Tag Archive | "Fresno City Council"

Venerable Resources

In response to the City of Fresno’s Historic Preservation Commission nominating three of the YMCA Buildings to the Local Register of Historic Resources, Fresno Bee columnist, Bill McEwen wrote an opinion that blasted the Commission and preservationists. In the column, Bill wrote “”The Historic Preservation Commission and its supporters have lost sight of the fact that very little in Fresno is historic.” This is a horrifying opinion for archop and many citizens that honor our city’s history through preservation and adaptive reuse. It also shocked local landscape architect Bob Boro. Below is a short essay he wrote in response.

You know, ladies and gentlemen….. I guess I’m just wired wrong. I observe many old people as they age. They lose their independence and their faculties, they have diminished physical mobility and dexterity, and they eventually need care. Some families keep these aging loved ones at home, but most place them in a care facility. Some families visit them every day, others weekly, others on Christmas and Easter or never at all.

So I see a parallel with aging structures. Some are loved and cared for, others are neglected and deteriorate, still others progress to the point where they are abandoned and eventually demolished. Well, I value historic structures as much as old humanoids. I cared for my parents with great love and kindness as they aged and demented. I saw them almost daily and treated them with dignity, respect and love. I held them in my arms at the end of their lives. And so it is for me with historic buildings.

Perhaps my roots are deeper than others… my great grandfather was a pioneer Fresnan who settled here in 1874. Perhaps having grown up in a William Coates designed home I have historic preservation in my blood. And perhaps because I was raised to respect and love the environment and our natural resources, I have a different set of genes. I purchased a 1916 Ernest Kump designed home that was on the local register. It was in terrible shape, filled with asbestos, falling off its foundation, dryrotted and aging badly. I spent 4 years lovingly restoring it, preserving all that I could of the original design, adapting the residence to an office and creating a garden that would compliment the property. I demolished additions, recreated that which had been removed, replaced every window with dual pane wood windows to match the original, removed asbestos and replaced everything that was rotted. All the while I met current City codes and standards at great expense and difficulty, borrowing money to cover the costs.

Maracci Home - 985 N. Van Ness Ave. photo by historicfresno.org

Maracci Home - 985 N. Van Ness

For two years now I have occupied this venerable building for my offices with a tenant occupying the upstairs. For two years I have come to this historic building each day, smiling and appreciating not only its history but also its amazing soul. Everyone who works in this space and visits this space smiles. It is joyous to preserve and savor such a place and I am happy to share this with all to would like to visit.

Did it cost alot of money? Of course. Was it more than new construction? Probably. Do I regret investing so much in an historic building? Not at all. Would I do it again? YES. So as with all decisions in life, one can choose to look at old buildings as liabilities to be demolished. Or, one can look upon them as venerable resources with great bones and good souls.

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Mayoral Historic Preservation Awards 2010

There is an awards presentation today during Fresno City Council session of the Mayor’s Biannual Historic Preservation Awards. These awards honor the projects and people that are helping to preserve Fresno’s built history. I am honored to be included among the awardees this year. Below is a list of all the awards. Come down to the City Council Chambers today at 10:30 to show your support for historic preservation and the hard working individuals that are diligently working to preserve our history.

Outstanding Rehabilitation of a Residential Property:

1338 N Street (c.1886)
Property Owner: James Done
Contractor: James Done

George and Adelphia Rowell Home (1903; HP#268)
153 N. Effie
Property Owner: Housing Authorities of the City and County of Fresno

The John B. Marshall Homes (c1884/1908; HP#267)
164 N. Echo Avenue
Housing Division, Downtown and Community Revitalization Department
Property Owner and Contractor: Paul Gong, Marko Solutions
Architect: Johnson Architecture

Outstanding Rehabilitation of a Non-Residential Property:

Cutting Flats (1914)
2-8 North San Pablo
Property Owner: Robert Gray Williams/Susan K. Medina (Perez, Williams and Medina, Attorneys at Law)
Contractor: Tony Gonzalez, Unique Designz

San Joaquin Light and Power Company/PGE Building (1923; HP#120)
1401 Fulton Street
Property Owner: Cliff Tutelian
Architect: Johnson Architecture

Joseph Maracci Residence (1916; HP#188)
985 N. Van Ness Avenue
Property Owner: Robert Boro

Kress Building (1922)
1118 Fulton Mall
Property Owner: Dr. Robert Gurfield
Architect: Gonzalo J. Pedroso AIA, GP Architecture, Inc. (Moorpark, CA)
Contractor: William Cummings, Legacy Construction, Fresno

