Climate-Change Funds Could Yield New Housing, Parks in Fresno

Fresno will be given $70 million as part of recent climate-change legislation, and the money can be used to create more affordable housing, high-speed rail construction and new parks, Mayor Ashley Swearengin said Friday.

At a press conference at City Hall, Swearengin said that Gov. Jerry Brown determined that Fresno will receive 50 percent of this year’s $140 million appropriation of the new California Strategic Growth Council’s Transformational Climate Communities Program.

The program is part of Assembly Bill 2722, which was signed by the governor in a visit to Fresno last week.

Swearengin said the funds will make it possible to undertake affordable housing, high-speed rail construction and the addition of parks in city neighborhoods.

The bill’s aim is to improve conditions in disadvantaged communities. Fresno County has the third-highest poverty rate in the state.

A workshop will be held in November to let Fresnans say how the funds should be spent. The city will share those findings with the Strategic Growth Council, which will make a final determination in December on how to allocate the money. All proposed projects must first be recognized as green by the Strategic Growth Council.

Joining Swearengin in announcing the recommendation was Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno.

Arambula, who co-authored the bill, said the investment to the city through the use of funds from the climate communities program gives Fresno hope.

The money gives the city a chance to “put people back to work,” he noted.

Swearengin said the move by the governor’s office is the “single-largest investment” in Fresno using climate-change dollars.

“We are well on our way to seeing a significant investment from the state of California into our most disadvantaged neighborhoods,” Swearengin said., adding that greenhouse funds will go to projects that can be transformative for the city.

Swearengin and Arambula listed ideas they think could get a boost if the allocation occurs: creating mixed-income housing around high-speed rail construction downtown, revitalizing the inner city and constructing the bus rapid transit system.

Some significant projects already are underway. In March, the city began a $20 million effort to return vehicle traffic to Fulton Street where the Fulton Mall once existed; city leaders hope that will allow a new boom of economic activity downtown.

In June, the city began the bus rapid transit project, which is expected to open in November 2017. It will replace existing portions of two current FAX bus routes along Blackstone Avenue from River Park in north Fresno to downtown Fresno, and along Ventura Street and Kings Canyon Road from the Sunnyside district to downtown. Construction will cost about $30 million over the coming year. Once it gets started, the goal is to transport riders faster than they have previously traveled.

Arambula said the city could continue its work to expand access to parks or green spaces as well as affordable housing in the city. He also said the funds could provide a chance for the city to create pedestrian and bicycle paths.

In the mayor’s fiscal 2016 budget, Fresno parks were identified for improvement, and $5.8 million was allocated for things like renovated bathrooms, repaved sports courts, resurfaced gym floors and new splash courts.

The spending plan also included the construction of two new parks and nearly $6 million for upgrades to parks in older neighborhoods.

An agreement with Fresno and Central Unified school districts in December opened up about 16 schools on weekends to serve as parks. Around 340 acres of badly needed green space were added, especially in areas undeserved by parks.

Swearengin said there is a lot of flexibility built into the recommended funds that she thinks are custom-made for Fresno. She said cap-and-trade funds help lower greenhouse emissions and continue to fund green projects. Under cap and trade, a business can pay into a fund instead of having to reduce air emissions by a certain amount.

Another 25 percent of the $140 million in funding is proposed for projects in Los Angeles. A recommended recipient of the remainder has not been determined.

Fresno gets $3 million federal grant

In another bit of good news for Fresno on Friday, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said the city has been awarded $3 million from the federal Economic Development Administration to improve roads and storm drains.

“Cities need the appropriate infrastructure, safe roads and efficient drainage systems to attract businesses and support a growing economy,” Costa said in a statement.