The west Fresno community is on a roll.
It started with the opening of Rutherford B. Gaston Middle School in 2014, an effort led by longtime Fresno Unified trustee Cal Johnson.
And it has picked up steam since then.
A satellite Fresno City College campus is coming. The expectation is that the school will focus on technical training that will enable students to participate in the Valley’s multi-billion dollar construction boom. These are jobs that elevate individuals and families out of poverty and into the middle class.
We cheer State Center Community College District trustees, Chancellor Paul Parnell and Fresno City College President Carole Goldsmith for making the campus a top priority following voter approval of the district’s $485 million construction bond in 2016.
Last month, the Fresno City Council finally approved the relocation of the Darling Ingredients rendering plant, which has fouled the air for many decades, to a rural site five miles west of the current site. A lawsuit filed by attorneys with the Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability and with California Rural Legal Assistance Inc. on behalf of west Fresno residents in 2012 helped force the city’s hand.
More Health Risks Than Anywhere Else in California
Residents showed similar resolve in successfully fighting City Hall and Gov. Jerry Brown to grab west Fresno’s righteous share of $70 million of state cap and trade funding designated to help impoverished and unhealthy communities.
You might remember that Fresno Bee reporter Mark Grossi documented in 2013 how city officials had long treated west Fresno as an industrial dumping ground. He documented the results, as well.
West Fresno has “high asthma rates, widespread poverty and low birth weights that scientists link to dirty air, chemical exposures and a host of other problems,” Grossi wrote.
“EPA says people in West Fresno live with higher health risks than anyone in California – higher than any part of Los Angeles, Oakland or any place else you can name.”
And then he delivered this stunning fact: “Life expectancy in west Fresno is more than 20 years lower than in northeast Fresno, according to a 2012 study done by a team of researchers including the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at Fresno State.”
$36 Million From State to Improve West Fresno
But when the state announced the allocation of $70 million for Fresno, then-Mayor Ashley Swearengin tried her best to direct all of the funding toward her downtown revitalization efforts. Community activists pushed back and now west Fresno will receive$36 million from the Transformative Climate Communities Program.
That amount, when combined with private investment, will have a substantial positive impact on the community.
These days, Swearengin is trying to rewrite history and make it appear that she was on board with lifting up west Fresno all along.
Activists Mary Curry, Chris Finley, Veronica Garibay, Sandra Celedon and Genoveva Islas — and the people they represent — know better.
Mary Curry’s Words Should Inspire Us All
Our hope is that City Hall has learned its lesson and will do what’s best for all of Fresno. Not just a handful of insiders.
As Curry said, “When every area of this city is made whole, all of Fresno is better off.”
Somebody ought to hang that on the wall of the council chamber.
— Written by Bill McEwen