Community Preservation Award: Individual:

David Rodriguez, Pinedale Historian (D06)

Community Preservation Award: Group

Jack Krog and Eldon Morris for Frank Chance Field (District 05)

The Russell and Pat Fey Memorial Preservationist of the Year Award

Sharon Hiigel, Fresno Historical Society archivist

Horizon Award (New this year):

Kiel Famellos-Schmidt (archop and AIA symposiums)

As I understand it, the Horizon Award was just created this year. Its purpose is to honor a fresh face on the historic preservation scene. I can think of several other individuals that deserve this award as much if not more than myself. But I am honored to be nominated and to be part of the next generation to take up the flag of preservation.

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SHRC votes Fulton Mall eligible for the National Register

UPDATE: 4:30 4/30/2010

Patrick Kolasinski has posted his review of the SHRC meeting.

The nomination is an interesting one, because (unlike most historic resources), the mall is a) less than 50 years old, b) subject to an unusual ownership situation, and c) incredibly controversial. The mall was built in 1964 as part of an attempt to revitalize Fresno’s then-declining downtown. It was apparently the first project of its kind in California, and served as a guide for later projects such as Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade, Sacramento’s K Street, and Modesto’s 10th Street Place.

This is a good spot for a quick note here about the role of the SHRC in the nomination process. The SHRC does not actually list things on the National Register. That job falls to the Keeper of the National Register (usually called just “the Keeper”), who works for the National Parks Service. Instead, the SHRC reviews nominations to determine whether the nominated resources meet the criteria for listing on the National Register. If the SHRC determines that the resource does meet the criteria, it makes a finding of eligibility and passes the whole thing on to the Keeper. Usually, the SHRC also sends along a recommendation that the property be listed, but not always: the SHRC’s primary job in the process is to serve as a “gatekeeper” so that the Keeper isn’t flooded with tons of unworthy nominations.

The objections raised were clear, succinct, and almost entirely procedural.

Time for another side note: owner opposition is an important consideration because a property cannot be listed on the National Register over the opposition of a majority of the owners. If a property is found to be eligible but the majority of the owners object to the listing, the Keeper will state that the property has been “formally determined to be eligible,” but will not include the property on the National Register. The property will, however, be automatically included in the California Register, as any property “formally determined to be eligible” for the National Register gets automatically listed on the California Register, regardless of whether it is actually listed nationally. Listing on the California Register triggers nearly all of the same environmental protections under state law (the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA), but there are some differences.

Commissioner Rick Moss caught everyone’s attention with a single, clear observation. He noted that there had not been a single bit of opposition to the determination that [Fulton] Mall is actually eligible for listing on the National Register. Commissioner Moss noted the importance of procedure, but he focused the Commission on the fact that the SHRC’s core goal here was to determine whether or not the property was eligible, and that this was a separate determination from the procedural one that everyone was focusing on.

Commission Chair Polanco called for a motion, which was made by Commissioner Moss, seconded by Commissioner Bryan K. Brandes, and voted on unanimously by the whole commission. There were no dissenting votes and no abstentions, and the final decision was clear: the SHRC voted to find [Fulton] Mall eligible for listing on the National Register. Because the Commission could not determine that the Mall should in fact be listed (as there was no way to tell whether enough owners had object to block the listing), the Commission did not issue a recommendation on that front.

The next step will be for the nomination to be forwarded to the Keeper, who will make a determination of eligibility. It appears most likely that the Keeper will formally determine that the Mall is eligible for the National Register, and so it will almost certainly be listed on at least the California Register (and possibly in both places).

And at 2pm the Fresno Bee posted their article on the subject. Their editorial board had already came out in opposition to historic listing on the Mall. This article is consistent with that opinion.

Breaking News: 11:40 pm 4/30/2010

From historic preservation attorney, Patrick Kolasinski, today we learned that the California State Historic Resources Commission voted unanimously to determine the Fulton Mall eligible for the National Register of Historic Places listing. The announcement of this news came via Patrick’s twitter feed: @patkickinlaw

See the updates below. Patrick will be blogging about it, so check back here for updates and more details. The Law Offices of Patrick Kolasinski provide focused and individual legal assistance in the areas of Business Formation and General Business Law, Historic Preservation, and Personal and Business Bankruptcy.

