Swearengin to Fresno: Believe in yourself and your city

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Fresno is headed in the right direction, despite its many challenges.

That was the message from Mayor Ashley Swearengin and three community leaders at a town hall meeting of sorts Tuesday night in downtown.

Swearengin at one point championed the growing entrepreneurial spirit among Fresnans.

“Take your destiny in your own hands,” she advised Fresno and the adventurous in the audience of about 150.

The 90-minute event at Frank’s Place in the Cultural Arts District was billed as an exchange of ideas on the question “Can Fresno Win The War On Poverty?” The event was put on by Zócalo Public Square, a not-for-profit ideas exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism, and The California Wellness Foundation.

Joe Moore, director of content at Valley Public Radio, was the moderator. Swearengin was joined by veteran public-policy expert Pete Weber, Poverello House Executive Director Cruz Avila and Bitwise Industries co-founder Irma Olguin.

Moore asked the questions; the four panelists responded. The audience finished things with questions.

The War on Poverty, a term that dates back to the mid-1960s and the ambitious social vision of President Lyndon Johnson, may have had top billing on this night. But the four panelists almost immediately changed directions. Swearengin’s word to the wise – take your destiny in your own hands – was at the core of most comments.

Most questions were directed toward Swearengin. No surprise there since she is the chief executive of a city with 515,000 people and an annual budget of more than $1 billion.

Swearengin said former Mayor Alan Autry did an excellent job in raising Fresno’s awareness of the struggles in older neighborhoods. She said she ran for mayor in 2008 to keep the momentum going strong.

Fresno needed updates for its general plan and development code. These aren’t the most exciting of topics to the average Fresnan, Swearengin said, but they are pivotal to the rebirth of the urban core.

The City Council has already approved the 2035 general plan with its focus on inner-city development. The development code’s overhaul will soon head to the council.

Swearengin said Fresno has worked hard to improve itself over the last 20 years.

“I think we have another 20 to go,” she said.

Weber said the Fresno Bridge Academy (which he founded) is helping disadvantaged families regain the stability necessary for its members to be proud and productive citizens.

Olguin said the Valley’s youth, especially in rural communities, need to be exposed to the opportunities available to those who work hard.

Avila said public institutions and private groups are making big strides in helping the homeless find housing and better lives.

“It’s only going to get better as long as we continue to work together,” Avila said.

Jobs, education, public safety, hard work and compassion are among the keys to Fresno’s future, the panelists said.

No one guaranteed an end to poverty. All are confident of progress.

George Hostetter: 559-441-6272, @GeorgeHostetter