FRIANT -- This foothill community with its old houses, sleepy shops and vintage diner hasn't seen much change over the decades, beyond a wider road through town and a new gas station.
And major change isn't likely to come soon.
The little-known redevelopment agency set up by Fresno County 20 years ago to help modernize the small town is being shut down, in part because of state law and in part because of its failure.
Despite collecting nearly a million dollars in taxes, the county agency has little to show for it. No local roads have been paved, no housing has been built and few businesses have been attracted to the area -- all common goals of redevelopment programs.
The agency's biggest goal, building a sewage-treatment plant to replace leaky residential septic systems, never even got beyond the planning stage.
County records show the tax money the agency collected has been eaten up by operational expenses. The collections fell well short of financing any redevelopment plans.
"This is all money that could have paid for a lot of stuff here," said Dan Pearce, the head of the waterworks in Friant and a longtime champion of a sewage-treatment plant. "It turns out we didn't need anybody running a redevelopment agency."
According to county redevelopment documents, the agency has collected about $970,000 in local property taxes, most of which have gone to keeping the program afloat: paying for staff, debt service, office expenses and blueprints for plans that never amounted to much.
No money has gone to capital projects.
"The agency was set up with the best of intentions. It just didn't pan out," said county public works director Alan Weaver, who inherited management of the program when he took over public works six years ago.
High hopes dashed
Redevelopment agencies, per state law, are funded through a cut of the local property tax stream, money that otherwise would go to general county programs such as public safety. In addition to community upgrades, redevelopment funds target affordable housing.
About $250,000 of Friant's redevelopment taxes remain set aside for housing. It's yet to be decided how this money will be spent, a decision that is expected to be made when the agency winds down over the next few weeks.
The county agency got its start in 1992. With a $500,000 federal loan -- and later $150,000 borrowed from the county -- the agency sought to make improvements in Friant. The work, agency officials believed, would set the stage for residential and commercial growth, and that growth would generate tax revenue to pay back the loans and more.
The growth never happened and the anticipated tax dollars never came.
"The thought was things were going to happen in Friant," said resident and local developer Jeff Roberts, who sat on the agency's advisory board.
Plans for nearby housing developments, such as Millerton New Town, and a renewed interest in recreational opportunities along the San Joaquin River and Millerton Lake, Roberts said, held promise that Friant was coming to life.
Pearce, with the waterworks and a onetime advisory board member, also was a believer.
His water district made plans for what was then a roughly $4 million treatment plant and sewer system, and did the costly environmental review, with the expectation that the agency would build it. Ten years into the program, however, he realized otherwise.
"We asked the county to review the amount of redevelopment funds in their coffers and they said there's none," Pearce remembered. "It was very frustrating."