Valley Voices

There’s more to life than a house with a garage

Like Jill Simonian, I, too, am a former Fresno resident who returned during July to visit family and friends. Her Valley Voices article in the July 22 Fresno Bee extolled the lower cost of housing in Fresno versus Los Angeles, complete with garages, which are rare in LA, and which might draw her back to Fresno.

She ignored, however, the 103-degree heat wave engulfing theValley for three consecutive weeks, equally rare in LA. She failed to mention how the drought of the past several years have scorched the area, leaving once-attractive on-ramps and landscaping along the 41 Freeway with dead bushes and five-foot tall weeds.

Having lived in LA, I’m aware that apartments abound and Los Angeles has the lowest home ownership rate in the country. Land surrounding dwellings is minimal, to say the least. Fresno has larger yards, many of which have suffered not only from the drought but from the metered water system inaugurated in 2010.

With a higher percentage of home ownership in Fresno, I’ll venture to say, the housing market crash of 2007 has taken a larger toll on Fresno than LA. My family’s finances were dramatically impacted when I put my house on the market after retiring and found that, after steady increases in home prices, absolutely nothing was selling.

I had to find a caretaker renter to stay in my home so I could move with my ailing ill partner to our chosen retirement destination in the Carolinas.

Visiting Fresno last week, I was surprised to see how the economy and water issues have so adversely impacted neighborhoods. Many homes now have burned-out lawns and shrubs. Built as single-family homes, many homes are now occupied by extended families with four or five cars parked in front. Garages are too filled with bicycles and possessions to hold a car.

Many of those homes are rented and not well maintained. Longtime homeowners concerned about property values and neighborhood appearance can’t afford to move away.

I was surprised to see that once-familiar large-chain grocery stores had been replaced by down-scale markets. I was shocked to see how many people appear to be living on the streets and in neighborhoods where that wasn’t seen before. I was shocked to observe how many of those apparently homeless people were in wheelchairs and walkers, most of them seniors.

Every place has its struggles, and it is good to “bloom where we are planted.” Los Angeles is spread out and requires driving on dangerous freeways with long delays. The South is still green, thanks to frequent summer rains, but it is still struggling with the vestiges of slavery that permeate the culture and all too frequently guide decisions of elected and appointed policy makers.

Economic changes and population shifts have brought a rich diversity of ethnic backgrounds to Fresno neighborhoods. Compared to the South, Californians accept and even revel in such diversity, and that is a value I sorely miss.

A value I hope Fresno and California policy makers will address, however, is how to make freeways and neighborhoods attractive again and how to enable those who have disabilities and who are living on the streets to have safe and decent housing. Otherwise, I see only intense summer heat and a steady decline of what was once a beautiful place to raise a family.

Barbara Devinney is retired from a long career in social services and divides her time between North and South Carolina, where she is active in volunteer work. Connect with her at