The executive director of a group dedicated to protecting and restoring the San Joaquin River is praising the passage of its state bill aimed at bringing diverse grassroots representation to the San Joaquin River Conservancy.
“We are hopeful that the change in the makeup of the Conservancy board will facilitate new access to the San Joaquin River Parkway,” said Sharon Weaver, who leads the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust.
The nonprofit group sponsored Assembly Bill 559, which was introduced by Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno). After passing the Assembly on a 56-15 vote on Thursday, the bill heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is virtually guaranteed to sign it.
Some Local Lawmakers Miss the Vote
Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) did not vote on the bill. Assemblyman Frank Bigelow (R-O’Neals) opposed the bill. The bill cleared the Senate on Wednesday 29-7 with Sen. Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno) and Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) failing to vote.
Weaver also said that the bill “will provide real changes to the San Joaquin River Conservancy Board by increasing board diversity and making the chairmanship available to all Conservancy board members. It is incredibly important that the Conservancy board reflect the social and demographic diversity of the San Joaquin Valley.”
A Look at the Changes
This is how the changes shake out:
- The Conservancy now has 15 members from Fresno and Madera counties. AB 559 adds one seat and creates new openings.
- One seat will be reserved for a local Native American.
- One seat will be reserved for a resident 18 to 26 years old.
- One seat will rotate between the Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District and the Madera Irrigation District. The districts previously each had a seat.
- The bill also requires that the board chair and vice-chair be open to all board members in the board’s annual election. Currently, the two leadership roles are rotated among elected officials from the city of Fresno, Fresno County, and Madera County.
“The pandemic made clear that having access to the outdoors provides immense benefits physically and mentally to families and individuals. But the crisis also showed that many of our disadvantaged communities don’t have equitable access to these vital green spaces,” Arambula said. “For decades, the San Joaquin River Conservancy board has been missing the voices from these communities. … I believe these changes will strengthen the Conservancy board as it continues to shape the parkway into a true gem.”
Pivotal Time for Parkway
Weaver added that the bill comes at a pivotal point for the long-stalled 22-mile parkway between Friant Dam and Highway 99. Of the parkway’s 5,900 acres, there is public access to about 1,000 acres.
This year’s state budget earmarks $15 million to the Conservancy to improve river access and other recreational opportunities.