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10 things to know – and love – about Fresno

Fresno is not all about heat, we have weather too

The cloudy remnants of a rainstorm float across the downtown Fresno skyline in this time-lapse video.
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The cloudy remnants of a rainstorm float across the downtown Fresno skyline in this time-lapse video.

The New York Times put together a quick piece on Fresno this week, pointing out that our town is one of the most affordable places to live in the country.

The story went on to say “the Central Valley’s biggest city has sometimes gotten a bad rap from outsiders. … but to many residents, the problems are no worse than those of other California cities.”

Told about the good ink, Fresno Mayor Lee Brand sounded like Sally Field accepting the 1984 Academy Award for her leading role in “Places in the Heart.”

Brand didn’t actually say “The New York Times loves us!” but he came darn close: “To have the ‘New York Times tell the world about ‘Reasons to Love Fresno’ is something that should make us all proud.”

Along with affordability, The Times cited Fresno’s mid-California location, lively arts scene, CSU campus, abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, growing tech economy and potential link to San Francisco and Los Angeles via “the new bullet train.”

That’s just the tip of the iceberg – not that Fresno has any of those. Here are other tidbits and opinions about the city where six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald was raised:

1. If you are thinking of moving to Fresno and like what you see, odds are greater you will land in Clovis next door. While Fresno is America’s 34th largest city with a population of 520,052 and has grown 5.13 percent since the 2010 census, Clovis – the nation’s 287th largest city – has grown nearly 9 percent since 2010. Its population is 104,180.

2. Fresno politics are complicated by water (more specifically by the lack of sufficient supplies to completely irrigate the fertile soil surrounding the city.) Thus if you want to hold your own in any debate, you best bone up on the delta smelt, the Endangered Species Act, subsidence, and the water pumps in the Delta north of Fresno. Then read “Cadillac Desert” for good measure.

Don’t believe – even for a second – that saying “why don’t the farmers, the environmentalists and the regulators all get in the same room and work something out?” will win you a Nobel Peace Prize. Folks have been saying that for 50 years, and it’s never happened.

3. Keeping with politics: Although Fresno County is one of the most conservative places in California, it has more registered Democrats than Republicans. So color us purple. Whether conservative or liberal, many Fresnans gravitate to the extremes. If you are a moderate, expect to hear someone call you “a spineless sellout.”

4. Are tacos your favorite food? Then get-to ASAP. We have the best tacos on the planet. That’s my assessment, anyway, and a good place to start feasting is at La Elegante, a Food Network favorite.

Another smart bet is El Premio Mayor, two-time defending champion of the annual TacoTruck Throwdown. Alton Brown, of the “Eat Your Science” and “Edible Inevitable” tours, threw some love El Premio Mayor’s way last month.

5. As everyone who parachutes in and writes about Fresno observes, it’s just a few hours away from the beach, the mountains, Los Angeles and San Francisco. But you don’t have to leave Fresno to have a good time.

The Save Mart Center hosts the biggest names in music – think Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Blake Shelton, Selena Gomez, Bruno Mars – and the city has many smaller music venues. Like other cities its size, Fresno has a symphony orchestra and a regular schedule of touring Broadway shows.

Fresno also has Good Company Players, a theater company that has entertained people and graduated young performers to Hollywood and Broadway since 1973. It represents the spirit of Fresno at its best. Evidence of that comes from these two sentences on the Good Company Players website:

“We believe that the performing arts keeps us civilized; teaching us to think and express ourselves coherently, to hear and respect other perspectives, to appreciate beauty and live a little more compassionately. We believe that theatre is a team sport and unites performers, technicians, writers and audience members at every performance in a common goal – to understand humanity a little better.”

6. Interested in wine-making as a career? Enroll at Fresno State. Its viticulture and enology students learn their craft on a campus with a 140-acre vineyard and bonded winery. And the university’s graduates occupy top positions in the industry throughout the country and the world.

Think about how a conversation might go:

“Well, young lady, how’s college going?”

“Really well.”

“And what are you studying – economics, psychology, business, engineering?”

“I am going for my master’s in enology.”

“What in tarnation is that, some kind of liberal studies program?”

“It’s wine-making.”

“Let me know when you’re done and I’ll buy the first case.”

7. From the end of February to the middle of March, the Blossom Trail erupts in colors that will simultaneously excite and soothe you. The beautifully manicured orchards are a photographer’s dream.

People come from all over California and points well beyond to see the white citrus, plum, apple and almond blossoms, and the pink peach, apricot and nectarine blossoms. Bike it or drive it. Either way, you’ll have a great time.

8. Sooner or later, someone will bring up crime and paint Fresno as the homicide capital of America. The reality is that Fresno’s crime rate is similar to most big cities in California.

Yes, you are more likely to have your car stolen here or be the victim of a hit-and-run. Chances are, you will encounter aggressive panhandlers. But if you aren’t a gang member or addicted to drugs, and you don’t do other foolish things, you can be confident of being safe.

Another bad thing Fresno is known for is air pollution. Experts have documented that we have the worst air in America, but there’s a lot of dirty air in California – some of it comes all the way from China. In contrast, the air in San Francisco is clean. Too bad you have to be a millionaire or a millionaire-in-the making to breathe it.

9. Dream about your children playing Major League Baseball or winning an Olympic gold medal in softball? Fresno is a good place to raise them.

Two native Fresnans, Tom Seaver and Frank Chance, are enshrined in Cooperstown, as is Bobby Cox who grew up in nearby Selma. Fresno State has won NCAA championships in baseball and softball, and Fresno/Clovis high schools teams are often in the running for declaration as the nation’s No. 1 team.

The sunny weather has something to do with this tradition, but players here also benefit from tremendous coaching and stiff competition.

10. Fresno is a city of opportunity. It’s an immigrant’s city and also has been. There’s great diversity in culture, language and religion. You can settle down here, raise a family and prosper. Or you can use Fresno as your launching pad to the New York, L.A., Silicon Valley, Boston or Seattle.

Whatever your goals, know this: You won’t spend two hours a day in traffic jams. Our average commute time: 22 minutes.

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