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Fresno will investigate and possibly change any city asset named for historical figures with a racist or bigoted past.

The 4-1 vote at Thursday’s city council meeting will task the Historic Preservation Commission reviewing a list of names to determine if there is a problematic history.

Based on their findings, the city council will determine whether or not to alter the place names of buildings and parks. The policy could also extend to thousands of street names.

“We understand the value in the signaling that happens when you name a building after individuals. And we want to be proud of naming buildings after people that mean something positive in our community,” Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria — the resolution’s author — said.

Councilman Garry Bredefeld voted no. Councilmen Mike Karbassi and Paul Caprioglio did not register votes.

Cancel Culture?

Bredefeld expressed concern about rewriting history.

“This is divisive. I don’t think this is bringing us together again. I understand the intent. But this doesn’t help this. This leads us back to what they call cancel culture,” Bredefeld said.

He said he would rather change policies that “hurt people in terms of opportunity.”

“It’s not about engaging in cancel culture. It’s about recognizing — yes, we weren’t the ones that created that history. But I think that it is our opportunity to acknowledge it and to rectify because there’s still a lot of hurt in communities,” Soria said.

City Council president Miguel Arias had no problem with a deep dive into history.

“We have a responsibility to wrestle with the truth. And the truth is this city was built on the backs of certain people and at the expense of people and for the benefit of other people. And the truth is, this city has racist historical elements as part of its fabric,” Arias said.

Are Streets Included?

During deliberations, Bredefeld said the resolution would also apply to street names, based on a conversation he had with the city attorney.

According to the city charter, street names and renaming are up to the council.

“Street name changes shall comply with adopted City policies Regarding Street Name Procedures,” according to Sec. 15-6204 of the Municipal Code.

However, the street naming code — last approved in 2015 as part of a broader update to the development code — allows the planning director to “refer street name-related issues to the Planning Commission for consideration.”

Recent history has shown the city changing a small section of a street name to match a business located there. In 2014, the council renamed streets in an industrial area Irritec Way.

A 2014 KVPR feature revealed that Cesar Chavez had streets named in his honor after his 1993 death, but the city reversed course two months later.

What is a Racist?

Soria said it would be up to the HPC to determine how to define racism and bigotry, but the council would be the final authority in any naming changes or naming of new facilities.

The commission is made up of seven members, appointed by Mayor Lee Brand and confirmed by the council. At Thursday’s meeting the council unanimously approved Christopher Rocha — an executive assistant at Bitwise Industries — to the commission.

Much of the commission’s work has been determining whether city locations are historic in nature and need of certain protections.

Bredefeld questioned their expertise in deciding what is racism.

I don’t know what we’re tasking them with determining racism and being bigoted. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Bredefeld.

Soria defended the HPC.

“These individuals get trained … They actually get trained in historic preservation and history and so forth in in how to go about a process. And I’m not afraid either. I think that it is important for us to learn and to understand and acknowledge and be able to, if need be to change things. I think that that’s our responsibility as leaders,” Soria said.

Could Bredefeld Plaques Come Down?

Bredefeld wondered whether he would be considered a racist, based on his 2017 criticism of NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem. At the time, Bredefeld and then-Councilman Oliver Baines engaged in a heated debate from the dais.

“We had people coming in and call me a racist. The devil. Glad you took off your hood,” Bredefeld said.

Would that mean, Bredefeld asked, that any plaque in the city with his name on it — like Chukchansi Park or the Fresno Veterans Memorial — would have to be removed?

Meux Home in Play

Bredefeled also speculated that the Meux Home would have to be renamed.

Thomas Meux was a doctor in the Confederate army during the Civil War prior to moving to Fresno. His home at Tulare and R streets is designated as a historic home. While the city owns the home, a non-profit currently operates it as a museum.

“If history and the record demonstrates that it doesn’t reflect the value of our city, then we should reconsider the naming of that museum,” council president Miguel Arias said.

Councilman Luis Chavez wanted to give Meux and others in consideration the benefit of the doubt.