If you have been following the developments, you would know that the City of Fresno Historic Preservation voted 4 to 1 that the Fulton Mall was eligible for historic designation. However, it voted unanimously, not to recommend the Mall to the National Register. Also, the Mayor’s office and Fresno City Council opposed the historic designation. Here is a PDF ot the mayor Ashley Swearengin’s letter to SHPC.

I believe the next step will be a national level meeting, I’m sure the experts will elaborate below.

What are your thoughts?

Make sure you check out the Cinco de Mayo celebration on the Fulton Mall this weekend. It is going to tens of thousands of people, good food and good music. Here is more info.

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Specific Plans

The days of vague plans for downtown Fresno are over. It’s time to get specific.

Specific Plan Area

Specific/Community Plan Areas

This is the hope of the Swearengin administration, Downtown Revitalization Department, The Planning and Development Department and a diversity of private citizens.

The contract for the Fulton Corridor Specific Plan and the Downtown Neighborhoods Community Plan were approved by Fresno City Council on January 28, 2010. Now the sleeves get rolled up and the hard work begins. The contract allots $900,000 in Community Block Grant funds (I believe there are some other minor funding sources) this year in a total contract of $2.3 million with Moule & Polyzoides | Architects and Urbanists along with other specialized consultants.

If you read Craig Scharton’s meeting calendar blog then you’ll have seen that preparation meetings for the spacific plan have already been occurring. They have even launched a new website [http://fresnodowntownplans.com] “This website will contain a variety of information pertaining to the development projects, include details about public involvement process and how you can help shape Downtown Fresno.”

The site announces the first of the public meetings:

March 9th
4:00PM – 6:45PM
Downtown Neighborhoods Community Advisory Committee Meeting #1
Location: The Grand, 1401 Fulton St, Fresno
In this first Community Advisory Committee Meeting, the consultant will outline the planning process that lies ahead, describe some of its initial findings, and give the Committee and the public a chance to share thoughts regarding priorities, issues, and concerns for the Downtown Neighborhoods Community Plan area.

March 9th
7:00PM – 8:45PM
Fulton Corridor Specific Plan Community Advisory Committee #1
Location: The Grand, 1401 Fulton St, Fresno
In this first Community Advisory Committee Meeting, the consultant will outline the planning process that lies ahead, describe some of its initial findings, and give the Committee and the public a chance to share thoughts regarding priorities, issues, and concerns for the Fulton Corridor Specific Plan area.

This blogger will be out in Portland at the National Charrette Institute training. However, we have arranged for a corespondent that will be covering Fulton Corridor Specific Plan Community Advisory Committee. If you are on the Downtown Neighborhoods Community Advisory Committee or plan on attending most the meetings, then consider being our corespondent as well. If interested please contact us.

What are your hopes and aspiration for the Specific/Community plans? Post them in the comments below.

I’ll start. I ride my bike to my office in the Cultural Arts District from my home in Tower. I would see some of the weird intersections redesigned for better flow and safety from the pedestrian and cyclist perspective. One in particular is the Divisadero, H Street, Weber intersection.

Many the announcements and outreach about the plans are pretty focused on investment. Investment will revitalize downtown, investment will disperse alleviate concentrated poverty. I would like to see equal or more attention on the people. I guess it is a different perspective or approach. I think downtown should be a healthy inviting place for people and people will bring money/investment. Feel free to disagree, I would like to have that discussion.

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Fresno Planning Commissioner, Cam Maloy, resigns

Update 10/15/09

A vote Cam Maloy cast in September is being reviewed for conflict of interest after she resigned from the commission. The 4-0 Planning Commission vote approved locked-in fees and requirements of a tentative tract map on a Granville project located just North of Tokyo Garden on Van Ness. Read more from the Fresno Bee.

cam maloy

Original Post

Thursday October 8th, Planning Commissioner Cam Maloy sent a letter of resignation to the City of Fresno after only four months as commissioner. The Fresno Bee writer George Hostetter reports

According to city documents, Maloy received two large personal loans from entities owned by members of the Assemi family. Farid, Darius and Farshid Assemi are brothers who have residential and commercial development interests throughout the city.

The Planning Commission is perhaps the most powerful nonelected body at City Hall, and often is the final word on the regulation and approval of development projects. Maloy had been on the commission for only four months.

Swearengin said she spoke with Maloy by phone Thursday afternoon.

“She offered to resign and I told her I thought that was the right thing to do,” Swearengin said Friday.

