Candidate for governor supports public access to river via controversial route

With Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom holding the gavel in Fresno, the California State Lands Commission voted Wednesday to support public access to open space along the San Joaquin River via the controversial Riverview Drive route.

It’s controversial because neighbors who live in the area oppose the street being used as the access point to a planned parking lot near the river on grounds of too much traffic and neighborhood safety concerns.

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By voting, the commission directed executive director Jennifer Lucchesi to vote for the so-called Alternative 1 when the San Joaquin River Conservancy meets to decide a route. In her role as executive director of the Lands Commission, Lucchesi is a member of the Conservancy, the government-controlled body that owns the River View Open Space Area.

Mayor Lee Brand, who favors a different access point at Palm and Nees Avenues, on Thursday issued a statement criticizing the action and called on Newsom and the other commissioners to reconsider their decision.

Brand also expressed annoyance that Newsom, a Democratic candidate for governor, remarked about the lack of support at the meeting for the other option, known as Alternative 5B, which was prepared by the city.

“I am disappointed that the lieutenant governor came to Fresno to learn about this important community issue but didn’t give me, the city or the affected parties sufficient notice about the time or nature of the meeting,” Brand said in a statement. “I’m also disappointed that he and the State Lands Commission chose to insert themselves in our local decision-making process without soliciting and hearing all sides of the story. Neither Mr. Newsom nor anyone else on the commission consulted with us about possible solutions we’re working on that could provide access at both locations.

“As the former mayor of San Francisco, I would hope Mr. Newsom would appreciate that important local issues such as access to the San Joaquin River Parkway are complex and multifaceted. One of the major hallmarks of my administration has been strengthening relationships with all of our local, state and federal partners, and seeking a way forward that brings everyone to the table to find a just and equitable solution. I hope to develop the same collaborative relationship with Mr. Newsom, both in his current role as the state’s lieutenant governor, and in any future endeavors he may pursue.”

The next meeting is Dec. 13 and is considered the last chance to select an option because a contract with environmental consultants expires at the end of the year.

The commission’s direction could give momentum to the Riverview Drive option favored by the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust, an advocacy group.

“We’re getting close,” said Sharon Weaver, the group’s executive director, following the commission’s vote in Fresno.

It was the first time in the 79-year history of the State Lands Commission that it held a public hearing in a non-coastal location besides Sacramento.

The commission staff said it reviewed the river access alternatives and believes the Riverview Drive option is the best.

“Meaningful, quality public access to the river can be achieved, in my opinion and in our staff’s opinion, more quickly and with more certainty” than another option involving access at Palm and Nees Avenues, Lucchesi said.

During a public comment period, advocates of the Riverview Drive option said it can handle the traffic because the roadway was put in for a large home development project that was never built, and urged the commission to support it.

“When Latino families go to parks, or to green spaces, (they) don’t necessarily go on their own,” said Rey León, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Latino Environmental Advancement and Policy Project.

“We roll in generations, at least three generations. What that means is we bring with us, in the family, vulnerable individuals” such as older relatives and youngsters. That’s why easy access is important, and the Riverview Drive option does that, he said.

Newsom called it “interesting” that no one spoke in opposition to the route.

“They may not feel as strongly” as the proponents, or perhaps had scheduling conflicts and couldn’t attend, he said.

The commission is composed of three representatives from state government: Newsom, state Controller Betty T. Yee, and Eraina Ortega, chief deputy director of policy at the Department of Finance.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold

If you go

What: San Joaquin River Conservancy board meeting

When: 10:30 a.m. Dec. 13

Where: To be announced, check Conservancy website at sjrc.ca.gov for location information