We appreciate Gov. Jerry Brown taking the time to visit Fresno and sign a package of climate-change bills on Sept. 14 that advocates say will reduce greenhouses gases and benefit regions of California that aren’t fully participating in the state’s economic recovery.
Two of the bills, Assembly Bill 1613 and Senate Bill 859, direct how $900 million in cap-and-trade funds will be used. Thank goodness there is a plan to produce more biomass energy from the dead tree epidemic in the Sierra Nevada. And SB 859 smartly provides support for programs aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from farms and dairies.
“I’m glad we’re doing it in Fresno because this is a place that can lead not just the state, but the whole world,” Brown said at the bill signing.
Those giving great effort toward seeing Fresno realize its tremendous potential say similar things. Still, it was nice to hear that viewpoint shared by the governor.
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We note that he also has helped direct billions of dollars in investment to the central San Joaquin Valley via California’s high-speed rail project. We additionally recognize the great political stamina Brown has exhibited in defense of high-speed rail. The $66 billion project has many critics, some of the loudest of which reside in the Valley.
Like the governor, we stand firm in our belief that high-speed rail will help transform the Valley for the better, enable millions of people to move more quickly throughout California, and again stamp our state as one willing to embrace the future rather than yearn for the past.
All this said, there is more that Brown’s administration should do to speed downtown Fresno revitalization and clean some of the nation’s dirtiest air. About $140 million in cap-and-trade funds have been set aside for economically disadvantaged communities that suffer from unhealthy air.
Rather than dividing that pot up many ways and watering down the impacts of those dollars, the governor’s team should invest substantially in a small number of regions and ensure that measurable progress is made.
Given the magnitude of its challenges, Fresno should receive no less than $70 million from the pot. That money could be used to upgrade infrastructure and to provide incentives for private investment such as housing around the high-speed rail station downtown, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said.
Thus far, Fresno and the state have experienced substantial returns on previous investments downtown.
“We’ve seen $100 million in private investment alone just from the $20 million public improvement of the Fulton reconstruction project, so we know that as we take care of infrastructure and other public-realm issues, we see private investment follow that,” Swearengin said.
Just as there are critics of high-speed rail, there are Fresnans who don’t comprehend how critical the rebirth of downtown is to the city’s future. In a nutshell, as long as downtown underperforms economically, the city’s general fund – which pays for things like public safety and parks – will be stressed.
When the day comes that downtown Fresno’s big buildings are renovated and fully leased, city leaders can repair more potholes and hire more police officers and firefighters. They also will be able to build more parks and trails and, most importantly, have the tax dollars to maintain them.
We encourage Gov. Brown to make added investments that will support our community’s vision – and his vision – of Fresno as a state and world leader in providing economic opportunity, cleaning dirty air and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.