In her letter of resignation effective Thursday, Maloy told Swearengin she was resigning “in order to assure there is no real or perceived conflict of interest which will detract from the great work that the city and the planning commission are doing.”

Maloy’s brief stint highlights what city officials acknowledge is a flaw in the vetting process for commission nominees.

Maloy was appointed by Swearengin, and the City Council unanimously approved the appointment in June.

There was no council discussion, and the background information on Maloy dealt mainly with her extensive development experience in the private sector and with nonprofit groups.

Planning Commissioners play a very important role in our development as a city. It is crucial that the mayor, is deliberate in selecting commissioners that will represent the public’s interests equally. It is also crucial that our councilmenbers be more rigorous in vetting these appointments.

The article continues:

Swearengin said Maloy went through a pre-nomination interview, but a thorough check of her financial interests was not conducted.

After their appointments, commission members are required by the state to periodically file a statement of economic interests with City Hall.

When The Bee began asking questions about Maloy’s statement, Swearengin said, “It was the first that any of us knew of her financial connections to people who had development companies as well.”…

In a Thursday interview with The Bee, before she resigned, Maloy said she used proceeds from the Assemi loans to help buy a stake in Kamm South, a farming operation on the Valley’s west side.

She also said the Assemi brothers are among the many stakeholders in Kamm South.

Maloy said the Assemi brothers are friends of hers.

Swearengin said Maloy told the City Attorney’s Office of the loans, and was told she merely had to recuse herself from issues involving the Assemis.

But, Swearengin said, she is not satisfied with a technical compliance with conflict-of-interest laws: “We cannot have the public thinking that anyone has any ties to the projects that are coming before the commission.”

Several City Council members said they want more information on the financial history of future commission nominees. Swearengin said that will be a priority.

Swearengin said she is interviewing candidates to replace Maloy.

My hat is off to the Bee for investigating this and reporting it so well. Cam Maloy has a strong history of serving the community. She serves on the board of the Central Valley Business Incubator. And until recently served on the Historic Preservation Commission. She should be comended for her service. Despite this service we need to be very cautious of potential conflicts of interest.

I recall a Historic Preservation Commission meeting on June 22nd, 2009, Maloy spoke in favor of a Granville Homes proposal given by Darius Assemi. At the time Maloy was no longer serving on the HPC and beginning service on the Planning Commission. Looking back, this does seem inappropriate for a past Historic Preservation Commissioner or current Planning Commissioner to speak in favor of an applicant which she has financial ties to. It demonstrates the potential conflict of interest that may occur if she continued to serve on the Planning Commission.

To apply for the planning commission or other Fresno boards see the City Clerk webpage

From the City of Fresno website:

The City of Fresno Planning Commission is responsible for ensuring that the 2025 Fresno General Plan, Community and Specific Plans and the Zoning Ordinance are properly implemented. In addition, the Planning Commission takes action on various entitlements, as delegated by the legislative body (i.e. City Council). The Commission meets every first and third Wednesday’s of the month (unless otherwise noted below) at 6:00 pm in the City Council Chambers located at 2600 Fresno Street, second floor.

During these public hearings, the Commission takes action on the following entitlements:

* Subdivision tract maps.
* Appeals of Variances, Conditional Use Permit and Site Plan Review Applications
* Makes a recommendation to the City Council on all Rezone and Plan Amendment Applications
* Various policy and code updates, etc.


AUTHORIZATION: Fresno City Charter Section 906
TYPE: Charter
MEETS: 1st and 3rd Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m.
LOCATION: City Hall, Council Chambers
TERM: Four years
COMPENSATION: $100 per meeting, not to exceed 24 meetings
STAFF REP: Planning and Development Dept., Keith Bergthold 621-8003
Alt. Staff Contact: Joann Zuniga 621-8032
APPOINTMENTS: 7 members appointed by the Mayor with Council approval. Must be a City of Fresno resident.

Name: Term Expires:

Rama Dawar 6/30/2010
Jamie Holt 6/30/2010
Paul Caprioglio 6/30/2013
Serop Torossian 6/30/2011
Hal Kissler 6/30/2012
Rojelio (Roy) Vasquez 6/30/2011

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Joe Moore joins Historic Preservation Commission

On July 17th, Fresno Mayor, Ashley Swearengin proposed changes to the city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance. The changes which City Council approved allowed the mayor to appoint non-city residence to the commission. Before that was not allowed. That applied to residents who lived in county island as well.

