Community bands together for healthy air, environment

FRESNO -- Olga Valle has lived near Jane Addams Elementary School for about 15 years, but it was only recently that she became aware of the air pollution in her central westside neighborhood.

The neighborhood is located near Highway 99, the railroad, and two distribution centers, and is heavily trafficked by diesel trucks.

"I didn't notice until the day that they shut down the street right in front of Addams and all those big trucks are detoured to my street, and then all of a sudden I heard all of these roaring sounds," Valle said during a workshop last Saturday afternoon at Elizabeth Terrónez Middle School.

"That wouldn't be happening in the northside or another neighborhood."

A two-year pilot project that links city officials with federal agencies could address Valle's concerns about the health and environmental health of her neighborhood.

The initiative -- called Strong Cities, Strong Communities -- aims to provide federal assistance to six cities, so they can reach their strategic growth and development goals, Jared Blumenfeld, regional EPA administrator, said Saturday after the program kick-off event at Terrónez.

Along with Fresno, Cleveland, Detroit, Memphis, New Orleans, and Chester, Penn., were also selected to participate in the program.

"This is really an effort to see how we can bring (to Fresno) as many technical and financial resources that already exist," Blumenfeld, resaid. "It is about how do we use what we have in a more focused and smarter way."

The initiative is an opportunity for the City of Fresno to gain support for the work that has already begun on preparing for high-speed rail and reinvigorating the downtown core and nearby neighborhoods, said Elliott Balch, the city's downtown revitalization manager.

"Our goals are to show the federal government the approach that we are taking and challenges we are having with federal programs, and how federal programs could support what we're doing," he said.

Last Saturday, representatives from non-profit federal, state and local agencies joined with community members and people from non-profit organizations to discuss the community's health, environmental, and development priorities, which could be addressed through the initiative.

During one session, Sarah Sharpe, environmental health director for Fresno Metro Ministries, said the city's future growth plans must ensure that some residents -- like Valle of the Addams community -- don't bear the brunt of the city's industry and pollution.

"In the future, if Fresno does not change the way we grow, and we just allow people who have enough money to keep moving away from anything, we are never going to see change," she said.

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