Image by John Walker from the Fresno Bee via Historical Perspectives: http://historical.fresnobeehive.com/2009/11/before-fulton-mall/

Letters to the Editor – September 2013

Should We Destroy the Fulton Mall to Save Downtown Fresno?

Your recent editorial on the Fulton Mall raises several important questions regarding the city’s planned course of action for the mall. The city fails to discuss the factors that actually led to the current state of the downtown, instead, blaming it all on the Fulton Mall.

Twenty years after the creation of Fulton Mall, most of the large professional firms were still located downtown, many even on the Fulton Mall. Now, almost every single one has moved out of the downtown and is located north of Shaw Avenue. In the same time frame, Clovis Unified has grown by 50% while Fresno Unified has lost enrollment. Does the city really expect us to believe that the inability to drive down Fulton caused this exodus?

Road advocates also love to use the statistic of cities with pedestrian malls that have converted back to traffic. Just as there are many layers of an onion, so too are there many aspects of this statistic. Most of the cities in this study aren’t even half the size of Fresno, many under 50,000 in population. Also, cities do have successful pedestrian malls and there are cities that reverted to traffic and their areas continue to struggle.

Many of these cities have also invested heavily in downtown projects exclusive of the road conversion cost. They are making a long-term fiscal commitment to improve their downtown area as a whole, not just one street. Without federal money, the city can’t even consider starting this project, let alone address the other needs of the area.

I agree that some speculators hope to profit from traffic returning to Fulton. But I feel the major developers in town realize that returning traffic to Fulton is no threat to their existing or planned developments. Traffic on the mall diverts focus from planning issues that would have a real impact on the area, such as adhering to infill policies and banning multistory buildings outside the downtown developers.

The Fulton Mall can be a key part of a vibrant downtown and is an asset not an impediment to Fresno.

Doug Richert
Fresno

*****

Thanks very much for your column opposing the plan to turn Fulton Mall back into a street.

Those who are pushing this move prefer to ignore these facts:

1)       Traffic could move freely on Fulton Street when it began to fail as a retail center in the early 1960s as businesses moved north to Manchester Center and elsewhere. Fulton Mall was built in an effort to reverse this trend, but policy decisions by the City Council that allowed or even encouraged urban sprawl northward drew shoppers away from the downtown. With the convenience of online shopping and the lure of Fashion Fair, Sierra Vista Mall and River Park, there is little incentive to go downtown to shop.

2)       Fulton Mall has received recognition as a masterpiece of mid–20th century landscape architecture. In 2010, it was declared eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and was listed in the California Register of Historical Resources. The mall has become an urban park that provides a tree-filled place of refuge from the fumes and noise of vehicular traffic. Properly maintained and promoted, it can become a destination point with cafés and art galleries.

Readers who want to learn more about the effort to preserve the mall can go to the Downtown Fresno Coalition link at www.1000friendsoffresno or the Save the Fulton Mall! or Downtown Fresno Coalition Facebook pages.

Ray McKnight
Fresno

*****

If a road is all that is required for successful businesses downtown, why isn’t Van Ness a shining beacon of economic activity? And for that matter, why not the corner businesses on the mall at Fresno and Tulare? Those streets certainly get plenty of traffic. Should we carve a road through the center of Fashion Fair? Take out the new fountains and playground and skylights? Or would you call that crazy because having pedestrian walk-thru traffic is a long understood key to how malls function?

It’s pretty obvious when you read the specific plan that the city simply sees a few bucks of revenue in the form of parking meters, and a nice package to sell to developer friends—to hell with any piece of genuine culture and beauty this town has.

The Catacomb party a few weeks ago proves that thousands of people of all cultures and creeds, from all over town, will descend upon the Fulton Mall if you just give them a reason. They weren’t there celebrating the paving of a street, they were there enjoying the urban park no one had heard of before.

I don’t think we want another River Park. We don’t need another street, indistinguishable from all the rest. Instead of trying to change the Fulton Mall, we should accept it for what it is—a completely unique part of our city’s heritage, an urban park, a refuge of beauty in the heart of our city. Don’t tear it out, make it more of what it is. Add new art and fountains and gardens. Make it worthy of a visit for its own sake. We don’t need another strip mall. We do need our central park.

Logan M. Wippern
Fresno

*****

Many other alternatives exist for the Fulton Mall that have not been explored. It will take an outrageous amount of money to tear up the streets so a few cars can drive down there (and then they’ll need to park). Is the city offering free parking? I haven’t heard anything about that. Why would people who now go to River Park (where they interestingly enough also can only drive so far before they must park and then walk!) flock to downtown because they can drive their car there? Isn’t this putting the car before the destination?

People need a reason to go down there. It seems crazy to me to first rip out the mall and then hope that stores will locate there. I’m questioning the city’s foresight. History does not support their smart city planning choices. And the taxpayer always pays in the end. I have a studio down there, and I would love to see the downtown revitalized. But destroying a national landmark and removing art is not the way to go.

Dixie Salazar
Fresno

*****

The final straw in KILLING downtown would be the removal of the sculptures, trees, and playgrounds of Fulton Mall to make it just another street. If having traffic drive by a store insures its success, all of the stores at Riverpark and Fashion Fair should be failing. Fulton Mall needs anchor stores to draw patrons. Grant’s, Penney’s, and Gottschalk’s were why people originally went to the mall. Once they left smaller stores could not compete.

