Even in a story as long and involved as the one I wrote in Sunday's paper about the River West Open Space Area, some stuff inevitably gets left out.
So I want to flesh out three additional points that didn't make the story, but are important.
Remember, River West is on the Fresno City Council agenda for today's 5 p.m. meeting.
River West has two sides: one in Madera County and one in Fresno. But how is the average jogger, cyclist or bird-watcher supposed to get from one side to the other?
In 2010, the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust proposed a 440-foot long bridge about a quarter-mile west of Highway 41. The bridge would be designed like a sundial (similar to the one in Redding) with a 195-foot mast sticking up on the Madera side.
The bridge had a price tag of $8 million, and critics had a field day. Why spend $8 million on a showpiece that's out of character for the area? And couldn't that money be put to better use on a Parkway that has spent millions (of public money) acquiring properties that the public can't even access?
As you might guess, the Bluff Homeowners Association doesn't want a new bridge. They'd prefer to see the Old Highway 41 bridge (which leads to the backside of Woodward Park, where the Lewis S. Eaton Trail currently ends) retrofitted for bikes and pedestrians.
Barry Bauer, the sporting goods store owner who heads the Bluff Homeowners with former Fresno County schools Superintendent Pete Mehas, said that he has spoken to California Department of Transportation engineers about the Old Highway 41 bridge and told me it could be retrofitted for considerably less than $8 million.
Melinda Marks, the San Joaquin Conservancy's executive director, suggested a bridge could be erected farther downstream, closer to the Palm and Nees intersection, where an old road used to span the river. (That road was washed out decades ago.) Perhaps, to save money, it could even be a floating bridge.
Which leads me to point No. 2 ...
The missing piece
What's the biggest flaw with River West-Fresno? The property does not link to the established access road that leads to the river bottom from Palm/Nees.
You might say, isn't Spano Park at Palm/Nees? Well, yes and no. Spano Park indeed sits at the edge of Palm, just north of Nees, and access to River West is planned from there. But it's pretty lousy access.
Spano Park sits some 100 feet above the bluff, and the only planned connection is a steep staircase. So that eliminates all handicapped access and bike access as well (if you're not strong enough to lug your bike down lots and lots of stairs).
But hold on a second. There's a perfectly good dirt road that leads to the river bottom from Palm/Nees, just behind the restaurants and GB3. It's the one with the sturdy yellow gate that prevents four-wheel yahoos from driving down there.
But if you walk or ride your bike past the gate (there are no "Keep Out" signs) and follow the road down to the river, you'll see that a road network already exists with ample space for parking. From there, River West is only a few steps away.
Why isn't this vital access road, utilized by dozens on hot summer days, not part of River West? Because that road and the land that connects to River West remain private property owned by the Spano family and Cliff Tutelian, one of Fresno's biggest developers.
Marks told me that the San Joaquin River Conservancy had the option to acquire "the missing piece" but decided against it because the site used to be the old Pinedale dump. No hazardous materials were dumped there -- she said it's mostly construction materials like old lumber, paint cans and cement -- but the land would have to be paved before it's suitable for public use. And that's just another hoop to jump through in a project that's already long-delayed.
To me, River West would much better serve the people of Fresno if there were access from Palm/Nees. And if you could park down there, too, there wouldn't as much need for access through the bluff neighborhood.
Who will make the final decisions on River West? It's not the City Council, which abdicated that responsibility. It's the San Joaquin River Conservancy Board of Directors, the state government agency charged with acquiring lands and building infrastructure to assemble the Parkway from Friant to Highway 99. (Not to be confused with the nonprofit San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust.)
And what is that board? It's made up of 16 folks from various government agencies, plus three citizen representatives. (Go to sports.fresnobeehive.com for the complete list.)
In an interesting aside, Mehas has been nominated for one of the citizen seats, which raised the hackles of the Parkway Trust folks. However, Mehas told The Bee it was highly unlikely he'd get the appointment and would turn it down in any case.