It’s summer in the San Joaquin Valley in the climate change era.
So I’m hot, you’re hot, and even Mayor Jerry Dyer is hot.
The question is, will Fresno lead the nation’s cities in adjusting to climate change? Or will we be a day late, a dollar short, and if not uninhabitable, miserably close to it?
Keeping residents cool has been top of mind for Dyer. So much so that he recently looked into reopening Airways Pool only to learn the property likely is needed for airport expansion.
“I’d hate to see us invest $750,000 in the pool only to have it demolished in four or five years,” said Dyer.
Meaning: The big public pool that generated good memories for many Baby Boomers and their children won’t reopen during his administration.
However, the mayor promises more public pools for children and families next summer. Like many cities nationwide, Fresno got caught without enough lifeguards this year. Short on lifeguards, the city couldn’t fully capitalize on its agreement with Fresno Unified to open school pools.
Ahead of summer 2023, the city will hold job fairs on school campuses and elsewhere to recruit lifeguards. Dyer envisions swimming and water polo team members as top candidates for the jobs, along with older adults who can pass on some of their life wisdom to child and teen swimmers.
Watch: 70-Year-Old Lifeguard Explains Importance of Public Pools
Reimagining Cooling Centers
Even though Fresno set a city record with 69 triple-digit days in 2021 and had 49 through today this year, few residents use the city’s free cooling centers.
The four centers, which open when the National Weather Service forecasts a high of at least 105 degrees, are averaging a total of 29 people per day — or slightly more than seven people each.
The city provides free bus rides along its regular routes to anyone who says they are headed to a cooling center. In addition, parks staff provide programming to make the experience more enjoyable.
“While visiting the city’s cooling centers, residents can enjoy board games, play basketball at the gymnasiums, read a book, or participate in activities led by recreation staff,” said Sontaya Rose, the mayor’s spokesperson. “Recreation staff lead camps, workshops, senior fitness, ceramics, arts, movie screenings, and water fun days at the cooling center sites, and are all free to the public. Daily activities at all community centers are posted to PARCS social media accounts.”
And it’s not like the cooling centers are a secret. Fresno media call attention to them on torrid days, and the city promotes them on its social media platforms.
“We’re doing our best to market them, and I know there’s a need,” said Dyer. “Based on the (low) demand we are seeing, we are asking a lot of questions about what steps to take.”
Fresno Needs a Chief Environmental Officer
Fresno, like many urban areas, suffers from what scientists call a “heat island effect” in which buildings, roads, and sidewalks absorb heat. In turn, the absorbed heat raises the daytime temperature and even keeps it hot at night.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that Fresno’s famously pleasant summer nights aren’t so pleasant anymore.
Phoenix, which has nighttime lows in the 90s, is the poster child for the heat island effect. Speculation already has begun that Phoenix might become uninhabitable for people without air conditioning as climate change raises temperatures to levels the body can’t withstand.
While hot, Fresno isn’t as hot as Phoenix. But that shouldn’t stop city leaders from investing in heat mitigation measures today. These should include planting hundreds of thousands of trees in publicly owned spaces and adopting stiff “green” mandates for new development. Creating cool corridors wherever possible should be a priority. And, every new park and renovated park — thank you, Measure P taxpayer dollars! —should incorporate designs and features to keep Fresno cool.
I rarely advocate for expanding bureaucracy, but Fresno needs a chief environmental officer. Someone responsible for ensuring that City Hall pays attention to how climate change is negatively impacting us — the poor most of all.
The city of Fresno budget will likely total between $150 billion and $200 billion over the next 10 years. None of those dollars should go to projects that raise summer temps.