By Ruth Gadebusch
With the publication of the zoning map of the City of Fresno with all those little empty spaces I was once again reminded of the many county islands within the city limits. Why do they still exist? Why aren’t we one?
Why do we persist in holding out? Most assuredly we who live in the county islands are affected by the actions of the city. Yet, we have no political power to influence the actions. Knowing little of California politics, I was shocked when I first arrived in Fresno in 1961 to learn that my neighbors considered themselves living in a rural area. None of my previous experiences had prepared me to recognize this density as rural. To this day, I remain puzzled at the resistance.
In my memory I recall that there was one serious effort to “Square Off” in what year, I can’t remember. The campaign was to be led by a prominent citizen. If he could not influence the voters, then who could? Alas, it went the way that so many progressive efforts do in this community.
The argument for remaining “rural” was more often than not that unification would bring increased taxes. That idea fell by the wayside when Proposition 13 was passed in the late 1970s. Today the city has one additional tax that is not covered by the various districts in the county. That particular tax has to do with a mistake in pension calculation some years back. I should think under those circumstances the City Council could find a way to waive that if they ever got serious about unification.
Then there is that spurious bit about requiring sidewalks thereby destroying the rural ambience. That too has long been dropped. Many of the county islands long ago found it advantageous to have those curbs and sidewalks. Although I find the sidewalks a bit narrow for two to walk side-by-side it surely beats walking in the mud puddles of the “rural” atmosphere. I also remember the money spent grading my former no-curb lot/street line both for looks and access.
We of the county islands long since lost the ability to choose our own garbage service, another example that the efficiency of urban collection is required. On a larger scale, and somewhat of a different issue, is the recognized area of influence on the perimeter of the city limits. Sometimes there just is no reasonable demarcation and I see these outskirts and islands as just that. No matter how much we proclaim otherwise, they are urban, and from time-to-time, are annexed into the city.
This hasn’t even addressed the many district or neighborhood services: irrigation, fire, water, and biggest of all, the Sheriff and City police. In emergency situations some of these are tailor made for confusion. To say the least, it is an inefficient operation, be it from the standpoint of boundaries, overlapping equipment or a host of other considerations, not the least of which is cost. Here, I note my sheriff’s department has been excellent, so my advocacy in no way arises from any lack of services. Nor should we forget the little known boards leaving few voters well informed as to candidates and all too often ill informed candidates.
Isn’t it time that we recognized that we are one, that our fates are intertwined? Perhaps if the citizens of Fresno worked more together we might even balance those political powers to the North and South of us, the ones who tend to overlook our needs, in whose minds we hardly exist. The Northern part of the state thinks we are South, and the Southern part of the state thinks we are North; therefore, we become a political pawn. I think a serious look requires us to come together as one. It would go a long way toward allowing us to claim our rightful influence in California’s political scheme. I have only scratched the surface. Think about it, citizens.
Ruth Gadebusch is a veteran and a community activist, a former member of the Fresno Unified Board of Education and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.