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Tulare Street in downtown is nice — if you walk

The Fresno City Council on Thursday approved a wish-list for transportation projects. The feds will decide which projects get the OK. Nothing is guaranteed.

One of the wishes caught my attention: Traffic lights on Tulare Street at N Street.

This intersection has the backside of Fresno Unified School District headquarters on the northwest corner, the backside of the county library’s main branch on the northeast corner, offices on the southeast corner and the Maubridge Building (once home to the Redevelopment Agency) on the southwest corner.

I walk by this corner all the time on my trips to and from City Hall.

Let’s say you live in west Fresno and you want to drive on Tulare Street to the donut shop near Divisadero. And let’s say the Tulare/N intersection gets stop lights.

Your journey could look like this:

1.) Red light at Tulare/E Street. Wait.

2.) Red light at Tulare/F Street. Wait.

3.) Red light at Tulare/G Street. Wait.

4.) 125-car freight train passes on Union Pacific tracks. Wait.

5.) Red light at Tulare/H Street. Wait.

6.) Crowd crosses at Fulton Mall. Wait.

7.) Red light at Tulare/Van Ness Avenue. Wait.

8.) No lights at Tulare/L Street. Barrel through.

9.) Red light at Tulare/M Street. Wait.

10.) Red light at Tulare/N Street. Wait.

11.) Red light at Tulare/O Street. Wait.

12.) Red light at Tulare/P Street. Wait.

13.) 125-car freight train passes on Burlington Northern-Santa Fe tracks. Wait.

14.) Red light at Tulare/R Street. Wait.

You’ve gone about a mile. You’ve stopped 13 times. You’ve lost your appetite.

A motorist faces the same dilemma heading the other direction.

I chatted with Public Works Assistant Director Scott Mozier after the council vote. He said the Tulare/N intersection gets heavy foot traffic. Stop lights are a good idea, he said.

Mozier said the city has already sought funding for stop lights at Tulare/L, but without success. He said the city still wants stop lights there.

Tulare/N and Tulare/L would make it 14 out of 14.

Mozier said traffic-signal synchronization will keep cars moving along nicely.

I’d like to have a dime for every time I’ve seen westbound cars on Tulare, trying to turn north on Van Ness on a green light, get stacked up six or eight-deep because pedestrians crossing Van Ness just shuffle along at about one-mile-an-hour.

It doesn’t happen quite as often, but westbound cars on Tulare also get stacked up at M as slow-poke cars try to get into that funky parking lot on the south side of the county Hall of Records.

People wonder why I prefer to walk in downtown Fresno. Tulare Street between E and R streets is why.

The Cosmo might be headed to Selland parking lot

Gary Lanfranco, left, and his son Joe in front of the Cosmopolitan in 2006.

The Cosmopolitan Tavern & Italian Grill, one of downtown’s most popular restaurants, may be moving — to the Selland Arena parking lot, of all places.

Third-generation owner Gary Lanfranco on Tuesday said he and top City Hall officials have had productive talks on finding a new home for the Cosmopolitan. But, he added, nothing is signed.

The high-speed rail alignment will force the restaurant to move from its current location on the southwest corner of Fresno and G streets in Chinatown.

“I won’t leave downtown,” Lanfranco said. “This is my core.”

Lanfranco gave no details about his talks with Mayor Ashley Swearengin and City Manager Bruce Rudd. He said the mayor and Rudd have been very helpful.

I wasn’t able to get a comment from anyone at City Hall.

A historic photo of the Cosmopolitan from 1970 is displayed on the wall of the tavern.

Lanfranco said his family has done business at Fresno and G since the early 20th century. He said business is good and he wants to keep the place open.

“But I’m in a predicament,” Lanfranco said.

That predicament is the bullet train, which, should the system get built, would displace a lot of Fresno businesses. Lanfranco needs a new spot with good visibility and plenty of on-site parking.

The marriage of the Selland Arena parking lot and The Cosmo (as it’s often called) raises all sorts of intriguing questions and thoughts.

How much of the parking lot is needed? Would the Cosmo pay rent? Is City Hall thinking about incentives?

The Convention Center could certainly use some new action. So, too, could Swearengin’s downtown revitalization plans. The opening of Fulton Mall to cars might generate more business for The Cosmo.

Investors in the Fresno Falcons semi-pro ice hockey team and the Fresno Grizzlies Triple A baseball team once hoped to build something called The Legacy Downtown on the Selland Arena parking. The project was to have loft apartments, commercial space and an indoor ice rink.

That was 2007. Nothing got built.

