State bill could hurt Fresno’s abil­ity to im­prove its econ­omy

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY LUIS CHAVEZ

By ev­ery mea­sure, Fresno is a city strug­gling to achieve the lev­els of eco­nomic suc­cess en­joyed by its much wealth­ier neigh­bors along the Cal­i­for­nia coast.

In this state’s two-tier econ­omy, we are on the bot­tom rung. The Cen­sus Bureau es­ti­mates Fresno’s poverty rate to be over 28 per­cent, more than dou­ble the state’s rate of 13.3 per­cent. Cen­sus tracts in our dis­tricts have the sec­ond high­est con­cen­tra­tion of poverty in the na­tion.

These rates are even higher for our com­mu­ni­ties of color. A re­cent Pub­lic Pol­icy In­sti­tute of Cal­i­for­nia study found that Latino poverty statewide is 23.4 per­cent, which is far above the 12.5 per­cent rate among white Cal­i­for­ni­ans. In Fresno, about half our pop­u­la­tion is Latino.

These are the strug­gles Fresno faces daily — and each day we work to change this nar­ra­tive. We’ve made ex­cel­lent progress over the last few years. Three new e-com­merce dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ters have cre­ated more than 4,000 good-pay­ing jobs with 401K ben­e­fits. Our un­em­ploy­ment rate has come down sub­stan­tially, but re­mains dras­ti­cally higher than the state av­er­age.

All of this will change if SB 531 is ap­proved by the Assem­bly and signed by the gov­er­nor. This bill

would pro­hibit Fresno and other dis­ad­van­taged Cal­i­for­nia cities from us­ing sales tax rev­enue after Jan. 1, 2020 to cre­ate in­cen­tive agree­ments to at­tract large em­ploy­ers. Con­trary to what SB 531 au­thor Sen. Steve Glazer and oth­ers may say, this leg­is­la­tion will make it harder for poorer com­mu­ni­ties like Fresno to pro­vide good-pay­ing jobs.

I’ve per­son­ally heard from many peo­ple in my dis­trict who are work­ing at Ama­zon and Ulta Beauty and they have great things to say about what these good-pay­ing jobs and ben­e­fits mean for their fam­i­lies. Many of these em­ploy­ees used to be on pub­lic as­sis­tance or in­car­cer­ated. Hope has re­placed frus­tra­tion.

These are not the only new jobs Fresno needs, but they are im­por­tant for the city. For peo­ple in and out of the work­force that have a high school diploma or GED, these jobs are great start­ing places where they can learn new skills and build a ca­reer — a first step to­wards self­suf­fi­ciency. For ex­am­ple, in Fresno, a two-in­come house­hold can af­ford to buy a house and is not lim­ited to rent­ing. This nar­ra­tive is one that points to a bet­ter, brighter fu­ture for Fresno and other cities look­ing to lift their most vul­ner­a­ble cit­i­zens out of poverty and into full-time jobs.

This is def­i­nitely not the end. It is in­stead a be­gin­ning. This is Fresno’s new nar­ra­tive. A city long as­so­ci­ated with the agri­cul­ture in­dus­try is di­ver­si­fy­ing its econ­omy. In an area where sea­sonal temp jobs in 100-de­gree heat are com­mon, dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ters of­fer em­ploy­ment op­tions. As a re­sult of these jobs, wages are in­creas­ing and liv­ing stan­dards are ris­ing.

Un­for­tu­nately, peo­ple like Sen. (Steve) Glazer, who dis­like in­cen­tive agree­ments, don’t see these suc­cess sto­ries. They don’t see Ama­zon, Ulta or Gap em­ploy­ees who are thrilled to have a bet­ter-pay­ing job that al­lows them a chance to achieve the Amer­i­can dream. They don’t see the mil­lions of dol­lars an­nu­ally that are now in Fresno’s tax cof­fers, al­low­ing the city to pro­vide bet­ter ser­vices. And they don’t see the tens of mil­lions in ad­di­tional rev­enue go­ing to our schools to ed­u­cate chil­dren.

Fresno uses these sales tax in­cen­tives agree­ments to at­tract good-pay­ing jobs to our city. These agree­ments are not cor­po­rate give­aways, but are in­stead a job-cre­ation strat­egy that in­cen­tivizes em­ploy­ing peo­ple and pay­ing them a liv­ing wage with ben­e­fits. This can con­tinue as long as cities like Fresno can rely on us­ing all the eco­nomic tools avail­able, in­clud­ing tax in­cen­tives, to at­tract new busi­nesses and cre­ate good-pay­ing jobs.

We can­not per­pet­u­ate the tale of “two states,” where coastal re­gions en­joy six-fig­ure av­er­age me­dian in­comes, a di­verse, rich econ­omy and plen­ti­ful job op­tions for their res­i­dents, while com­mu­ni­ties in the Cen­tral Val­ley and In­land Em­pire suf­fer from high un­em­ploy­ment, crip­pling poverty, low ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment lev­els and lower stan­dards of liv­ing. So­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice should equally fo­cus on eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity jus­tice — es­pe­cially in dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties of color. Fresno will con­tinue to see its un­em­ploy­ment rate drop to his­toric lows and the qual­ity of life im­prove, un­less SB 531 stops it.

Luis Chavez rep­re­sents south­east Fresno’s Dis­trict 5 on the City Coun­cil.

CRAIG KOHLRUSS Fresno Bee file

Work­ers pack­age prod­ucts for cus­tomers at the Ama­zon ful­fill­ment cen­ter in south Fresno on July 24.

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