That included Joe Moore. If you spend anytime in downtown Fresno and/or listen to 90.7 KFSR, then you know Joe Moore. Currently, he is the president of the Downtown Association and station manager at KFSR.

Last Thursday, City Council approved the Mayor’s appointment of Joe Moore to the Historic Preservation Commission under the amended Historic Preservation Ordinance. He take the place of Kevin Enns-Rempel. Commissioner terms are for 4 years. Kevin had served for 13 years.

I asked both Joe and Kevin to share some thought for this post. Kevin about his experiences and what’s next for him. For Joe, why he had applied for the commission and what is his perspective on Historic Preservation.

Kevin Enns-Rempel

I first applied to be a member of the Historic Preservation Commission in 1995 at the encouragement of commissioner Russ Fey, and was appointed in early 1996 by Mayor Jim Patterson. I had precious little idea at first of what I was getting into. I had come to be interested in local historic resources not as an activist, but rather through my training as a historian. I naively imagined that my service on the commission would be mostly an extension of the research and writing that I had done before that time. I quickly learned, however, that the job had far more to do with negotiating the sometimes-competing demands of community good and individual property rights, and advocating whenever possible for the protection of the community’s historic resources. This would be no calm academic exercise!

Now completing thirteen years on the commission, I’m most pleased to see how the climate for historic preservation has improved in Fresno. When I joined the commission, we had very little meaningful voice in city government. Planning decisions were made and building permits issued for historic properties often without the commission being notified. Over the last thirteen years, such situations have largely become a thing of the past. Voices for preservation become part of the conversation much earlier in the planning process now, often resulting in a much more favorable end result. Things still don’t go our way every time, but the climate has greatly improved.

image from http://historicfresno.org

image from http://historicfresno.org

More specifically, I think I’m most pleased to have been part of creating Fresno’s first two (and presumably soon to be three) historic districts. Designating properties one at a time to the Local Register is a good thing too, but providing protection for entire areas is often a much more valuable process. If I had to name one particular building I’m most happy to have been a part of saving, I’d have to say the Santa Fe Railroad Depot. For many years all signs pointed toward the destruction of that wonderful building, but the efforts of many people led to a very different — and much happier — result.

Back in civilian life, I plan to continue maintaining the website “A Guide to Historic Resources in Fresno, California” (http://historicfresno.org), which I began in 1996 shortly after joining the commission. Perhaps with more time available I can think of new content that might be added to the website to make it an even more valuable resource.

Serving on the Historic Preservation Commission has been an honor and a privilege. It has offered me the chance to become acquainted with some of best people in Fresno, and to do my part in making this community a better place to live. I’m very grateful for that opportunity.

Joe Moore

As you know I’ve had a long running interest in historic preservation, specifically in the Downtown area. One of the things that makes a downtown special is the built environment, and in this case, the mix of old and new architecture. I’m going to talk about this in my pecha kucha presentation at the Cultural Arts Conference. The dirt downtown is not special by itself. So why do we care about “downtown” then if it’s not the dirt? It’s because it’s a unique environment, with urban form and an architectural legacy that is the embodied history of the city and its people. Those two things are critical to understand, because they answer two commonly asked questions – 1) why not tear everything down and start from scratch; 2) why not build more suburban type big box stores, with big setbacks, surface parking, etc downtown? If you do either of those things (to a degree) it literally ceases to become a downtown any longer. So historic preservation & good design go hand in hand with urban revitalization.

While we have lost a great deal of our history over the past 50 years, including most of the city’s Victorian era commercial building stock. However, we still have a great collection of historic buildings in the city, especially downtown, and our older neighborhoods are filled with great homes. Once a resource is gone, it’s lost forever, so I think now is really an important time. Today’s generation will leave a lasting impact and will largely make decisions that will determine what our city will look like in another 50 years. Will that include the outstanding and significant resources that have helped define our image as city and link us with past generations? I hope so.

photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcfresno/

photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcfresno/

As far as goals, I think anything we can do to raise awareness and appreciation for historic resources would be great. I’d like to see some progress on the minimum maintenance standards issue. I also think we need to see more in the way of historic surveys, and hopefully we will with the Fulton Corridor Specific Plan. Another interesting area is modernism. Fresno has some great mid-century homes and commercial buildings, and as they turn 50 years old, I think it would be great to see some properties by Robert Stevens, Allen Lew, Walter Wagner, or Gene Zellmer (or others) represented as historic resources. I think the general public is beginning to appreciate mid-century modern architecture and design more now, just look at the wild popularity of the TV series Mad Men. A good deal of that program’s appeal is based on the “jet set modern” look of the show, from the clothes to the cars, buildings and interiors. Everything comes full circle. Modernist resources are a part of our heritage too.