Let’s hope for The Cosmo’s sake that Selland’s parking lot isn’t jinxed.

Larry Westerlund may return to Fresno City Hall

Larry Westerlund

Former Fresno City Council Member Larry Westerlund may be in line for the “Adam Smith Chair” at City Hall.

In other words, the largely thankless job of bringing capitalism to a city where for decades the only reliable road to the middle class is a taxpayer-funded job.

The chatter at City Hall is that Mayor Ashley Swearengin wants to hire Westerlund to lead her economic development team. The position has been vacant since Craig Scharton resigned at the end of August to open Peeve’s, his Fulton Mall restaurant.

Anyone who’s been around City Hall recently knows Swearengin is gearing up to push private-sector job-creation during her final three years in office.

I asked Swearengin about the rumors Thursday afternoon. She had just finished telling the City Council about her business-friendly plans.

Swearengin adroitly dodged the question. She said the city is understaffed when it comes to economic development expertise. She said such expertise is pivotal if business is to look kindly on Fresno. She said maybe something will break at year’s end or in January.

I called Westerlund today. He was termed out in January and now works for a local law firm. He sent me an email.

“I understand the mayor has plans to add an additional staff member to be dedicated to economic development,” Westerlund said. “I don’t know whether I will fill that role or not. I do believe it’s the right thing for a city the size of Fresno to have a person dedicated to supporting job creation.”

I have no idea the title of the position in play. Scharton was called the “business development director.” Scott Johnson, the former Fresno State athletic director who came to City Hall during Alan Autry’s second term, was the “economic development director.” Fred Burkhardt, who came on board in Autry’s first term, was the “economic development manager.”

Each of them made more than $100,000 a year.

By any name, the job is a tough one.

Jeff Reid, city manager under former Mayor Jim Patterson, said of the job in 2005: “This role is so multifaceted that no one background can well prepare anyone for the challenges.”

Fresno High, Pete Mehas & quite an era

I spent an hour on Monday going through two sources of local history: The 1957 “Owl,” Fresno High School’s yearbook, and the 1956 Fresno Bee archives.

I wanted to get a taste of the senior year of Pete Mehas, the teacher and football player who died on Sept. 27.

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Burbank news about Fresno’s former city manager

My theory is this: Fresno is such a good news town that local reporters should continue to keep tabs on former City Hall officials even after they’ve moved to a new job 200 miles away. I’d summarize this story but I don’t fully understand it. The fault is mine, Alene, not yours.


Burbank City Council OKs contract change

By Alene Tchekmedyian

Burbank Leader, Glendale, Calif.

Sept. 27—The City Council on Tuesday signed off on changes to City Manager Mark Scott’s contract after discovering — contrary to what officials thought when he was hired — that he doesn’t fall under the new employee pension system, and thus would cost the city more money than originally anticipated.

Scott gave up a number of benefits in his contract after realizing he qualifies for the old California Public Employees’ Retirement System plan, which allows him to earn a larger pension upon retirement.

Under the new system, Scott’s annual pension would have capped at $155,000, meaning that his, along with the city’s, annual pension contribution would have cost roughly $10,500.

Before accepting the position, he was advised that he likely would have fallen under the new system since his former employer, the city of Fresno, has its own pension system.

But after taking the Burbank job, he discovered he qualified for the old plan, which meant the city would have had to pay an additional roughly $12,000 annually into his pension, paying the full employer pension contribution on his $290,000 salary, instead of on the $155,000 cap, he said.

“I went a back to the City Council, I said, ’OK, look, we’ve got to change my contract,’”

Scott said. “’I need to take enough out of my contract to pay for that.’”

That meant cutting the relocation assistance clause through which he would have received $1,800 a month for up to 18 months, and the $8,000 raise that would have kicked in after the relocation assistance expired.

Additionally, the city will match voluntary contributions that Scott makes to his deferred compensation plan for up to $250 per month, instead of $1,250, and contribute $750 a month to his retiree medical account, according to the contract amendment.

“I just wanted to be fair,” Scott said.

The council approved the changes Tuesday in a 4-0 vote. Councilman Bob Frutos was absent.

(c)2013 the Burbank Leader (Glendale, Calif.)

A piece of the Fresno homeless story

I posted a blog titled “Thoughts on a wonderful cabinet-maker” on July 31. It was about a man named Mike, a friend dating back to our school days in Lindsay in the 1950s and 1960s.

Mike at his best had many virtues. But he spent too many of his adult years behind bars or homeless on the streets of Fresno.

I didn’t identify him beyond his first name. His name is Mike Knutson. He died nine days after the blog was posted.

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