The mayor of Fresno, Ashley Swearengin, made one of her central campaign focuses a revitalization of downtown Fresno. That is certainly a great thing. Unfortunately, one of the center pieces of her plan involves ripping up the city’s one and only pedestrian mall and making it a street like any other.
Her logic is as follows:
The mall is in bad shape. It has a high vacancy rate and the shops that exist are low end. To get shoppers and developers back, the street needs car traffic (because apparently cars are big spenders).
Ripping up the mall, knocking down the mature trees, removing the dozens of art pieces and fountains and laying asphalt requires money. A lot of money.
Fresno does not have money. Well, sort of. There’s lots of money for things like street widening in the suburban parts of town, but nothing available to revitalize the urban areas.
So the mayor took the most cynical step possible…
She applied for a TOD grant to fund the removal of the mall.
How to get the revitalization dominoes to begin falling? For starters, Swearengin wants $700,000 in TOD funds to fill the developer-incentive gap caused by the death of redevelopment agencies. Then she wants the remaining $2 million in TOD funds to pay for engineering work on the corridor/mall’s future.
Swearengin wants cars on Fulton. But the city is considering other options, as well. The $2 million would tackle them all.
No, not to add a streetcar, or BRT, or anything like that. Just to add cars. Oh, and that $2 million? That’s just the engineering. Not a single tree can be felled or fountain ripped up without another $20m in fed bucks.
The saddest part is? In the past five years, Fresno, the only city in the county really eligible for TOD funds has never applied for them, until now.
Transit-oriented development funds were born in 2006 when voters renewed Measure C, the county’s half-cent transportation sales tax. In theory, any of the county’s cities — or any noncity hall group — can apply for the money. In reality, Fresno with its huge population and equally huge need to curtail sprawl is the prime candidate.
There now is about $2.7 million in the so-called TOD account. No TOD grants have been awarded yet. In fact, the TOD scoring committee hadn’t even scored an application until Monday
Fortunately, the request was rejected. At least for now. The rejection didn’t come because the committee thought it was ridiculous to give TOD funds to a 100% auto project. No, the rejection came because they thought the city as trying to move too quickly, and the fed money would never come through.
Fair points. But shouldn’t the first and most important consideration have been…..how the hell do you spend $2m in TOD funds for a project that has nothing to do with transit?