“Did he come to Fresno and then serve disadvantaged communities for free? That’s something that should be also factored into what that means for our community,” Chavez said. “I have never seen a piece of legislation or policy change the heart of a human being.”

Quintin Hoskins, president of the Meux Home Museum, declined to comment.

9 Responses

  1. Timothy Desmond

    Interesting if not an “arresting” topic. I suppose it could have been expected, the “cancel culture” movement or the destruction of monuments to past persons. There were a lot of southerners moved here after the war. And Union veterans also. They marched together in past Fresno parades. Some came to the area before Fresno town was born. One fellow was named Prather, who first settled with his kin at Wildflower near Elkhorn and on Fowler Avenue. He left there for the mountain area where Prather is named after him.
    The railroad that came to be built here from Sacramento, was built by a Texas railroad company who’s son was a Confederate veteran. That family was Ryan. He stayed and helped build Fresno. He owned the Ryan Hotel that was on Tulare Street between Fulton and H Street. I think that is gone now …. because of Chukchansi Park area. His friend was a turn-of-the-century Sheriff named Collins. Both Ryan and Collins met by accident in Fresno, after realizing that they both had been in the same Union POW Camp called Rock Island in Illinois. There were several other southern Confederate doctors besides Meux here also. While Dr. Meux served in the Army of Tennessee, another one was a veteran in Virginia under Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson named Hopkins. Both were surgeons and saved lives. And there were others. Before 1893 Madera County was part of Fresno County. Dr. Bordan and the train depot and community was named Bordan at Avenue 12. But Fresno lost that area (Madera County), due to disgruntled ranchers who had settled there in 1850s from Missouri, mainly Daulton and Hildreth, and there were others.
    You better change Butler Avenue too. Besides the cotton farmed in Belmont & Clovis Avenue Airport area (before vineyards), you might be spending the rest of your lives bogged down in making politically correct changes. By they way it is illegal to change, and or desecrate a grave marker. Maybe the City Attorney could help advise you.

    Reply
  2. Julia

    I dont think our city money should be spent on changing history, its history for a reason. The meux home I personally dont find it offensive. I have read the history about it and it is quit a story that u enjoyed reading. This is history now yes there alot of streets names that are offensive and maybe others places that are offensive. But the meux home is a piece of history that should be untouched. Please cousin members spend money on other things more important and better for the city and communities.

    Reply
  3. Bill Thacker

    Miguel Arias doesn’t reflect the values of Fresno. He should talk he has destroyed and trashed enough historical neighborhoods in the Tower District and the old Armenian Town.
    This is a waste of time and resources, Arias should be fixing his district its a real mess with businesses going under and bums everywhere. There is no value in any of the businesses downtown or real estate thanks to Arias.
    People don’t care about street names or their meanings, they just need to get somewhere and use the address they don’t think about it any more than that. How and whom will determine if the research is accurate and not just some sort of agenda of the cancel culture people trying to destroy more statutes and monuments. Most people in Fresno under the age of 35 don’t even know the historical people or trailblazers. Miguel Arias doesn’t know anything about the history he is not born or raised in Fresno. Someone comes up with some crazy research done by Ramirez from San Francisco State University many years after the death of Euless and others they should be prepared to discuss the proof and findings in front of a judge and jury.
    We should be moving forward instead of creating more hatred and divisions in Fresno., Most Fresno people understand that Miguel Arias hates Fresno and hates America this is just his insecure way of score settle against all the Anglo names., Arias has made himself loud and clear the hatred he has for people in Fresno, especially those he refers to as “Trumpsters” and those that “live in North Fresno” . Arias has also let it be known he has a strong dislike for our new incoming Mayor Jerry Dyer. Is Arias just trying to cause problems for Dyer or is this just the hatred he has for Fresno in general?
    If Arias goes after history than I am sure he wouldn’t mind if we bring up an investigation on all his wrong doings, unethical under the table deals and issues he had at FUSD. He exited in the middle of an FBI investigation taking a $40,000 cut in pay at the City of Fresno and taking out a fake address to show proof of residency in a low class section 8 apartment. Don’t Fresno people need to determine whether Miguel Arias – Huerta fits the image of Fresno
    https://mark-arax.com/meet-michael-hansons-fixer/

