For weeks, Fresno councilmen Miguel Arias and Garry Bredefeld have sounded the alarm on social and broadcast media about trash and homeless encampments along Caltrans property in Fresno.
A conversation on the topic was supposed to come to City Hall via a special Fresno City Council meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday.
But Fresno City Council President Paul Caprioglio canceled the special meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Instead, Caprioglio, Arias, and Bredefeld will meet Thursday with staff from the mayor’s office and local state lawmakers, as well as representatives of Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol.
They will all gather at 9 a.m. in the media room at City Hall. The meeting is open to the public.
“This will be a come to Jesus conversation for everyone,” Arias said.
Recent Brush Fire Near Homes and Chemical Plant
Arias said the tipping point was a recent brush fire along Highway 41 at Ventura and R streets in the vicinity of homes and a chemical processing facility.
“We literally had field techs next to the building in danger,” Arias said. “We can’t afford this kind of fire hazard next to houses and industrial.”
Arias also tweeted about a grass fire this week on 41 near Herndon and Bullard avenues.
— Miguel Arias (@MiguelArias_D3) July 31, 2019
Caltrans Will Wait Until After Meeting to Comment
“Caltrans hasn’t met that responsibility for decades. Enough is enough. It is a disgrace. It won’t be tolerated anymore.” — Councilman Garry Bredefeld
Arias said he is frustrated by Caltrans’ failure to respond to city requests to clean up its properties. Both he and Bredefeld threatened litigation if the state’s transportation agency fails to act.
“Caltrans hasn’t met that responsibility for decades. Enough is enough,” Bredefeld said. “It is a disgrace. It won’t be tolerated anymore.”
A local Caltrans official said the agency would reserve comment on the situation until after Thursday’s meeting.
Arias also puts the blame on lack of maintenance on the board that oversees Measure C, the county-wide sales tax funding transportation projects. According to Arias, because highways are used by all county residents, Measure C should chip in.
“They have failed to set up money to maintain them. That’s not something we can go to Sacramento for. That is something we are responsible locally,” Arias said.
Joint Pilot Program Underway
The city and Measure C are engaged in a pilot program started last year to deal with litter removal. Each side put in $100,000 and Caltrans contributed $200,000 according to Mike Leonardo, executive director of the Fresno County Transportation Authority. Measure C also has a similar deal with the city of Fowler.
“That’s not what Measure C does. (Arias) doesn’t even know what he’s talking about.” — Supervisor Buddy Mendes
Leonardo said the deal does not specifically cover weed abatement but doesn’t preclude it either.
Fresno County Supervisor Buddy Mendes, who chairs the Measure C authority, took offense to Arias’ assertions.
“That’s not what Measure C does,” Mendes said of his group’s role in weed abatement and homeless cleanup. “(Arias) doesn’t even know what he’s talking about.”
Leonardo added that when voters approved the continuation of Measure C in 2006, it was to build roads and other transit projects, not to maintain them. That job, he said, falls to Caltrans in the case of highways.
The Future Cleanliness of Fresno Highways
Arias expressed concern that if these problems aren’t fixed now, they might not ever be addressed.
“We are at the peak of economic activity in Fresno. If we cannot maintain the freeways in a way that is not a fire and health hazard now, we certainly cannot do it during the next recession,” he said. “That speaks of incompetence and lack of ownership by all of us at the table, and all of us responsible for taxpayers’ dollars in the maintenance and development of freeways.”
Bredefeld wants to hold the feet of the state’s top elected official to the fire.
“I ask that Gov. Newsom follow through on his pledge to the Central Valley that we will not be forgotten,” Bredefeld said.