Fresno City Council President Steve Brandau, in his Monday commentary in The Bee, reduced years of hard work and thought by city leaders and residents that have gone into the proposed 2035 general plan update to this: “Now we are supposed to forsake that investment ($1.16 billion in transportation infrastructure) because some pansy in Sacramento thinks we need to live closer together and ride the bus?”
Brandau also said, “Our citizens have always preferred bigger homes on lots with a backyard for barbecuing. They like driving cars while listening to music” in calling for a growth plan that continues Fresno’s post World War II sprawl.
It’s obvious Brandau has swallowed the developer’s Kool-Aid. Like many council members before him, he sees residential housing as a prime driver of the Fresno economy. And it’s not. Or it shouldn’t be.
As Mayor Ashley Swearengin has said on many occasions, a robust residential building industry should be propelled by a healthy economy. People go to work, make a living wage and purchase homes to enjoy with their families. But, in Fresno, for nearly 70 years, the developers have gobbled up cheap land on the fringe and enticed people to new homes, and City Hall has signed on to the dubious strategy in the name of “jobs.”
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The inevitable results surround us: decaying neighborhoods, a sprawling city and a municipal treasury stretched so thin that it struggles to keep good people safe and put out fires, much less build parks, trails and other amenities.
And there’s the disastrous effect on public health. According to the American Lung Association, more than 21% of Fresno County children — and more than 17% of adults — suffer from asthma. This grim statistic reflects both the Valley’s bowl shape and its love affair with the car. Apparently, in Brandau’s view, anyone who would want Fresno to grow in a way that makes it easier for people to breathe is a “pansy.”
We find it sad that the council president has such a short memory. We’ve not yet fully recovered from the Great Recession and the Real Estate Bust and he wants Fresno to return to the days when developers called all the shots.
He may not like riding a bus, but thousands of Fresnans do. And there’s no doubt that Fresno will benefit from revitalizing its old neighborhoods, investing more in mass transit and growing up instead of continuing to grow out.
Brandau obviously misunderstands the role of an elected official. It’s easy to stick up for a powerful person like developer Darius Assemi. It takes someone with backbone to stick up for the folks in Fresno’s older neighborhoods who just want a fair shake and a chance to be heard.