If you felt like you’d stepped into a scene from a Hollywood movie during last Thursday’s Fresno Council of Governments’ meeting, you could be forgiven. A lot of what transpired was reminiscent of the 1996 blockbuster Jerry Maguire: neogtiation, friendly amendments, debate, real talk about real issues, and pet slogans. During the meeting, at which the Fresno Council of Governments (FCOG) met to select its preferred alternative for its regional growth and housing plan, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin riffed on a quote from Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character, Rod Tidwell, saying, “That’s the difference between you and me. You think we’re fighting and I think we’re finally talking.” Mayor Swearengin went on to note, “At least we’re finally talking about the real issues of growth and transportation,” then offered to make a few recommendations “about how we can take advantage of the momentum we have today,” setting the stage for the discussion to come.
FCOG was to choose from among four proposed growth and funding plans for the Fresno region, including advocates’ own Scenario D, as the preferred scenario for their Regional Transportation Plan. Although we all expected FCOG to select a scenario that allowed most cities and towns to implement their existing general plans (Scenario B), advocates banded together to advance the principles of Scenario D, noting that it achieves the region’s greenhouse gas reductions by investing in existing communities rather than “new towns,” particularly the most disadvantaged communities. Despite a letter from the American Lung Association of California and 16 other groups that focused on Scenario D’s health benefits, and a Rapidfire analysis detailing the plan’s many advantages, it had already become clear that stakeholders would not outright adopt that scenario.
Although FCOG formally adopted Scenario B as its preferred scenario, advocates’ efforts to advance the principles and values of Scenario D bore fruit when the board unanimously passed a second motion directing staff to return in 120 days with a plan to evaluate advocates’ policy requests and policy statements by the City of Fresno, including:
- * Invest in existing communities, not new towns, particularly via transportation project criteria
- * Support every community in growing well, such as via a competitive OBAG-style grant program that would take advantage of projected revenues in excess of projected transportation projects
- * Prioritize investment where it is needed most, for instance, by assessing health and infrastructure needs in disadvantaged communities and developing an action plan to address them
- * Conserve essential landscapes including via a Natural & Working Lands Conservation Policy and one-to-one mitigation for impacts to agricultural lands
Many of FCOG’s board members spoke in support of these principles. Supervisor Perea stated, “We need to take into account what the needs of the community are,” he said, and requested that the grants program and needs assessment ideas not get lost, encouraging staff to return with a report in January or February.
Mayor Gary Yep from Kerman (while noting “Scenario B completes me”), encouraged early and concrete action. “I think we need some teeth here so that people here know that we’re moving forward, not backward. We can’t let this die in committee. We need to show we heard everything said by the public today and want to take action.”
(Ah, Mayor Yep. You had me at “policies with teeth!”)
Not to be left behind, Mayors Silva and Sablan specifically spoke to the importance of public health issues, and how funding guidelines could prioritize those. Mayor Ashbeck, although celebrating her “Scenario-B-for-Birthday,” specifically supported the grant program, perhaps inspired by the strong testimony by John Wright, Chair of the Valley Planners Network.
The Policy Advisory Committee will take up the development of this plan in January. The Board specifically instructed staff that community groups should be at the table. The motion asks COG staff to return in 120 days, ie, in the end of March, with a plan and timeline for discussing key issues. While it is clear that staff would like to defer any and all changes to the next RTP, entire elements of the RTP have never been shared publicly and therefore certainly cannot be set in stone already. We look forward to a robust debate on the committee, and are ready for the FCOG board to show us the money!