When former Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, now president and CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation, asked those attending the 2019 California Economic Summit to listen to various points of view, Sabina González-Eraña and Verónica Garibay took it to heart.
The Fresno community advocates, during a Thursday morning session on their DRIVE Initiative and how to transform a community, had words of caution about trying to rush industrial parks into communities that have suffered from poor air and water quality.
“Although it wasn’t surprising was this continued resistance to community engagement or nervousness around it. Yes, it is expensive, it slows things down, it takes time, people will yell you at community meetings,” said González-Eraña, a project manager in Fresno for The California Endowment.
“Our community has shown us over decades time and time again that, when a community makes a demand, they will not go away. And it is usually backed up by research.”
Southwest Fresno residents sued the city after it approved a 2-million-square-foot industrial park near Central and Orange avenues. Residents, who got help from the state Attorney General’s office, celebrated in January when Caglia Environmental asked the city to rescind its approval.
Residents said the city did not evaluate the potential environmental effects the project would have on nearby residents.
“Our community has shown us over decades time and time again that when a community makes a demand they will not go away, and it is usually backed up by research,” said González-Eraña at the summit.
Garibay is co-director of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. They are among a group of advocates who came up with the DRIVE Initiative, a 10-year, $4.2 billion investment plan to develop an inclusive, vibrant, and sustainable economy for residents in the Fresno metropolitan area.
“We can’t be in a room talking about investment without talking about policy and the programmatic changes that need to happen so that we’re not perpetuating the same cycle and the same cycle of poverty; and we’re not perpetuating exclusion,” said Garibay.
González-Eraña suggested city officials engage with the community to develop a sound plan that works for everyone and “allow families and children in schools in the area to be able to breathe.”
Fast-track development, she said, will not work.
The DRIVE Initiative has 18 investment initiatives that includes school funding, small business investment, workforce development, and, community improvements.
The plan is to attract investment from public and private sources, including possible state funds if Gov. Gavin Newsom approves.
DRIVE (Developing the Region’s Inclusive and Vibrant Economy) relied on funding from the James Irvine Foundation and the Kresge Foundation, with research assistance from The Brookings Institute, the Urban Institute, McKinsey & Company, and the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at Fresno State.
A $13.1 million investment
State Chief Service Officer Josh Fryday announced a $13.1 million investment in the San Joaquín Valley at the summit attended by 800 people.
“Gov. Newsom is saying loud and clear, if you are willing to invest in your community, we are going to invest in you,” said Fryday.
The money is earmarked for organizations like the Fresno Center to provide access to health care and Reading and Math Inc. in Fresno County, and the California Teaching Fellows Foundation in Fresno, Madera, Kings, Merced and Tulare Counties.
In San Joaquín County, funds will go to College Possible, Community Partner, Fathers and Families of San Joaquín, Improve Your Tomorrow, Reading and Math Inc., and, Reinvent Stockton Foundation.
Other summit highlights
Fresno State Provost Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval called education a great equalizer in closing the income gap. The university, he said, has the capacity to accept more students but needs the funding. This fall, the school rejected 8,260 eligible students because it didn’t have the funds.
“The key to our California being the fifth largest economy in the world is our ability to educate the future, to educate the innovators that are going to create a robust economy,” said Jiménez-Sandoval.
The California State University system, he said, accounts for 1 of every 5 bachelor’s degrees awarded in the country.
▪ Óscar Chávez, assistant director of the Sonoma County Human Services Department, said solutions to poverty and lack of housing won’t happen overnight.
“You see, there were just simply too many Californians that are not realizing the California dream, and I think we have a responsibility, both social and moral, to do something about it,” said Chávez, who added the summit attendees are willing to take the long view about solving problems.
He also brushed off the political rhetoric that dominates headlines. “We’re about action! We’re about building!”
▪ Assemblymember Joaquín Arámbula, D-Fresno, noted that the region is the leader in production of peaches, tomato processing and garlic.
Yet, in the country’s leading agricultural county, problems like poverty and lack of access to health care still exist, he said.
“There are too many families here in the Valley that go without a doctor or unable to receive health care,” said Arámbula.
▪ Fresno City Councilmember Esmeralda Soria said she and other millennials are impacted by the rising cost of housing. She graduated from UC Davis law school with $150,000 in student debt.
“I’m just like everybody else, living paycheck to paycheck,” said Soria. “People can’t survive on minimum wage today.
▪ Dr. Mindy Romero, a USC researcher into Latino issues, outlined the findings of the state of Latino economic well-being in California that shows the gender gap in poverty rates is highest for Latinos, nearly 60 percent of Latino households lack adequate housing, and, only 13 percent of Latinos have a 4-year college degree.
“Latinos continue to face significant structural challenges in housing, educational attainment and entrepreneurial efforts that, together, serve as barriers to higher income and overall economic stability,” said Romero.
Studies show that the state will have 1.1 million computer-related jobs by 2024, but will only be able to fill 41 percent of them, said Romero.
This story was updated at 5:08 p.m. to correctly attribute some quotes.