Valley Voices

Lee Brand says Warszawski criticism of his river parkway stance is unwarranted

Fresno mayor Lee Brand contends “the Palm/Nees intersection is the only option that provides convenient public transportation for all Fresnans to take advantage of the beauty of the San Joaquin River.”
Fresno mayor Lee Brand contends “the Palm/Nees intersection is the only option that provides convenient public transportation for all Fresnans to take advantage of the beauty of the San Joaquin River.” Fresno Bee files

From coffee shops to social media to The Fresno Bee, I understand that my job performance is constantly being evaluated. I welcome it. All I ask is that is that it be fair and fact-based. It’s how I approach my job serving the city’s residents.

At times, however, the errors, misstatement of facts and judgments are so egregious, so off the mark, that I must take note and set the record straight.

This is one of those times.

I strongly support public access to the San Joaquin River, contrary to a column, wrapped in unverified opinion backed by scant and spurious research, written by Marek Warszawski and published on Sunday. I have to assume Warszawski didn’t want to be confused by the facts because he didn’t bother to ask me for my thoughts and comments on this very important issue.

My support of an access point at Palm and Nees avenues is informed by my time on the San Joaquin River Parkway Trust Board, my eight years on the City Council and now in my role as mayor for all of Fresno.

The Palm/Nees intersection is the only option that provides convenient public transportation for all Fresnans to take advantage of the beauty of the San Joaquin River. It ensures that quality public amenities are available to every person in Fresno, whether they have a car or not.

Warszawski and his allies say that the city of Fresno and I oppose the public having the right to drive on a public street to get to a public park.

Louis Moosios, a San Joaquin River landowner and fishing guide, shows the sights and sounds of the river where it borders Fresno between highways 99 and 41.

In truth, we strongly support accessing the San Joaquin River trail system at the Palm/Nees intersection because it is much more convenient, doesn’t route traffic through neighborhood streets that weren’t designed for that many cars, and will allow each and every Fresnan to access the trails either by car, public transportation, bicycles or their own two feet.

In addition to completely misstating my position on San Joaquin River access, Warszawski’s column also is riddled with inaccuracies and unverified allegations.

He claims that the city of Fresno’s 2035 General Plan policy on river access is somehow illegal or unenforceable. I made the motion and was one of five council members to vote for this historic planning document, which was led by my predecessor, Ashley Swearengin.

Warszawski misquotes one sentence in the document and fails to mention what is said throughout it and the five pages devoted specifically to support the San Joaquin River and the Conservancy in preserving and developing this precious resource.

His article suggests that the only reason there is a General Plan amendment restricting San Joaquin River access to cyclists and pedestrians was because a couple of people who wrote it are friends. Yet again, that allegation is completely false.

Why does Fresno lack a trail system or other river amenities found in other Valley cities? The River West area on the city's northern border is the final piece to making it happen.

First, this was discussed by the City Council at a Jan. 17, 2013 workshop and then passed by the council in a 5-2 vote on Feb. 14, 2013. In fact, I voted against the recommendations that day. It was a deliberative process of the City Council as part of the General Plan update. We listened to more than four hours of testimony prior to the February vote.

Warszawski impugned my integrity by parroting the ludicrous claim that I am somehow beholden to special interests, and that’s why I support protecting a neighborhood and routing traffic to a public intersection at Palm and Nees.

I’m not. One look at my track record, both as a council member who took on powerful special interests, and as mayor, where I championed the Rental Housing Improvement Act and the Citizens’ Public Safety Advisory Board, should tell you that.

I do agree with Warszawski on two crucial points: We do need more river access. I’ve believed that ever since I first got involved with the Parkway 20 years ago. And there’s no money to operate or maintain the trail system – a problem we need to work together to fix.

The city of Fresno has always demonstrated its willingness to support this project, but only if it provides access to the San Joaquin River to all residents, not just the ones with cars.

My administration has been all about collaboration with all of our partners, from school districts and other cities to Fresno County. I’m committed to work with the community and the Conservancy to create public access to the San Joaquin River.

The Conservancy Board has a viable proposal that achieves that mission. It’s time to finally approve it and get this show on the road.

Lee Brand is mayor of Fresno. Connect with him at Lee.Brand@fresno.gov.

If you go

What: San Joaquin River Conservancy Board votes on River West Fresno Open Space Area

When: 10 a.m. Wednesday

Where: Fresno City Hall council chambers, 2600 Fresno Street (at P Street)

Agenda: Get a link to read Wednesday’s meeting agenda, www.fresnobee.com/marek-warszawski

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