    Reply
  4. Karana Hattersley-Drayton

    Others have pointed out that many early residents of this area were indeed veterans from the Civil War, who fought for one side or the other. As a reminder the Meux Home is on both the National Register of Historic Places and the City’s Local Register of Historic Resources. Historic properties are named for the original owner/resident or builder as with the Meux Home. This is codified by both local and federal historic ordinances. The Meux family contributed significantly to this area’s history. There is no reason, and frankly a snowball’s chance in hell, that the name of the Meux Home will ever be changed. End I hope of speculation!

    Reply
  5. Anna

    I think Fresno has many many more pressing issues to work on than this. Ridiculous

    Reply
  6. Howard K. Watkins

    To me, the critical assessment is why was the person honored with a building or street name. If the person was being honored for participating in the Civil War or for promoting slavery, I could see a name name. If the person was being honored for civic work, farming, education, medicine, or other similar type works, that is a different matter and his or her recognition should be retained.

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  7. Bill W.

    Time to move out of this City and this state. The actions of this council are keeping nearly 100,000 out of work, and what do they want to waste our money on?? Leave the city to these fools, and watch how quickly it degrades; just like San Fran and L.A. are degrading. But that is what you get when you put children in charge, and this EXACTLY what Esmeralda and Miguel are… Chilren

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  8. Roman C. Rain Tree

    The first Fresnan’s are often relegated to history. A perpetual denial of our continued existence the city of Fresno has yet to acknowledge. I was extremely disheartened to hear my district representative, Councilman Bredefeld, express dismay at the distinct possibility of his beloved placard being removed from Chukchansi stadium. A tribe that continues to pay to have naming rights, in turn, to have culturally appropriate representation. In fact, no tribal event, program, or representation exists in Fresno, outside of collegiate students’ or tribal efforts. Fresno is typically silent on California Indian Day and Native American Heritage month (November). Nowhere in Fresno is the explicit acknowledgement of the first Fresnan’s. We are still here and we are still being erased through legislation. Councilman Bredefeld and all residents, never forget whose home your offices, parishes, and residence are built upon. Land that is intricately connected to the spirituality, history, and culture of a people. We are not all tribal members of casino tribes. Many of us, including myself, are members of locally indigenous Non-Federally recognized tribes. Descendants of those who signed U.S. treaties in 1851 that were never ratified, never honored. The American experience is one of many lenses. Fresnos’ history doesn’t begin with the Meux home.
    The conflicts of interests, lengthy tenure, and lack of diversity that comprise the Historic Preservation Commission appointed with the task to conduct such reviews and empowered to make changes needs to be addressed. Appointed by Mayor Swearengen, five of the seven person commission have served for nearly a decade, whose service does not conclude until 2023. A commission composed of individuals void of self identity as Native American and African American (https://fresno.legistar.com/DepartmentDetail.aspx?ID=31634&GUID=702BDCB0-3DC6-4926-AB69-2643E4F8C198). Names are powerful and they help shape our identity. Our community complacency and indifference to respectful dignified cultural representation that obfuscates the imperatives of indigenous identity, is exemplified in the naming of “Squaw Valley” here in Fresno County. No woman should ever be referred to as the “C” word, yet here in Fresno County that’s exactly what our community declares is permissible to refer to indigenous women (http://chng.it/mPTvX8B).
    Unless a commission is composed that is more reflective of the community it represents, I believe the only change to occur will be symbolic at best. Thank you. God Bless.

    Reply
  9. Marie

    I see this as just placating the current political environment, hoping the riots won’t come here. If it hasn’t been a problem in past, why is it a problem now? Certainly there are more important things for the Council to be spending their time on.

    Reply

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