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El Dorado Park: Revitalization or Gentrification?

By Dan Waterhouse

On the heels of three people being shot by party crashers at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house across the street from Fresno State in July, students are taking on the campus area social problems, especially crime.

While Fresno police were glad to see people “fed up with crime,” Captain Al Maroney says the campus area “by and large is very safe.” He added that many students, especially those from smaller communities, might not be prepared for Fresno’s urban environment. “What’s kind of dangerous to them is the real world to the rest of us,” Maroney commented. Students begged to differ with Maroney’s characterizations.

The greater campus area makes up a large percentage of Fresno’s “affordable housing” inventory and is essentially a slum. Students are mixed in with working poor, parolees, substance abusers and gang members. Students chose to take on the issue of the old Sin City area—now known as El Dorado Park—west of Bulldog Stadium.

Crime in the area has been a problem for decades. In the 1990s, drive-by shootings were common in the Sin City neighborhood when it was predominantly Southeast Asian in make-up. It wasn’t unusual to find bodies sprawled in the middle of the street, riddled with bullet wounds. More recently, robbery crews have haunted the campus area, robbing people out for early-morning walks. And there’s always been a significant amount of vehicle-related crime—burglaries and thefts.

Campus police have worked with other agencies to aggressively address crime issues, according to campus police chief David Huerta. He said his department has combined forces with State Parole, County Probation, U.S. Marshals, Homeland Security and local law enforcement to go after those causing problems off campus.

And recent crime statistics suggest the El Dorado Park neighborhood isn’t necessarily the area’s crime hotspot. Statistics indicate the area along Bulldog Lane near the stadium and the neighborhood south of Shaw Avenue, across from campus, are the real hotspots, especially for property crimes. Those neighborhoods have the same social issues as the El Dorado Park area.

After the shooting, students approached the City of Fresno for help in cleaning up the El Dorado Park area. The City dusted off the neighborhood’s Specific Plan, approved two years ago and seemingly forgotten, and the City Council added the neighborhood to the Airport Redevelopment area.

The specific plan envisions the area redeveloped with townhouses and apartments clustered around green space in a core, and also along Sixth Street. Most of the interior streets and alleys would vanish. A small neighborhood commercial area is eyed at Bulldog Lane and Sixth Street. Wesley Methodist Church and Stone Soup ministry would anchor the neighborhood to the north and south.

In the short term, students met with the community’s newly created Development Corporation and identified several high-priority projects to improve the area: an increased police presence, establishing a Neighborhood Watch program, an owner/manager education program (how to do background checks on prospective tenants and how to evict problem tenants), and installing street and alley lighting.

Representatives from the Greek organizations and Associated Students, Inc. (ASI; the student government), also have met with the City and the Housing Authority about evicting problem tenants on Section 8 vouchers from housing in the area. ASI representative Lauren Smoot reported that “some of the owners are really beginning to take action and work to make their apartments safer. They have recognized that students are concerned and they too are also fed up with the crime in their area. The Housing Authority is helping these property owners and UPD [University Police Department] with their Section 8 housing requirements in order to help get rid of the criminals. Unfortunately, it is a process, but major changes are occurring and moving in the right direction!”

The students in their zeal to address the crime problem hopefully won’t reawaken longstanding resentments. Many students feel the best way to solve the problem is to get rid of the poor people. The working poor who share the neighborhoods with them see students as inconsiderate neighbors who create noise and problems themselves.

*****

Dan Waterhouse writes “Queer Eye.” Contact him at bdsmdanfresno@yahoo.com.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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