I applied because I was encouraged by the Mayor and her administration to serve, as they were looking for someone with a background in history and an interest in historic preservation to serve on the commission. I got my degree in History from Fresno State in 2000. One of my professors in the History Department was Dr. Ephraim Smith, who was instrumental in leading the fight to save the Old Administration Building at Fresno City College. I’ve had a great interest in Downtown and Fresno’s historic architecture for a very long time. I can remember reading Edwin Eaton’s “Vintage Fresno” and the “As Pop Saw It” books in the school library when I was a child, and was fascinated by the city’s history and those great old buildings. I think that was back in the 5th or 6th grade, and I’ve been interested in it ever since.

Both Kevin and Joe are outstanding citizens. There will be a reception in honor of Kevin Enns-Rempel at 5 pm today September 28th in the 2nd floor lobby of City Hall.

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Downtown Citizens Committee appointments announced

Today, September 25th, the City of Fresno announced the Downtown Citizens Committee appointments. This committee’s first meeting will be on September 29th. This meting will be open to the public and we’ll announce the time and location shortly. Below is the media release and list of appointees.

Appointments to Downtown Citizens Committee Announced

FRESNO – The City of Fresno today announced the members of a new community advisory committee, established to help guide future downtown development. The 21-member committee will assist with the creation of the City’s Fulton Corridor Specific Plan, encompassing a variety of unique project areas including the Cultural Arts District, Central Business District, South Stadium zone and Chinatown.

The committee includes a variety of downtown residents, business and property owners and others with expertise in real estate, planning, and community development. Eighteen of the members were appointed by Councilmember Cynthia Sterling, whose district encompasses the entire Specific Plan area. Mayor Ashley Swearengin appointed three members of the committee.

“This citizens committee is the linchpin of our strategy for revitalizing the urban core of our city,” Mayor Swearengin said. “The work they do will provide the foundation we need to create a vibrant and successful downtown in the years ahead.”
Members were chosen following an extensive outreach process, led by the City’s Downtown and Community Revitalization Department. Mayor Swearengin will participate in the committee’s first meeting on Tuesday, September 29th

Elliott Balch, Fresno’s Downtown Revitalization Manager, said committee members will be making a significant contribution to Fresno’s future. “Through the Fulton Corridor Specific Plan, the community will be setting new standards for development downtown and putting its vision for the area into law,” he said.

The names of committee members are included below. For more information on the Fulton Corridor Specific Plan, please contact Wilma Quan, Urban Planning Specialist, at 559-621-8371 or Wilma.Quan@fresno.gov.

Committee member Affiliation with Downtown and the community

Joyce Aiken – Former director, Fresno Arts Council; an original Fulton Mall artist

Alan L. Allen Retired contractor who has restored Fulton Mall buildings he owns

Rosemarie Amaral – Fresno Co. Dept. of Public Health, focuses on planning & fitness

Donavan Byrn – Cultural Arts District resident and Creative Fresno mural coordinator

James J. Connell – Executive Director, Poverello House

Raul De Alba – Family owns several Fulton Mall businesses and property since 1989

Morgan Doizaki – Mgr., Fresno Discount Mall; President, Chinatown Revitalization Inc.

Garrett Fahrmann – Senior Vice President for Operations, Fresno Grizzlies

Victoria Gonzales – Commercial real estate broker; former DTA director

James Haron – Owner of Haron Jaguar/Land Rover on Ventura Avenue

Eric A. Kalkowski – Co-owner of Kalkowski Construction, 10-year downtown business

Saundra King – Owner and manager of the Security Bank building at 1060 Fulton Mall

Gary Lanfranco – Third-generation owner of Cosmopolitan Tavern & Grill in Chinatown

Nancy Marquez – Board member and founding member of Cultural Arts District Assn.

Kelvin Morgan – Sr. Pastor, Harvest of Harmony Int’l Church; active in Chinatown cmty.

