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Is Fresno About to Lose $200 Million for Downtown Improvement?
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Published 10 months ago on
June 15, 2023

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Disagreements over how to spend $250 million in state grant money for downtown Fresno infrastructure improvements could cause the city to get only a portion of the promised amount.

The latest California budget revisions now underway in Sacramento show Fresno getting only $50 million of the $250 million that Gov. Gavin Newsom had committed for downtown Fresno.

A staffer on the Assembly Budget Committee said the funding would be spread over three budget years. Fresno would receive $100 million in the 2024-25 budget year and another $100 million in the 2025-26 budget, the staffer said.

By including $50 million in the 2023-24 budget, the funding is still “a win for Fresno & Dr. Arambula,” the source said in an email, referring to Assemblymember Dr. Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno.

But the source could not comment on any guarantee the money would be budgeted in coming years.

Promises made by Newsom for other projects in previous years have sometimes been revised. Earlier this month, for example, Newsom proposed rolling back $2 billion in funding for regional transportation projects that he had previously supported.

Fresno Community Groups Object to Mayor Dyer’s Plans

Mayor Jerry Dyer announced the original $250 million infrastructure investment on May 12, calling it a “historic” investment. He earmarked $70 million for two parking structures, $45 million for outdated water and sewer lines, and $55 million for public transportation, green space, and sidewalk landscaping.

“We are, indeed, teed up and ready to do something transformational. This $250 million is the kind of boost that will get us across the finish line and allow Fresno to realize its destiny as one of California’s premier cities,” Dyer said when announcing the money.

But on May 31, community groups penned a joint letter to California lawmakers objecting to how the money would be spent.

“While we believe that transformational investment is needed in Fresno, there are existing and urgent needs in existing neighborhoods in South Fresno that this funding would not address and we are surprised that there are no apparent transit access or affordable housing requirements attached to this significant grant of funds,” the letter stated.

Leaders of community groups, including Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, Faith in the Valley, and Central California Environmental Justice Network, signed the letter.

A call made to Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability was not immediately returned. Officials with Dyer’s office could not respond by press time. A press aide with Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula’s office declined to comment.

Downtown Infrastructure a Barrier to Housing

Dyer said downtown water and sewer lines must be upgraded before more housing can be built in downtown Fresno. He also has earmarked $20 million for an intermodal transit center.

Developers have long said the cost of building infrastructure has deterred housing construction. Some downtown infrastructure dates back to 1896, said Brock Buche, director of public utilities for the city of Fresno. Some water mains date back to the 1930s, he said.

Developer Reza Assemi said investment in downtown infrastructure is “long overdue.” Almost every single project has been held up by sewer and water, he said.

Assemi said he had to spend $1 million on infrastructure for his new 28-unit apartment complex on Van Ness Avenue that’s under construction.

Banks will not finance infrastructure investments because downtown rents wouldn’t be sufficient to cover the additional costs, he said.

Arias: Parking Proposal Turned Off California Lawmakers

Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias said he went to Sacramento last week to speak with legislators about the proposed infrastructure funding and learned of their concerns that a large portion was going to parking.

“We’re still trying to get clarity on whether the amount ($50 million) is finalized or not,” he said.

Community Leaders Letter to State Officials

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