By Ray McKnight
Despite the unfortunate actions by the Fresno City Council on Feb. 27 and the misleading headline the next morning in the Fresno Bee, the destruction of the Fulton Mall is not a certainty. The Fulton Mall Reconstruction Project train has left the station, but it has not arrived at its destination.
As Mayor Ashley Swearengin said at the conclusion of the Feb. 27 Council meeting, the decisions made that night did not complete the process necessary to turn the mall into a street. The City Council must take various actions to receive the TIGER grant funds, among them approving the final design, putting a construction contract out for bids and awarding the construction contract. In the TIGER grant agreement between the city and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the estimated deadline for awarding the contract is December 2014. It is rumored that the city is asking for an extension of this deadline. It will be interesting to see if the FHWA approves the extension given that the city in its application stated that its project was “shovel ready.”
Also, according to one reliable source, the state’s contribution of matching funds for the project is not a certainty. The city must find matching funds from non-federal sources equal to 20% of the grant in order to receive the $15.9 million TIGER funding.
The Downtown Fresno Coalition has gone to court to stop the city’s effort to move ahead with the destruction of the mall. A petition for writ of mandate has been filed to set aside the Feb. 27 actions by the City Council that were intended to hasten the destruction plan. These included amending the 2025 General Plan and the Central Area Community Plan to designate Fulton as a street instead of a pedestrian mall.
The petition also seeks to stop the city from taking any action to carry out the Fulton Mall Reconstruction Project “until a lawful approval is obtained from the City after the preparation and consideration of an adequate EIR [Environmental Impact Report] and adoption of all feasible alternatives and mitigation measures.”
Tax-deductible contributions are needed to support the litigation to save the mall. Checks can be mailed to 1000 Friends of Fresno, 4781 E. Gettysburg Ave., Fresno, CA 93726. Checks should be made out to “1000 Friends of Fresno,” and “Save the Mall” must be written on the memo line. Contributions can also be made online at www.crowdrise.com; click on Explore Causes, click on Environment, then type in Fresno Fulton Mall in the top right corner. Donors can give any amount and decide what fee if any to contribute to Crowdrise.
The present litigation is concerned with the unacceptable EIR required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Parallel to the CEQA review are other reviews required by federal laws: the National Environmental Policy Act and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. Caltrans has been designated as the lead agency to carry out these reviews, which have not been completed. Unfortunately, early stages of this review process indicate that Caltrans is too inclined to accommodate the desires of the Swearengin regime.
The Downtown Fresno Coalition obtained consulting party status for the Fulton Mall Reconstruction Project, and among other things this made it possible for representatives of the Coalition to participate in meetings in which the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was created for the project. The coalition was able to bring about some changes in the MOA but had no effect on major points.
The coalition refused to sign the final version, citing eight reasons for the refusal. One reason, to quote the letter of refusal, was that “most of what the MOA calls mitigation measures do not, in fact, mitigate the adverse effect of the project to the FM [Fulton Mall]. Moreover, DFC [Downtown Fresno Coalition] does not agree that so-called mitigation has in any way ‘resolved’ the adverse effects.”
Another reason was that the MOA “fails to acknowledge and mitigate social justice adverse effects of destroying a de facto public park, public open space, serving a disadvantaged community, noted for a high minority and disabled population, and high concentrated poverty, causing an increase in air pollution to the same area, and creation of a heat island, etc.”
The coalition is offering a substitute alternative that could qualify for TIGER funding and would satisfy the goals of the Alternative 1 supporters. This substitute alternative calls for redesigning Congo Alley and Federal Alley, both parallel to Fulton Mall. These alleys are 20 feet wide; each would be designed to have a 12-foot traffic lane and an 8-foot parking lane. Congo Alley would allow one-way traffic in one direction, and Federal Alley would allow one-way traffic in the opposite direction.
The alternative also calls for acquiring properties at appropriate locations along Fulton Mall to be remodeled to allow the construction in each of a 15-foot wide passageway for pedestrians connecting the mall with the alleys. Businesses would be encouraged to modify their entrances to the alleys to encourage access by pedestrians. Small shop fronts for specialized boutiques or personal services could be created along the passageways. To give more visibility to businesses along the Fulton Mall, electric trams would provide transportation through the Mall as they did when the Mall was opened in 1964.
In addition to contributing to the litigation fund, supporters of the mall should send messages to City Council members urging them to support the substitute alternative. Council Members Sal Quintero and Paul Caprioglio, who voted no on Feb. 27, should be thanked and encouraged to continue their opposition.
Ray McKnight is a professor emeritus of English at Fresno State. From 2002 through 2012, he was chair of the Downtown Fresno Coalition.