Roger Palomino – 15-year CEO of Fresno Co. Economic Opportunities Commission

Timothy Schulz – Construction supt. for several recent downtown mixed-use projects

Nanette Stockle – Office manager and co-owner of Mecca Billiard Supply for 20 years

Maribel Vera-Anaya – Owner, Joe’s Steakhouse & Grill on Van Ness Avenue

Brent Weiner – Third-generation owner of Procter’s Jewelers on Fulton Mall

Allysunn Williams – Director of Planning & Community Devt., Fresno Housing Authority

This is a very interesting list with many well qualified citizens and some that we need to learn more about. One disappointing omission was anyone with extensive knowledge in architecture or historic preservation.

Look to www.archop.org for continued coverage on this topic and the development of the Fulton Corridor Specific Plan

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City to draft RFP for former Met properties

The topic for today is the Fresno Metropolitan Museum of Art and Science.

photo of Met reopening by Brad Polzin

photo of Met reopening by Brad Polzin

The City of Fresno is in escrow for the block containing the Fresno Metropolitan Museum of Art and Science and a parcel across the street containing a parking lot. By everyone’s account, the city did not want to own this property. You may remember that the city cosigned a $15 million construction loan so that the Met could finish the renovation of the Old Fresno Bee building at Van Ness and Calaveras. $1.2 million of Mechanic’s liens still exist on the title of the property from various contractors that works on the project that are yet to be paid.
Photo above and others can be found in Brad Polzin flickr photo stream
Yesterday Councilmember Westerlund reintroduced a directive addressing the Met property in a joint session of City Council and the Redevelopment Agency (download PDF). A version of directive was originally introduced by Councilmember Perea in April. At the time Westerlund opposed due to a timing of a deal not yet being struck with the Met. The directive is for city and RDA staff to draft a joint Request For Proposals soliciting developers. The conclusion that Westerlund drew is that “Soliciting development concepts for the Met Museum block and the northern parcel through this RFP process is the most cost effective means of obtaining a market driven revitalization of a significant piece of the Cultural Arts District.”
There are three significant issues we should discuss. The first is the role of the architect. The second is fiscal concerns. And the third is community vision.
role of the architect
As you may or may not know, archop is a project of the American Institute of Architects San Joaquin Chapter. One of the guiding principles of the archop project is to educate the public about the role, responsibilities, potential, and importance of architects. I often look at news media and public policy through that lens. So a red flag went up for me when I read the City Council directive and listened the Westerlund’s explanation in the council meeting.
As the directive is written, it will solicit proposals from developers. Present in the brief and context of the project there are significant challenges of programing a 24 hour mixed use project, historic resources, spatial issues such as parking and open space to name a few. I am of the opinion that the team It should be required of the Developer RFP team to include an experience architect to address these issues.

The Met is the anchor of the Cultural Arts District and a prominent historic building. This is a very important building and will require architectural sensibility.

Council Member Westerlund’s report calls for a “lively mixed use project…complementing the Old Fresno Bee Building.” “…consistent with the principles of smart growth, sustainable development and consistent with the development principals anticipated with the new downtown specific plan.”

These are complex issues that require insight in those concepts as well as programing, massing, green space, streetscape and other design issues. The education and training of architects make them best suited to address these issues. In an email to the City Council Members I asked them to consider making an architect a required member of the teams submitting for the RFP.

I’m not yet sure how well received the email was, but nothing about architects was mentioned in the meeting. However Westlund said that the Craig Scharton’s team at the DCR Department would take the design lead and be responsible for the form, function and aesthetic. Those items are traditionally the realm of architects. While I’m confident in the abilities of the DCR Department and they have a very talented planner, Wilma Quan, on their team, they do not have anyone with architectural training or experience.

Chief of Staff to Adreas Borgeas, Steven Sotomayor, raised the point that “[Westerlund] does not want them to design, he wants a concept–RFP would call for conceptual designs.” and “…perhaps the words used were not intended in the way that you may understand them vs. a non design person would.” Either way I think it a valid question to raise is: what is the architect’s role in designing a revitalized downtown?

fiscal concerns
The City Council and City Manager conceded the the proposal will likely not recoop any of the $15 million debt the city now has to pay on the property. In fact it was mentioned that the land would like have to be given to the prevailing master developer selected in the RFP process. On top of that it was mentioned that the city may have to offset infrastructure costs waive or reduce developer fees, invest RDA funds and may even incur legal fees or be on the hook for the $1.2 million of Mechanic’s Liens on the title.

So what we have is a highly subsidized master developer project. Can the city in it’s current financial state afford that? And should this be a funding priority over the cities many obligations and public need?

