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Social Justice Groups Are Changing Fresno And Some Key Politicians Aren’t Taking It Well

Social Justice Groups Are Changing Fresno and Some Key Politicians Aren’t Taking It Well

By Brianna Calix—April 5, 2019

Last week, Garry Bredefeld tried to sound the alarm about a social justice fight in Fresno. He was about a decade too late.

“Unfortunately, class warfare was started yesterday,” the northeast Fresno councilmember said Tuesday at a news conference on how state money should be allocated to fix Fresno’s roads. “I don’t think it’s the end of it. I think it’s, frankly, the beginning.”

He’s off by about 10 years.

In that time span, south Fresno neighborhoods have fought to repair what even northwest Councilmember Steve Brandau described as the “sins of the past.”

And more often than not, they’ve won.

From policy battles and political campaigns, to disputes over discrimination and local parks, a handful of social justice groups are challenging and reshaping the city’s power structure.

Since 2010, nearly a dozen social justice organizations have sprouted in Fresno, harnessing community power to spark change. These groups, many of which are led by educated women of color with deep Valley ties, have mobilized coalitions that stood up to local politicians, combated vicious attacks and emerged with political victories.

The challenges triggered sharp tongue lashings from some elected leaders, who publicly rebuked advocates from the dais. But other local politicians now are rethinking their relationships with advocates and the residents with whom they work.

The victories, coupled with new community leaders and changing voter registration, signal a power shift in Fresno.

“It’s about building the power of the disenfranchised and changing policy and systems,” said former Assemblymember Sarah Reyes, who grew up in southeast Fresno. “City Hall is telling people on the south side of Fresno that you don’t matter. All my life, people have been saying I don’t matter. Well, guess what? I do matter.”

Mary Curry and Concerned Citizens of West Fresno worked for years to stop Darling International from expanding its operations in Fresno.

In 2012, with the help of Leadership Counsel, Concerned Citizens sued the city of Fresno and Darling. They not only won their legal fight, they also won over then-Councilmember Oliver Baines and his colleagues on the City Council, which tried to join the lawsuit and unanimously voted to relocate the meat rendering plant.

A similar scenario played out in 2017 during a dispute over a large industrial park.

Caglia Environmental sought to develop a massive industrial park adjacent to two new warehouse projects, across the street from homes and within eyesight of Orange Center Elementary School. Even though residents and advocates vocally opposed the project from the beginning, the City Council unanimously approved the Caglia Industrial Park.

The City Council eventually stopped the project and required a full environmental review, but only after South Central Neighbors United filed a lawsuit and the state Attorney General’s Office intervened.

At the same time, Fresno City Hall faced another issue plaguing its poorest neighborhoods – slumlords and substandard housing.

Faith in the Valley-Fresno for years called attention to slumlords operating in Fresno, seeking action from city officials.

Read more at the Fresno Bee.

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