A dozen thoughts on Fresno City Hall issues:
1.) Greg Barfield is no longer the city’s homeless czar. He had held that post since shortly before Mayor Ashley Swearengin took office in January 2009. Barfield had been splitting duties at City Hall — halftime as homeless prevention and policy manager, halftime as Council Member Oliver Baines’ chief of staff. Barfield is now Baines’ full-time chief of staff.
2.) I chatted with Barfield by phone on Monday. He seemed pleased with the change. He no doubt will continue to be deeply involved with homeless issues. Baines represents District 3, which includes downtown. Fair or not, downtown is home to many large homeless camps.
3.) We all know about the homeless camp near the Poverello House at Santa Clara and G Street. We know about the camp at E Street and Los Angeles in what used to be Germantown. But the camp that really catches my attention is the one behind a radiator shop/car wash on H Street, just a stone’s throw from the city corporation yard. The place is largely hidden by Highway 180 gap, Zacky Farms, the businesses along H and an irrigation canal.
4.) I went for a walk to the H Street camp a few weeks ago. I headed north on G until it hit a dead end on the other side of 180. I followed the irrigation canal to the camp. On my way back to G Street, I passed a well-dressed young woman (mid-20s) and a nicely-dressed man (late 40s, early 50s). They were headed toward the camp. I introduced myself and asked for their names. The man, speaking for both, refused to tell me. They moved on. I went a short distance, then turned around. The man and woman were standing on the camp’s edge, looking at what appeared to be a map, then pointing to various parts of the camp. My initial thought: This camp is on the radar of an organization that isn’t part of City Hall.
5.) The 2035 general plan update is getting lots of debate. Everyone struggles with the definition of “infill.” This is important because the new general plan is supposed to direct at least 45% of future commercial and residential development into infill areas. To me, there are other questions that also need to be answered: Is the percentage to be computed by value of new construction? Or is it to be computed by quantity of permits? Is the 45% goal met if all new construction for the next 11 years is on the city’s edges, followed by nine years of all new development in infill areas? Does future infill development need to be evenly divided among council districts south of Shaw Avenue? Will neighborhoods be taken off the “infill” list if they reach a certain level excellence?
6.) On Monday, July 15, I walked in mid-afternoon from City Hall to the McDonald’s on Divisadero, between Blackstone and Abby. As I reached the north side of Abby and began heading toward the restaurant’s door, a woman stopped me. “Have you seen a short, muscular, homeless man come by here?” she asked. “He’s missing.” I told her I hadn’t seen a short, muscular man. But why did she include “homeless” in her description?
7.) I moved on to the McDonald’s front door. A man was sitting outside the door. He looked homeless (but he wasn’t muscular). He was holding a paper bag containing a big can of beer. “Hey, buddy,” he said. “I’m a recovering alcoholic. Can you spare 50 cents so I can get a beer?” I said no. “I’ll take a sandwich,” he said. I ignored the second request, then pointed to the beer can and said: “If you’re a recovering alcoholic, why are you drinking that?” His reply: “It’s just beer.”
8.) I had a nice lunch, then went for a walk through the Lowell neighborhood. The neighborhood is a source of considerable interest at City Hall. Mayor Swearengin has applied a lot of city resources to improving the quality of life. Some council members don’t like it. Swearengin hopes success in Lowell can be repeated in other neighborhoods. I walked north on Calaveras to Belmont. Things do look better in spots. But there’s still much to do. A woman was sitting on the sidewalk at the corner of Calaveras and Belmont. She had a tatoo of what looked like a bat on her forehead. She must have been stoned on something — she looked at me, held out her arms and opened her mouth. No sound emerged.
9.) Then I headed south on Glenn, toward Divisadero. A number of houses had been improved. Many more need help. Several police cars cruised by. One of the cars stopped at an apartment complex — the street is full of small apartment complexes and older homes divided into three or four apartments. I watched as the officers walked to the second level of the apartment complex. They appeared to talk to someone in a doorway. Then they returned to their cruiser.
10.) I returned to the newsroom by walking north on Divisadero. My plan was to cross the railroad tracks near the city’s corporation yard. There’s a small apartment complex, perhaps four units, on Divisadero where it intersects with Broadway. A smoke shop — “cigarettes – pipes – snacks – drinks – adult – fax” — is on one side. A car repair shop is on the other side. A man was standing at the rear of the row of apartments. “Come on over,” he shouted to me. It turned out to be Cid. I’ve bumped into him before. Cid said he was living there as part of his rehab. Cid was apparently having a bad day. He didn’t make much sense. Then he reached into his pants and pulled out a knife. It was a good-sized knife. With a snap of his right wrist, Cid stuck the knife in a flower bed. “I gotta get back to work,” I said.
11.) I see interesting things all the time on my walks. Another example — on June 19, I had a sandwich at the Packing Shed on Merced Street, a bit east of Fulton Mall. The Packing Shed has great sandwiches. It was about 2:30 p.m. I finished my meal, then stopped on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant to put on my hat. Right in front of me was a woman. She had orange hair. She puffing furiously on a cigarette. She was standing in the gutter, even though there was plenty of room on the sidewalk. She wore shorts unbuttoned at the top so that the edge of her underwear showed. She wore a white sleeveless shirt rolled up to her chest so that it served as a halter of sorts. And she was about 8-and-a-half months pregnant. She looked at me and kept puffing. I adjusted my hat, then headed toward Fulton Mall.
12.) Standards. Tolerance. They go together only in our dreams. The 2035 general plan update, despite all the utopian talk, will have to settle on one or the either.