EDITORIAL: Fresno supervisors are wrong on First 5 project

The Fresno BeeOctober 28, 2013 

The First 5 Fresno County Commission, with Chairman Henry Perea, during a Sept. 20 meeting. Fresno County supervisors Judy Case, Phil Larson and debbie Poochigian are wrong when they say First 5 Fresno County shouldn't build a new headquarters downtown.

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Fresno County Supervisors Judy Case, Phil Larson and Debbie Poochigian say that First 5 Fresno County shouldn't build a new headquarters in downtown Fresno.

But while the supervisors have stirred up controversy, they have yet to make a case for halting the $15 million project, which would include administrative offices, a child-care center, classrooms and a community conference center.

What the supervisors have said thus far is that the building is too fancy, it would be constructed at the expense of children First 5 is supposed to serve and the agency doesn't need a consolidated anchor.

The supervisors have suggested instead that First 5 lease space and house its headquarters, child care and other services in multiple buildings.

These criticisms don't survive fact check. First 5 is fortunate to have Mike Berg on its commission. Berg is superintendent of Central Unified School District and an expert on public facilities construction. He says there is nothing extravagant about the building and that it "pencils out" because First 5 would not pay rent, as it does now for its headquarters on Shaw Avenue. The project also uses federal New Market Tax Credits to lower costs.

Ironically, while First 5's critics say it should look to lease multiple sites, the Board of Supervisors gave its blessing on Sept. 10 to conduct a competitive selection process to lease or buy a building or buildings with adjacent parking downtown "to house the District Attorney's main offices."

Back in August, when District Attorney Elizabeth Egan went public with her request to consolidate six locations, Poochigian told The Bee's John Ellis: "It's two copy machines as opposed to eight copy machines. I think it will save us money in the long run."

We hope that Supervisor Poochigian notes her inconsistency on the value of having operations under one roof.

There also has been talk among the supervisors about bringing First 5 under the board's direct control.

Given the challenges facing Fresno County — escalating infant mortality rates, skyrocketing pension costs, substandard jail inmate care and a woefully understaffed Public Defender's Office — we think the board has ample work on its plate already.

 

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