Access to River West Fresno project crucial for underserved communities

Sarah Parkes, a director of annual giving for the San Joaquin River Parkway and shows acreage of land in north Fresno that sits beyond a wrought iron fencing. Photo taken on Oct. 17, 2017.
Sarah Parkes, a director of annual giving for the San Joaquin River Parkway and shows acreage of land in north Fresno that sits beyond a wrought iron fencing. Photo taken on Oct. 17, 2017.

With the River West Fresno Trail Extension project currently under environmental review, the time for residents to make their voices heard and ask for access to the project has arrived.

Having access to the project from the City of Fresno side would be crucial for underserved communities in the city as well as the county, said Sarah Parkes, director of annual giving with the San Joaquín River Parkway & Conservation Trust.

The San Joaquín River Conservancy, the lead agency for the project, will hold a public meeting for the River West Fresno Lewis S. Eaton Trail project on Nov. 15 at 10 a.m. at Fresno City Hall.

“The Conservancy has the responsibility to provide equitable and effective public access so the people can enjoy the River West Fresno property,” said Rey León, executive director for the Latino Environmental Advancement & Policy Project.

The conservancy is scheduled to vote on what will be included in the final project and certify the project’s environmental impact report in December.

Another public meeting is scheduled for Dec. 13 at 10 a.m. at a location to be announced later.

Parkes said it is important to get the word out to people who will be affected by the conservancy board’s decision so they can make their voice count on this important project during the November’s public meeting.

Central Valley health advocates have said that building healthier communities can be done through expanded greed space and parks in the region.

“Residents of the City of Fresno suffer from severe park deficiencies,” León said. “The Trust for Public Land rated the City of Fresno last when it reviewed park opportunities in America’s 60 largest cities.”

León said that while creating more neighborhood parks remains an important priority in the area, “effective and equitable access to publicly owned land at River West Fresno is also very important for providing our families with access to nature and opportunities for outdoor recreation.”

The River West Fresno project will extend the popular Lewis S. Easton Trail approximately 2.5 miles on more than 400 acres of public land.

The project site, also called Spano River Ranch, is located between Highway 41 and Palm Avenue in north Fresno.

According to Parkes, once the project is completed, there will be a continuous trail from the River Center to Palm and Nees, providing public access to 400 acres of open space and the San Joaquín River.

The proposed project has one vehicle access point at the Perrin Avenue undercrossing off of Highway 41.

Parkes said this particular access point is excellent for people living in Madera County; however Fresno residents would have to travel an additional 10 miles round trip to get access.

Fresno residents would have to drive to Madera County on Highway 41, take the Children’s Boulevard exit, and then drive back into Fresno on the old 41 bridge to access the River West Fresno project.

“While this option is helpful for many Madera County residents, it discriminates especially against low-and-moderate income Fresno-area residents who have limited transportation options,” said León.

The draft environmental impact report for the project, which was released in February and accepted public comment until April 15, also studied alternatives for vehicular access from Fresno.

Alternative 1 would provide access at Riverview Drive just off Audubon. It is a public road leading to a public property.

Another option, Alternative 5, would provide vehicle access on an old gravel haul road near Palm and Nees avenues.

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand went to the conservancy board in May with an offer to conduct and pay for additional environmental review of vehicle access in the vicinity of Palm and Nees.

“However, the city’s study specifically focused on the feasibility of building a new road down the bluff near Spano Park at Palm and Nees avenues and suggested this approach to providing vehicle access to the property is better than utilizing the two existing roads,” Parkes said.

“The route is called 5b,” she said.

The original draft EIR looked at route 5b and discarded the option due to property ownership and landfill issues, said Parkes.

Parkes said the River Parkway Trust is encouraging the Conservancy board to approve the environmental impact report with both options – Alternative 1 and 5.

Without these alternatives, Parkes said residents won’t have vehicle access to the River West Fresno in Fresno.

León said those options – Alternative 1 and 5, plus the access along the Old Highway 41 – would provide “effective and equitable public access” to the River West Fresno project.

“The San Joaquín River Parkway is very important to our region’s communities of color and immigrant residents. The Parkway offers opportunities for extensive recreational activities including fishing, hiking, family picnics, and many others, in addition to educational opportunities for our children,” León said.

“The price to access River West Fresno, should not be dependent on a resident’s ability to purchase an expensive home that borders the Parkway.”

María G. Ortiz-Briones: 559-441-6782, @TuValleTuSalud

River West Fresno Public Hearing

Wednesday, Nov. 15, 10 a.m. at Fresno City Hall in the Council Chambers, 2600 Fresno St, Fresno