EDITORIAL: Mayor assembles talented infill solutions team

July 9, 2013 

The ink wasn't dry on the city of Fresno's 2035 general plan update when critics said that the goal of directing 45% of future growth to infill areas was too utopian. Developers and their lobbyists said that building in Fresno would become next to impossible and vowed to take their hammers, nails and capital to surrounding communities.

But Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin has analyzed the numbers and concluded that our city cannot financially sustain itself continuing the blight-and-flight planning practices of the past. Fresno must repair its old neighborhoods and save at-risk neighborhoods to grow its tax base and provide the breadth and quality of municipal services residents expect.

It's to Swearengin's credit that she is tackling this challenge head on. Most politicians wouldn't risk their careers on a challenge as daunting as this one -- especially in a city essentially run for the past half century by home builders.

It's also to Swearengin's credit that she recognizes the need to make living within the city's urban core appealing to residents -- whether home buyers or renters -- and to make building there pencil financially for developers.

Smart leaders know when they don't have all the answers. The mayor has recruited an impressive array of financing, housing and infrastructure experts from throughout the state to the Infill Development Task Force.

The task force has been charged with identifying:

* Obstacles to infill development;

* Priority areas for infill incentives and public investment;

* Tools, policies and strategies for Fresno to provide infrastructure and service improvements.

Co-chairing the task force with Swearengin is Ken Alex, director of the Office of Planning and Research for Gov. Jerry Brown.

The expectation that high-speed rail will be a driving force in the revitalization of downtown is reflected in the presence of Dan Richard and Diana L. Gomez on the task force. Richard is chairman of the board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, and Gomez is the authority's Central California regional director.

It is significant that the task force includes developer Darius Assemi, perhaps the loudest critic of the general plan update, and developer Ed Kashian, who backed Swearengin's opponent in the 2008 mayoral election, Henry T. Perea. Kashian is knowledgeable about infrastructure financing, and we expect him to make a valuable contribution to the task force.

Even before the task force commences, there are developers and City Council members floating the idea that any development within the city's sphere of influence should count as infill. For us, this idea is a non-starter and a sign that powerful forces want to keep doing business as usual.

We can't afford business as usual anymore. We look forward to the task force's ideas on how to make Fresno a united, thriving city.

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