Tensions between the city and county governments of Fresno boiled to the surface again Tuesday, when the Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 not to rename south Fresno streets in honor of Cesar Chavez.
The debate was whether to follow the city’s lead and name portions of California Avenue and Kings Canyon Road under county jurisdiction after Chavez.
Supervisors also used the Chavez debate to lecture on how the city should have conducted its business — and to say that the county is sticking up for residents.
Supervisor Brian Pacheco, one of the sponsors of the resolution not to rename the streets, said normally he believes the county should “(stay) in our lane” and out of city business.
“As the representative of southwest Fresno, I could not idly sit by as the people of southwest Fresno felt their voices were not being heard,” Pacheco said from the dais.
Several supervisors said they are in favor of honoring Chavez, but not with a street name, and not at its proposed location.
Miguel Arias, the Fresno City Councilman who supported the name change and spoke at the county meeting, said there is an ulterior motive for the county’s decision.
“The county Board of Supervisors would never name a street, or a park or anything after a labor leader who fought for farmworkers because of their disdain for the labor movement and the farmworker movement. But they can, you know, cover that as much as they want and put as much lipstick on a pig as possible. But it’s still a pig,” Arias told GV Wire after the meeting.
Arias talks about local control, and the importance of Cesar Chavez in the community. pic.twitter.com/xfeeYtTF5G
— David Taub (@TaubGVWire) April 11, 2023
City Renames Three Continguous Roads for Cesar Chavez
Last month, the Fresno City Council voted to change portions of California Avenue, Ventura Street, and Kings Canyon Road for Chavez. But, because portions of the roadway contained county islands, the Board of Supervisors had to consent as well.
Watch: A Road With Many Names End-to-End Timelapse
The board withheld that consent. That means a motorist would see 10 name changes, from California and Marks avenues, to Kings Canyon Road and Temperance Avenue.
“I want to be very clear that our city does not need, nor do we seek the permission of the county of Fresno to proceed with our action to recognize the contributions of Cesar Estrada Chavez, a Latino hero in our city,” Arias said during public comment.
Pacheco, and his co-sponsor Steve Brandau said the city never reached out to residents and businesses notifying them of the potential change. The city resolution in 2022 to start the process called for the formation of a committee “to engage the public and receive input, recommendations.”
“When Miguel says that, you know, everybody was included, you got noticed. Not very accurate,” Brandau said.
Brandau said that when an issue is “sketchy,” community meetings are scarce.
“This one was done on the down low,” Brandau said. “This was not a transparent situation.”
Several speakers, living in west Fresno near California Avenue, said they were never notified.
Luis Chavez, a Fresno City councilman who sponsored the city name change, pushed back on that narrative. Several community groups knew about the proposed name change, and the council publicly discussed it three times, he said.
“I’m not sure who gave the supervisors that misinformation that outreach was not done, but it was wrong information that made them provide false statements from the dais,” Chavez texted GV Wire.
Arias called out the supervisors for not practicing what they preach.
“It’s quite hypocritical for the county to suggest that we don’t listen to community voice when it’s a body that has voted to place a hazard toxic waste in west Fresno, approved liquor licenses in west Fresno, when west Fresno is a more saturated area for both liquor licenses and toxic sites against the opposition of the same residents,” Arias said.
Arias said he’s held more communications on the Chavez Boulevard issue than the county has on any topic.
Quintero Said Chavez Would Reject
Supervisor Sal Quintero told every story in the book about Cesar Chavez. At one point, he even held up Chavez’s autobiography.
Quintero shared anecdotes of befriending Chavez in the 1980s.
“I believe I got to know him that well. That I believe if he were alive today, he would decline the name change, and the $1 million to help businesses and residents with the address changes. I believe he would say there are greater needs in our communities. Instead, I believe he might ask the money be given to a nonprofit that is helping Fresno County’s homeless population,” Quintero said.
Chavez, who is running against Quintero for the District 3 supervisor seat in 2024, disagreed.
“We don’t honor great leaders because they ask for it, but because they don’t ask for it. We honor them because of what they did for others and the community. I think his statement was a cop-out and typical of his lack of leadership when it counts,” Chavez said. “We are honoring Cesar Chavez’s legacy of helping hardworking farmworkers. It was encouraging to hear folks acknowledge that and there was consensus on that matter, the only disagreement was the location.”
City/County Friction Continues
Friction between the city council and supervisors is nothing new. The members have frequently taken shots at each other either on the dais, or in media interviews.
On the dais, Pacheco quipped “(the city) can do anything they want within the city limits of Fresno because the people elected them and you get what you pay for.”
Still, Tuesday’s episode got the attention of those who make a living dealing with both city and county governments.
“The lack of communication is staggering,” said Scott Miller, president and CEO of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce.
Said Chavez: “Bottom line, the city and county need to work at communicating much better. Now that they made their voice heard we will honor their vote within shared jurisdiction.”