Editorials

What a great idea: Fresno residents want new parks, so they take it on themselves

Saint Rest Baptist Church breaks ground on a community center and park

Despite the loss of Measure P for Fresno park funding, the church's economic development corporation rallied with church leaders, community members and sponsors to find funding for the first phase of much needed green space to southwest Fresno.
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Despite the loss of Measure P for Fresno park funding, the church's economic development corporation rallied with church leaders, community members and sponsors to find funding for the first phase of much needed green space to southwest Fresno.

Some great news was announced recently in Fresno: Neighborhoods and community organizations are setting out to build new parks in parts of the city where they are badly needed, and they are not using city money to do it.

The development comes on the heels of the hard-fought Measure P battle in last November’s election. That measure, which would have generated $37.5 million annually for 30 years by hiking the sales tax by three-eighths of a cent, was intended to create new parks and repair existing ones. It passed with 52 percent of voters, but it needed 66 percent since it was a tax hike.

Fresno consistently ranks near the bottom of America’s 97 largest cities for park quality. The Bee supported Measure P because it was a citizen-led push on an issue dear to residents, and parks funding had been put off long enough.

The other side in the debate worried that not enough money would be available to bring Fresno police and fire departments back to strength after cuts they absorbed in the Great Recession. Opponents of Measure P included Mayor Lee Brand, police Chief Jerry Dyer and fire Chief Kerri Donis.

But that is in the past. Today St. Rest Baptist Church is moving forward with plans for a $1.4 million youth community center and park at the church grounds in southwest Fresno — a section of the city that desperately needs a new recreation spot.

JRWSTRESTHUG
Betty Lee hugs Pastor D.J. Criner, of Saint Rest Baptist Church during the grand opening of the Saint Rest Plaza on Saturday April 20, 2019. The plaza, at Elm and Reverend Chester Riggins avenues in west Fresno, was created to provide a space for a farmers market, performances and other community activities. JOHN WALKER jwalker@fresnobee.com

How is the church managing this? By working through a community development corporation formed specifically for this purpose. The corporation will be the means for the church to land grants and a loan from a credit union.

There is more, as staff writer Brianna Calix outlined in a recent story:

Residents in the South Tower area are joining with a community development corporation to build a park on Broadway Street. Meetings this summer will gather residents’ feedback on how the park should be designed.

In downtown Fresno, some residents and two community groups want to build a park on East Tyler Avenue near the interchange of highways 41 and 180.

Volunteers partnered with the city to take care of an empty USDA research site in southeast Fresno. The goal is to turn the 49 acres into a soccer complex.

Helping fund these dreams is Proposition 68, a $4 billion bond passed by California voters last year. Among its purposes is to support parks.

Esther Carver, executive director of the Lowell Community Development Corp., which is helping with the Tower project, said there is a silver lining to Measure P’s outcome. “Residents are more excited to say, ‘Hey, if the city is not going to do this for us, we are going to find other ways to make it happen.”

The new budget passed by the City Council does hike parks funding by 4.6 percent, to a total of $32 million. A BMX park, several tot lots and other improvements are included.. But that presumes they survive any possible line-item veto by Mayor Brand. He was at the ground breaking of the St. Rest project, so he firsthand saw how excited those people are to the prospect of a new park in their midst. Here is hoping he maintains parks funding as outlined in the new budget.

Long-term, the city will need to return to some manner of tax to fully support its parks system. That will be the only true way to generate enough money to build and maintain parks, and ensure full equity across Fresno.

Meanwhile, a hearty “way to go” to the various community efforts creating new parks for Fresnans to enjoy.

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