politics gets in the way of future money for downtown, “shame on Sacramento.”
Downtown Infrastructure Investment Key to More Housing
Elliott Balch, CEO of Downtown Fresno Partnership, said that the points made in the letter were points that have arisen over the past few years. And, while they weren’t surprising, “they’re also not really a point of disagreement,” Balch said.
He said the infrastructure needs of downtown are “fundamental and structural.”
“The reality is that the sewer pipe, you know, doesn’t know what kind of housing is being built,” Balch said.
With pipes 125 years old, they need replacing, he said.
Balch said the cross-section of people visiting downtown is “very representative of the communities of our region.”
Using the money toward parking worried some lawmakers, said Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias in a previous interview.
But a vision for downtown Fresno density requires parking to go vertically, Balch said. Half of the land for the 700 housing units that have come to downtown Fresno in recent years is dedicated to parking, Balch pointed out.
In addition, dedicating land to surface parking limits housing to two or three stories.
“We want to see a downtown that’s very dense, compact, vibrant, walkable, and that means that we can’t have big surface parking lots,” Balch said.