The $70 Million that Might End Fresno’s “Tale of Two Cities”

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Randall Winston from SGC addressing the crowd at the Californian in downtown Fresno. Photo by the Leadership Council on Justice and Accountability.

By Emily Brandt

We need to “raise our city to a level where past leadership, current leadership and future leadership work together…The goal [of this meeting and this project] is to see if we can work together so that no side is left behind, and that at the end of the day, the City of Fresno is no longer a tale of two cities, but is one. It would be something great if each one of us could have a part in making sure that Fresno is great.” With these words, Rev. D.J. Criner, pastor of Saint Rest Baptist Church in west Fresno, or as he put it, “the Wild, Wild West,” opened the first Community Steering Meeting of the Fresno Transformative Climate Communities Collaborative (FTCCC) on July 20.

FTCCC is in charge of completing the local part of the final application for the remainder of the approval process that would secure the $70 million (http://kvpr.org/post/how-small-group-fresnans-got-state-change-course-and-send-70-million-their-way) for which southwest Fresno, Chinatown and downtown Fresno have qualified to be considered. The remaining steps that lead to the final deadline for submission on Aug. 24 include rounding up matching grants and funds totaling an additional $35 million, or 50% of the grant. These areas of Fresno make up one area of three that have been approved for final consideration throughout the state.

According to the forum’s moderator, Steven Cancian (a member of the FTCCC Steering Committee and a former consultant for the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan), there are four more similar meetings in Fresno scheduled to yield a proposal. The opening window for this so-called release call for concepts is Aug. 1, continuing through Aug. 2.

In an effort to clarify the matter, Mary Curry, former Fresno Unified School Board trustee and an advocate for southwest Fresno, asked, “Is Fresno already qualified and what are the criteria?”

Cancian responded that “the state is still processing the guidelines [for proposals]. We are competing with other cities in the state…We have great confidence that we’re going to get this money, but the money has not been legally [allocated]. There’s a little bit of diplomacy going on because if we say that Fresno has the money [before that has been finalized at the state level, then other cities are going to be upset].” He left off with a final confusing thought, “It’s not in our interest to say that we have the money because we’re applying for it.”

This information seemed to surprise people in the audience. Based on questions and comments from community members, it was evident most people thought the money was already there. As Grecia Elenes said in her recent Valley Voices article in the Fresno Bee, “There should be no more excuses. The plan is in place. The money is on its way. It’s time to invest in southwest Fresno.”

Residents of west Fresno have for decades been told that investment was coming only to have it not. In that light, a petition is circulating online to put pressure on those involved in the process to ensure that at least a large portion of the money does, in fact, go to southwest Fresno (https://www.change.org/p/jepahl-white-keep-70million-tcc-funds-in-sw-fresno).

Following up on Cancian’s response, Randall Winston, executive director of the Strategic Growth Council (SGC) based in Sacramento, explained, “There will be three locations receiving funds: [presumably] there will be $70 million going to Fresno, $35 million to Los Angeles and $20 million to a third location that we have not yet determined.”

On the matter of the proposal guidelines that the state has not yet finalized (as mentioned above), Winston referred to a third version of the guidelines created on June 5, which he summarized as follows: “What are the three transformative goals of this program? 1) accelerating the reduction of greenhouse gases; 2) maximizing public health and environmental outcomes; [and] 3) expanding workforce development and economic prosperity. These are the three driving goals that we want to see achieved by the awardees at the neighborhood [level]. To ensure that there are strong policies in place to prevent the displacement of existing residents, we need community engagement; that is critical. We want to create a collaborative stakeholder [environment].”

One of the most important concerns resulting from past experiences relates to who will control the awarding of contracts and ensure the workforce that performs the labor is based in the community where the monies have been allocated to achieve the three goals identified above. According to Winston, “After the awarding of the grants, the SGC will contract with third parties to help implement [the plan].”

Further questions about the process were not addressed beyond that the awarding of contracts will be controlled by Sacramento. Who will be able to lobby for these contracts and how the SGC will determine what companies and parties are even eligible to complete the work were unclear and real grounds for concern.

According to information online about FTCCC, the process in Fresno is overseen by the Fresno TCCC with consultation by several nonprofit organizations, including Building Healthy Communities, the Leadership Council on Justice and Accountability and the Central Valley Community Foundation (the latter founded partly by former Mayor Ashley Swearengin). The synchronization with the timetable outlined for Sacramento (SGC) was not immediately clear, however.

We were told by the SGC executive director that “one last set of draft guidelines will be used to score the potential awardees and that will be sent out before the end of September. Next Wednesday, July 26, they [SGC?] will send out the last set of guidelines and there will be a short period of public comment in early August. Aug. 14 will be the final guidelines [sic]. They’ll be sent to the Sacramento Council [SGC] on Aug. 24. The proposal application process [deadline] begins Aug. 25. We want to make the award by the end of the year.”

Furthermore, he said, “We recognize there are specific areas of need throughout the state, pockets of extreme need. We are trying to structure and design a process for all residents in those areas to come together to decide how, how much and where to invest. It’s not SGC’s place to decide exactly where the money should go, specifically here or there…It’s also not the case that we’re going to say ‘here are the funds’ and then walk away.

“We understand the history and the degree of difficulty [involved in the] responsible expenditure of funds and the state (SGC) will be a partner with whatever community-based organizations and others that make investments…including years out; that’s the only way it’s going to be successful.” This sounded like an attempt to explain how the plan’s follow-through will track outcomes.

Halima Aquino, director of the Central Valley–based Voter Engagement and Education Project, asked, “Is there any money reserved for the relocation of people who are living in areas that are so environmentally dangerous and [for] decontamination of those sites?”

Winston responded saying, “The short answer is ‘no,’ but SGC is committed to looking for partners to get other funds to address those issues. Legally, you can’t spend these funds on areas outside of greenhouse gas reduction.” Clearly, residents in contaminated areas would qualify as living in the most intense greenhouse gas producing areas in the Central Valley.

Further questions concerning this meeting and other matters relating to the $70 million funding final proposal process can be directed to the “Contact” button at https://transformfresno.com/. Submit questions and plan to attend these important meetings throughout August before the final proposals are submitted.

The next meeting is the Proposal Kickoff Workshop to be held at a place TBA in southwest Fresno on Aug. 1, the Proposal Kickoff Workshop for Downtown Fresno and Chinatown locations is Aug. 2, the Community Steering Committee #2 at a southwest location TBA is Aug. 16 and the final call for concept proposals is Aug. 25.

Editor’s Update: Watch this space! Due to the very short timeline for this significant decision, Community Alliance plans to publish a follow-up article online in August before the regular monthly September edition. Please refer to the calendar below for updated information about important TCCC meetings in Fresno.

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Emily Brandt is a high school English teacher who has lived and worked abroad and was active the Bernie Sanders campaign.