I lived in Westwood for six years. Initially, on weekend nights the “village” jumped with tourists and locals. Businesses lamented that streets were closed, falsely believing that street traffic would increase their business. Simultaneously, Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade was modeled after the Fulton Mall — with one exception, they hired a “mall manager” who brought in a mix of businesses for a wide audience. Chains drew crowds seeking the familiar, which benefitted local businesses. 3rd Street has become one of the most popular destinations in SoCal. Tourists flock to what was a rundown main street two decades ago. Once businesses came, the (foot) traffic followed.

When Starbucks moved to the Tower, locals complained that local coffee shops could not compete. One went out of business, but two others are doing fine. Patrons may start with the chain, but often find local alternatives. If businesses cannot compete, they should go under.

Tearing up Fulton Mall is not the problem. There are too few businesses there to attract trade. With a downtown where people can live, play, work, and shop, we will not need to renovate downtown — we will have an urban space that works — for everyone.

According to the city, building owners will only renovate if drive-by traffic can look into their windows. From and too where is all this traffic headed?  HOW does being able to drive the six blocks from the Warner Theater to Pep Boys fix the problem?

Michael Eissinger
Fresno

*****

Editor’s note: We also received numerous comments about this subject on our Web site and Facebook page, including a couple that attacked me for questioning the city’s intention to reintroduce cars to the Fulton Mall. Both of the negative comments were anonymous and both writers were invited to have their letters appear in print, if they were willing to use their real name and provide us with the city in which they live. Neither of those two writers responded to our request to print their comments.

******

About the fires

It has been my good fortune to be directly involved with forestry work and related issues all my life.  Currently, the music/art/environmental/educational non-profit I belong to (Sierra Music and Arts Institute) is completing a 10 year long forest rehabilitation project on a few hundred acres in the Shaver Lake area.  We have used federal (Forest Service) and state (Calfire) grants for the purposes of saving the forest, communities and watersheds from cataclysmic wildfire.  I suggest this work is as important as anything we could possibly be doing at this time, and for myriad reasons.  Some facts, then:

The Sierra is particularly adapted over time to frequent lightning-caused or human-encouraged fires.  These fires (every 5 years or so) are crucial for forest health and survival.  With such frequency, there is little fuel to burn and the fires maintain this condition, doing a periodic housecleaning, as it were, thinning both tree and brush species, consuming combustibles on the ground, returning valuable minerals to the soil, improving water availability to remaining trees and downstream use, etc.  The strip mining of mature trees and maximum fire suppression over the past 100 or so years has led to accumulation of living and dead material such that when fires do erupt, they prove cataclysmic.  We spend astronomical amounts to fight and often lose the battles, losing forests, soils, watersheds and communities.  We also lose the carbon into the atmosphere instead of keeping it in the trees or soil where it belongs.

The solution is simple.  We send hand crews and light mechanical crews into all our forest lands (out west) to remove accumulated fuels and thin the small diameter (8-10” trunks or smaller) of brush and trees.  This material is chipped and should then be turned into liquid fuels through a process called pyrolizing.  This could be done in the forest to minimize trucking the chips around.  The fuel can run the equipment or power the local communities.  (A by-product called bio-char could be even more valuable than the fuel since it is highly prized as a soil amendment by farmers.)  Once cleaned and thinned, the woods can return to a more sustainable regime of frequent low intensity burns (which are healthy and low in terms of temperature and height), not destroying but encouraging the remaining tall timber and overall web.  Sustainable harvest practices are also very important in the overall picture.

The work is physical and intensive but to me it is like church.  (Off –season fire crew do this work real good—for most of us it would kick our butts but for them it is a day at the beach—with no monster breathing down your neck.  An army of  forestworkers would be a real good idea anytime now.)  One of the most serious predicted consequences of climate disruption is the explosion of cataclysmic forest fires.  We  must pay the costs up front, save the resources and employ the unemployed.  The money must be made available, which will then stimulate our poor abused economy in a healthy manner.  Communities, congresspeople, take heed!  (Quickly!)

Jemmy Bluestein
Clovis

******

The Christian Taliban are at it again

No, they’re not killing infidels or car-bombing centers of godless government (at least, not at the time of this writing), but they are attempting to undermine the secular foundations of California (and, by extension, those of the nation).

On July 2, Secretary of State Debra Bowen cleared for circulation a petition for a constitutional amendment that would exempt Bible-based speech from any legal restrictions whatsoever.  This would include discrimination and hate crimes.

The author of this appalling measure, Allan Esses, a pastor based in Irvine, tried in 2011 to place a similar measure on the ballot, but came up short.  I imagine this attempt will fail as well, but one never knows.  Keep in mind Proposition 8 and all the heartache, dyspepsia and tedious litigation that ensued.

Speaking for myself: If any person presents me with this petition, I intend to instruct him/her to fold it until it is all corners and then –  Well, there’s no need to be explicit, is there?

Anyone who wishes to read the state Attorney General’s summary and the complete text of this proposed amendment (along with Rev. (?) Esses’ self-serving justifications) should go to: http://www.ibabuzz.com/politics/2013/07/02/measure-seeks-special-protection-for-Bible-speech/

Dean W. Christensen
Fresno

  • 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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