By Ray McKnight
Three years ago, the Fulton Corridor Specific Plan (FCSP) process was set in motion. Its announced goal was to revitalize downtown Fresno, and deciding what to do about the Fulton Mall was stated as key to reaching that goal. The Pasadena firm Moule and Polyzoides were chosen to conduct the FCSP process. At the beginning of the process, Stefanos Polyzoides, one of the principal partners of the firm, invited Harold Tokmakian, Linda Zachritz and me to meet with him. Evidently, we were invited because we wrote the Downtown Fresno Coalition’s application to list the Fulton Mall in the National Register of Historic Places.
It became obvious from our conversation with him and with a rather confrontational member of his staff who joined the conversation for a while that the FCSP process was aimed inexorably at putting traffic on the mall. A citizens committee was appointed to propose a draft Fresno corridor-specific plan to be presented to the City Council and to choose three options for what to do about Fulton Mall. The committee concluded its work in November 2011. Two of its chosen options are variations on restoring traffic to the mall. The third option is to restore and maintain the Fulton Mall in accordance with its original design. The City Council will presumably make a decision after the Environmental Impact Report, now being prepared, is completed.
In the meantime, a concerted propaganda campaign from City Hall is attempting to give the impression that the public has spoken, and that turning the Fulton Mall into Fulton Street is what the people want. A look at the facts suggests a different conclusion. Whenever there has been a truly open forum for expressions of public opinion on the matter, support for preserving the Fulton Mall as a pedestrian-only space has been strong.
The first clear manifestation of this public support came in reaction to the plan submitted by ELS Architecture and Urban Design to the City Council in 2002 to return two-way vehicular traffic to the mall. At a meeting of Fresno’s City Council sitting as the Redevelopment Agency board on May 21, 2002, the Council chamber was filled with citizens who overwhelmingly showed opposition to the plan.
My notes from that meeting indicate that there were eight citizens speaking in favor of traffic on the Mall and 35 speaking in opposition to traffic on the mall. A letter supporting traffic on the mall was presented, signed by 11 mall merchants. This was countered by a petition signed by 99 merchants opposing traffic on the mall. Before that meeting, a statement of opposition to putting traffic on the mall, signed by several dozen citizens, was printed in the Fresno Bee. The Council voted to accept the plan as a report but chose not to act on it otherwise. In other words, the plan was shelved.
In March 2006, the City Council voted to have city staff conduct a Fulton Mall Study in response to a request by a Council member who was one of the most vocal proponents for vehicular traffic on the mall. A Fulton Mall Working Group was appointed and a series of meetings was scheduled to allow public expressions of what should be done about the mall. The public was also invited to submit written suggestions by e-mail and regular mail.
At least one member of the Downtown Fresno Coalition was present to observe what transpired at each of the public meetings. At every one of these meetings, nearly every comment that had anything to do with the issue of returning vehicular traffic to the mall was against doing so.
The team of facilitators who conducted the public meetings submitted in their report a list of seven “general themes that emerged during the community meetings.” Number one on the list was “No traffic on the Mall.” I personally examined all written comments submitted by the public for the Fulton Mall Study by e-mail and regular mail. Approximately 80% of the comments that in any way dealt with the issue opposed putting traffic on the mall. The Fulton Mall Study, not able to counter public support for preserving the mall, was quietly shelved.
More evidence of the considerable support for keeping traffic off the mall continues to emerge, as found in the creation of the “Save the Fulton Mall!!!” Facebook page. The page now has in excess of a thousand followers, and the page administrators report that with few exceptions these followers support preserving the mall.
At one of the early public meetings during the FCSP process, Charles Birnbaum, founder and president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., spoke about the mall as an historical resource and described aspects of its design by the renowned 20th-century landscape architect, Garrett Eckbo. An enthusiastic round of applause greeted Birnbaum’s statement that the Fulton Mall deserved listing as a National Historic Landmark, a designation more exclusive than listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
New attempts will soon be made to destroy our historic mall. There is no doubt that there is widespread support for preserving the mall, but we need to continue to have it heard.
Ray McKnight is a Professor Emeritus of English at CSU Fresno. For 11 years, he was the chair of the Downtown Fresno Coalition. Anyone seeking more information about preserving Fulton Mall should send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.