What a great idea: Fresno res­i­dents want new parks, so they take it on them­selves

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY THE FRESNO BEE ED­I­TO­RIAL BOARD

Some great news was an­nounced re­cently in Fresno: Neighborho­ods and com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions are set­ting out to build new parks in parts of the city where they are badly needed, and they are not us­ing city money to do it.

The de­vel­op­ment comes on the heels of the hard-fought Mea­sure P bat­tle in last November’s elec­tion. That mea­sure, which would have gen­er­ated $37.5 mil­lion an­nu­ally for 30 years by hik­ing the sales tax by three-eighths of a cent, was in­tended to create new parks and re­pair ex­ist­ing ones. It passed with 52 per­cent of vot­ers, but it needed 66 per­cent since it was a tax hike.

Fresno con­sis­tently ranks near the bot­tom of Amer­ica’s 97 largest cities for park qual­ity. The Bee sup­ported Mea­sure P be­cause it was a cit­i­zen-led push on an is­sue dear to res­i­dents, and parks fund­ing had been put off long enough.

The other side in the de­bate wor­ried that not enough money would be avail­able to bring Fresno po­lice and fire de­part­ments back to strength af­ter cuts they ab­sorbed in the Great Re­ces­sion. Op­po­nents of Mea­sure P in­cluded Mayor Lee Brand, po­lice Chief Jerry Dyer

and fire Chief Kerri Do­nis.

But that is in the past. To­day St. Rest Bap­tist Church is mov­ing for­ward with plans for a $1.4 mil­lion youth com­mu­nity cen­ter and park at the church grounds in southwest Fresno — a sec­tion of the city that des­per­ately needs a new recre­ation spot.

How is the church manag­ing this? By work­ing through a com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment cor­po­ra­tion formed specif­i­cally for this pur­pose. The cor­po­ra­tion will be the means for the church to land grants and a loan from a credit union.

There is more, as staff writer Brianna Calix out­lined in a re­cent story:

Res­i­dents in the South Tower area are join­ing with a com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment cor­po­ra­tion to build a park on Broad­way Street. Meet­ings this sum­mer will gather res­i­dents’ feed­back on how the park should be de­signed.

In down­town Fresno, some res­i­dents and two com­mu­nity groups want to build a park on East Tyler Av­enue near the in­ter­change of highways 41 and 180.

Vol­un­teers part­nered with the city to take care of an empty USDA research site in south­east Fresno. The goal is to turn the 49 acres into a soc­cer com­plex.

Help­ing fund these dreams is Propo­si­tion 68, a $4 bil­lion bond passed by Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers last year. Among its pur­poses is to sup­port parks.

Es­ther Carver, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Low­ell Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Corp., which is help­ing with the Tower project, said there is a sil­ver lin­ing to Mea­sure P’s out­come. “Res­i­dents are more ex­cited to say, ‘Hey, if the city is not go­ing to do this for us, we are go­ing to find other ways to make it happen.”

The new bud­get passed by the City Coun­cil does hike parks fund­ing by 4.6 per­cent, to a to­tal of $32 mil­lion. A BMX park, sev­eral tot lots and other im­prove­ments are in­cluded.. But that pre­sumes they sur­vive any pos­si­ble line-item veto by Mayor Brand. He was at the ground breaking of the St. Rest project, so he first­hand saw how ex­cited those peo­ple are to the prospect of a new park in their midst. Here is hop­ing he main­tains parks fund­ing as out­lined in the new bud­get.

Long-term, the city will need to re­turn to some man­ner of tax to fully sup­port its parks sys­tem. That will be the only true way to gen­er­ate enough money to build and maintain parks, and en­sure full eq­uity across Fresno.

Mean­while, a hearty “way to go” to the var­i­ous com­mu­nity ef­forts cre­at­ing new parks for Fres­nans to en­joy.

JOHN WALKER [email protected]­nobee.com

Betty Lee hugs Pastor D.J. Criner, of Saint Rest Bap­tist Church, dur­ing the grand open­ing of the Saint Rest Plaza on April 20. The plaza, at Elm and Rev­erend Ch­ester Rig­gins av­enues in west Fresno, was created to pro­vide space for a farm­ers mar­ket and other ac­tiv­i­ties.

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