Click on the video above to watch Mary Curry talk about the importance of moving the Darling plant
For decades, west Fresno residents complained about factories in their neighborhoods. Then five years ago, a group filed a lawsuit seeking change. As of Thursday (Oct. 26) night, that change is coming.
The Fresno City Council unanimously approved a package of incentives and zoning changes to move a rendering plant five miles west. That plant, owned by Darling International, was known for its horrible odors.
The plan calls for the city to provide 20 acres of land next to the wastewater treatment plant near Jensen and Cornelia avenues, along with public utility upgrades. Darling will also have the option to buy 20 acres more at the site. The city additionally is providing a host of tax and permit rebates.
At the new location, Darling will be able to nearly double its output of pet food ingredients. In return, the Texas-based company will agree to shutter the plant at 795 W. Belgravia Ave.
Mary Curry Leads the Way
No one perhaps has more actively tried to improve her neighborhood than Mary Curry. She is the matriarch of the movement for a better quality of life. Designated to speak first during public comment, Curry received a hardy round of applause.
“We are looking at a new day for west Fresno. I see hope. New businesses can come to west Fresno. Nice homes can be built in west Fresno. We can have the community that some people take for granted,” Curry told the council.
Councilman Oliver Baines represents the west Fresno neighborhood where Darling operates. He said it was a long battle to eventually convince his council colleagues to approve the deal. He said he started off with just one vote — himself — after joining the council in 2011.
Sensing the anxiety in the audience, Councilman Paul Caprioglio suggested his colleagues skip their comments and move straight into voting on the measure. But Baines, noting the important nature of the evening, advised to let everyone have their say.
The measure clearly had the support of the gathered audience and the councilmembers, although three speakers from the audience voiced concerns about the new location.
But it wasn’t until questioning from Councilman Steve Brandau that light was shed on how much the relocation plan will cost taxpayers.
The answer came from Tommy Esqueda, the city’s public utilities director. He estimated $5 million to $6 million for infrastructure improvements. A well on the proposed site, which would be used by Darling and the city’s wastewater plant next door, was estimated at $1.5 million by Esqueda. A PG&E gas line would cost $2 million. He put a recycled water line at $100,000.
Not discussed was the price of the land and value of the permit and tax abatements. Darling’s option for the second 20 acres is $22,000 an acre.
Also missing from the conversation was Darling’s application for up to $9 million from a federal program called New Market Tax Credits. The relocation project appears to be a fit for the program. The description on the program’s website reads:
“Historically, low-income communities experience a lack of investment, as evidenced by vacant commercial properties, outdated manufacturing facilities, and inadequate access to education and healthcare service providers. The New Market Tax Credit Program (NMTC Program) aims to break this cycle of disinvestment by attracting the private investment necessary to reinvigorate struggling local economies.”
After the vote, Baines’ office presented flowers to city staff, and Fresno Building Health Communities marked the occasion with free tacos.
“It’s been a blessing,” Curry said about living in west Fresno for 60-plus years. “I’ve learned a lot and I’ve gained a lot, and thank all of you for your commitment.”