These concerns where raised in the meeting by council member Brand and Borgeas. However, that did not effect a unanimous 7-0 vote to precede.

Would this be the wisest use of our taxpayer money? Remember back to the mayoral election when Ashley Swearingen’s policy on downtown was “back to basics” and that she “[doesn't] believe in ’silver bullet’ fixes for the area.” And In many ways her policy shied away from the master develope,r subsidy heavy projects. At the time the Forrest City South of Stadium project was the hot topic.

Maybe this is all the action of the City Council. However, the City Manager and Downtown and Community Revitalization Department seem attracted to what this project could be. But it seems with the focusing of Department resources in the Fulton and Lowell neighborhoods as well as the active process of the Downtown Specific Plan it may have too many balls in the air to successfully and completely accomplish them all. And this is not to mention a downtown wayfinding project and facade improvement program once touted as essential for business success and vitality downtown have been seemingly sidelined.

community vision
With all that said, I’m curious what you feel the community vision should be for the Met and the surrounding land. After all it is owned by the City of Fresno therefore we as taxpaying citizens have a stake in it.

Arch hop unbuilt MetThe Met is the anchor of the Cultual Arts District. A dream of the Met now seemingly unattainable was a Michael Maltzan designed museum that covered the entire block. The massive model was on display the the Unbuilt archop in January of 2008. The design was controvertial, thought provoking and even award winning. I’ve heard for one source that Maltzen did not want to do the renovation portion of the project. They don’t have much experience with existing buildings. That may have been the cause of the construction cost overruns. But that’s all in the past now.

There is an interesting building on the block commonly referred to as Theatre 3. Its on the Local Register of Historic Resources and was built in 1926 as San Joaquin Power & Light Company’s headquarters using Spanish Revival facade.

View Larger Map

I’ve also found this building to be inspiring even in its state of decay.

View Larger Map

So what are you’re thoughts on any of the ideas above?

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Historic Preservation Commission

Today on the Fresno City Council agenda is a proposal by Mayor Ashley Swearengin to amending the Fresno Municipal Code relating to the Historic Preservation Commission.

That is not as drastic as it may sound and maybe a good modification. In fact, her bid for election as mayor was supported by several prominent local architects. With that and their continued advisement, Mayor Swearengin is well suited for improving Fresno’s built environment and making changes to City policy to support that.

The proposal by the Mayor is to amend the Historic Preservation Ordinance that governs the Commission to clarify residency requirements.

“The proposed amendment to Fresno Municipal Code Section 12-1605 would require five (5) of the seven (7) members of the Historic Preservation Commission to be a resident of the City of Fresno, but would allow two (2) of the seven (7) commission members, as long as they had the historical background described in Section 12-1605, to reside outside of Fresno but within the State of California.”

The story broke Monday through The Business Journal. This proposal was not a surprise given what I’d heard in the City Hall Lobby after the June meeting of the Commission. I had been there to report about 1, 2 items in front of the commission during that meeting. The commission has all 7 seats currently filled. However, 2 commisioners terms (4 years) are expired. It was a frustration of the preservation community during the Autry administration that there was never a full commission. There has been a change from that with the Swearengin administration, as 3 new members have been appointed since she took office.

Architect and commission co-chair, Chris Johnson AIA stated that:

“My understanding is that filling this commission with the energy and expertise needed to sustain it over a long haul is the issue. Protecting Fresno’s history goes beyond the city ‘boundaries’ and ‘limits’ and currently the Mayor is precluded by the city attorney at having individuals that do not live in the City limits serve on the HPC.” A co-author of the current Ordinance, Johnson continues, “There is no language clarifying this issue in the ordinance so the language proposed will provide clarity and give the Mayor more flexibility to fill the commission with the best possible candidates in and around Fresno.”

If you’re in to this kinda stuff, here is a PDF of the current Historic Preservation Ordinance. And here is a PDF of the Mayor’s proposed amendment to the Ordinance.

The County of Fresno also has a historic preservation counterpart. But I must admit I know little about it. Historical Landmarks & Records Commission

Share your thoughts here:

What are the benefits or pitfalls of allowing county residents on this City Commission?

Could this create more City / County cross pollination?

Could this set precedent for other City of Fresno commissions such as the Planning Commission?

What is needed to spur more civic engagement so that there is actually competition for these commission appointments?

Post updated 7/16/09 with facts from Kevin Enns-Rempel’s comment.

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AIA San Joaquin