Fresno State Collaborates to Promote Sustainable Communities in the Valley
The eight counties in the San Joaquin Valley south of Sacramento, California have historically competed against each other for funding as well as for commercial and other types of development.1 The lack of coordination among the counties has resulted in sprawl that threatens the Valley’s agricultural industry, the most productive in the state.2 At the same time, the Valley faces numerous social and environmental problems: its poverty and unemployment rates are above the national average, it has the highest rate of childhood asthma in the state and the worst air quality in the nation, and in many of its communities, water quality does not comply with state and federal requirements.3,4
Many localities within the Valley are focusing on finding solutions to these issues. Under the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) initiative, the City of Fresno has been receiving assistance from a Community Solutions Team (CST) composed of employees from 12 federal agencies (including HUD) to support the City’s bold step of reversing decades of unsustainable outward growth into some of the world’s most productive agricultural land and directing growth toward a revitalized downtown. The CST worked across agencies to support the City’s land use planning and economic development efforts for Downtown and its historic neighborhoods. The work has resulted in an unprecedented level of federal, state, and local collaboration in Fresno, which has enhanced major efforts such as neighborhood revitalization, high speed rail station area planning, and bus rapid transit.
To address the economic and environmental liabilities on a regional scale, California State University at Fresno (Fresno State), through its Office of Community and Economic Development (OCED), has led several collective efforts in the Valley. OCED began in 2000 with a primary focus on Fresno, and then expanded its attention to the entire San Joaquin Valley in 2006, when the office became the administrator of the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley (SJV Partnership). Addressing area priorities such as air and water quality, economic and workforce development, sustainability, and housing, the SJV Partnership is a public-private collaborative of state agencies, local governments, and private companies. With the slogan “We provide connections,” OCED links the SJV Partnership and communities within the San Joaquin Valley to investors and partners in addition to offering research, data, and industry insights from Fresno State.5
Created by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005, the SJV Partnership became the regional forum for collaborative efforts to improve the Valley’s economy and quality of life. OCED helped the SJV Partnership complete its Strategic Action Proposal and, with a $5 million implementation grant awarded by the state legislature, became the partnership’s administrator. To support the SJV Partnership’s work, OCED has obtained additional funding from multiple sources including government agencies, nonprofits, and foundations.6
Smart Valley Places
Fourteen Valley cities came together as Smart Valley Places in 2010 and were awarded a $4 million Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant from HUD to initiate the Smart Valley Places consortium, which creates and disseminates planning tools to implement a shared vision for the Valley. The partnership’s efforts are categorized into 10 focus areas, such as air quality and economic development; Smart Valley Places is a project under the partnership’s focus on sustainable communities. OCED played a key role in organizing the cities and their partners and coordinated the work.
The Smart Valley Places consortium includes the California Central Valley Economic Development Corporation, the San Joaquin Valley Regional Planning Agencies Policy Council, and 14 of the 16 cities in the Valley with populations greater than 50,000, as well as four nonprofit organizations: the American Farmland Trust, California Coalition for Rural Housing, Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program, and Local Government Commission.7
The Smart Valley Places consortium helped to promote and implement the San Joaquin Regional Valley Blueprint, the regional vision prepared by the transportation planning agencies and councils of governments for each of the Valley’s eight counties. The Blueprint presents the region’s preferred growth scenario, which includes plans for a multimodal transportation network and increased development densities to protect agricultural land and other environmental resources.8 Guided by the Blueprint’s smart growth principles, the consortium provided technical assistance to help the participating cities undertake local projects ranging from transit-oriented developments to climate action plans. All of the projects are either underway or complete.9
To advance the Valley’s smart growth vision, OCED and other Smart Valley Places partners also held a series of meetings, beginning with the Kick-Off Convention in 2011. The consortium organized topical workshops for local government officials and leaders to increase their understanding of smart growth principles and enhance coordination between regional stakeholders. The consortium also held training sessions to foster civic engagement and community leadership with an emphasis on reaching out to low-income and minority residents. In addition to the meetings, which conclude with a convention in November 2013, the consortium is disseminating information about smart growth in the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint Planners Toolkit, an online clearinghouse of best practices and smart growth plans. American Farmland Trust has also developed an interactive online tool, Groundswell, for networking and public education about important issues and trends affecting the Valley.10
Although the grant that funded Smart Valley Places is in its final year, Mike Dozier, executive director of OCED, expects the participating communities to continue their partnerships.11 The consortium will present opportunities for future collaboration in its final report, scheduled for release in December 2013.12
Coordination with Other Initiatives
The accomplishments of the Smart Valley Places consortium already supplement several other initiatives and collaboratives in which OCED participates. “Everything that [OCED] does ties together,” according to Dozier, and all of OCED’s activities are intended to work together to better the region.13 For example, the San Joaquin Valley Rural Development Center, another OCED initiative, participated in a project developing amendments to ordinances and general plans in small cities (with populations under 50,000) that incorporate the Blueprint’s smart growth principles. The resulting amendments will also be added to the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint Planners Toolkit.14
Through the SJV Partnership, OCED is also currently engaged in other collaborative efforts to increase the productivity of priority industry clusters, develop regional solutions to the challenge of providing adequate affordable housing, and support broadband access throughout the Valley. As a key player in numerous collaboratives that span multiple issues, OCED is fostering cooperation among Valley communities, producing solutions that address economic and environmental concerns, and planning for a more sustainable San Joaquin Valley.
California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley. 2009. California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley 2009 Annual Report, 7. Accessed 9 September 2013.
California Department of Food and Agriculture. 2013. California Agricultural Statistics Review 2012–2013, 14. Accessed 20 September 2013.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Region 9 Strategic Plan, 2011–14.” Accessed 25 September 2013.
Interview with Mike Dozier, executive director, Office of Community and Economic Development, California State University at Fresno, 10 September 2013.
California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley. 2012. California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley 2012 Annual Report, 12. Accessed 9 September 2013.
Smart Valley Places. “Smart Valley Places Press Kit,” 2. Accessed 9 September 2013.
Mintier Harnish, Carol Whiteside Consulting, Mogavero Notestine Associates, and the Rios Company. 2010. San Joaquin Valley Blueprint Planning Process: Summary Report. Accessed 20 September 2013.
Email correspondence with Mike Dozier, 25 September 2013.
Smart Valley Places. “Smart Valley Places: Program Summary.” Accessed 9 September 2013.
Interview with Mike Dozier.
California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley. 2013. 3rd Quarter Board Meeting 2013 Agenda Packet, 18. Accessed 26 September 2013.
Interview with Mike Dozier.
California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley 2012 Annual Report, 35.