Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Zoo expansion will bring giant parking lot into historic park

This problem deserves a longer post, but I dont have time, so here's a summary.

-Roeding Park, one of two major parks in Fresno, the oldest and most historic.
-Fresno Chaffee Zoo, located inside the park.

The plan: Expand the zoo by closing off existing portions of the park and making them zoo-land.

The problem: The Roeding Family (they donated the land for the park) is concerned about taking public park land and giving it to the semi-private zoo, and how this will hurt recreation opportunities for the poor (it's in a poor neighborhood).

My concern: Ignoring THAT issue, the plan has one giant flaw: AN ENORMOUS PARKING LOT! The city wants to bulldoze 100 year old trees to build a giant parking lot. What a great way to celebrate open space in a park!

Here's what the plan would look like:
Blue area = expanded zoo
Black area = "Storyland" a small existing theme-park for kids (entrance fee charged)
Red area = Car zone. Parking. Widened roads. Asphalt.


See how much is left of open recreation space? Not much!

My quick and easy solution? If a parking lot is absolutely required, because by gosh, driving is the ONLY way to get anywhere....

Then build it here!


Red: Proposed parking lot
White: Pedestrian crossing and walking flow.

Please note that the street is wide enough for street parking on both sides. It's allowed, but there's so much overbuilt parking already, that nobody feels the need to use the FREE street parking!

Here is what the park looks like now:

I sent this letter to my council members.

Councilor Brand,

From what I've seen in the Fresno Bee, it appears that the council will be voting on the expansion of the zoo in Roeding Park this week.

While I am in favor of an expansion, there is one major concern I have not seen addressed in the process. The current plan shows a giant parking lot being built in the middle of the park. This is outrageous, the park should be for recreation, open space, and nature, not the storage of private property. Further, asphalt traps heat and prevents rain from entering the ground, harming the rest of the park in the process, and shrinking the useable and pleasant space.

People go to parks to get away from cars, not sit in the grass a few feet from them.

I would appreciate it if you would raise this concern at the meeting.

A suitable alternative exists. There is a very large open space across the street from the zoo, on the other side of Belmont. The zoo should buy this land and use it for parking. Further, Belmont and Olive allow street parking, but that space is never used. Clearly there is already too much parking.

The only parking within the park boundaries should be a few spaces for the disabled, and a few spaces for the necessary maintenance vehicles needed to keep the park looking good.

Employees and visitors should park across the street. Visitors come to the zoo (and park) to walk all day, asking them to cross the street should be perfectly fine.

So please councilor, keep the park green and open for recreation, and have it resemble Woodward Park more than River Park.

Thank you for you attention.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bee links: Zoo expansion, downtown growth, scooter rider killed

A few articles that caught my eye over the past few days:

A Clovis 14 year old riding a scooter was hit crossing the street. Apparently, this isn't very newsworthy, because none of the articles go into any details at all. Except to note that the boy was wearing a helmet. That's super important. The article heading notes that he's on life support, but only so his organs can be used.

Clovis teen on life support after car hit him
Read more: http://www.fresnobee.com/2011/06/26/2442234/clovis-teen-on-life-support-after.html#ixzz1QSDkqVkD

The zoo expansion will go in front of the Fresno council on Thursday

Roeding Park expansion draws concerns, support

And the proper agencies support it

Fresno zoo expansion project gets green light
State, federal agencies give clearance for proposal.

Read more: http://www.fresnobee.com/2011/06/24/2440940/fresno-zoo-expansion-project-gets.html#storylink=misearch#ixzz1QSEH6LWE

And finally, a look at changes downtown in the Fulton corridor.
Fulton boom breathes life into downtown Fresno

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The curious case of the disappearing Google earth application

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed an icon missing from my desktop. I knew I hadn't deleted anything, but I couldn't remember what icon had previously been there.

Yesterday, I tried to open Google earth. And that's when I realized it was the missing icon. No problem, I'll just get to the program the long way, with the start menu.

But it wasn't there either.

So I searched "google" and then "earth" in the start menu search bar.


Was I going crazy? I know I had the program. I was pretty damn sure I never uninstalled it. So what happened?

Well, all this talk of google earth made me load up my favorite google earth related website, which you can find here:

And guess what their main story that day was?

Can't find your Google Earth icon?

What an interesting coincidence.

Well, it turns out they have no idea what is going on either.

The good news is that the program is easy to find.

Open up Computer, then C, or whatever your main drive is called. Venture into "Program Files", then "Google" and finally "Google Earth". See, the program is still on your computer. Click the "Client" folder and you should see the "googleearth" program sitting there.

Right click the program, and select "create shortcut". Then copy or drag the new shortcut to your desktop again.

Or, if you follow the link above, you can download a small application that does that for you.

What an odd thing for the program to do, I'd never had this happen before.

Why build parking lot years in advance of the building?

I've been curious about something for awhile, and was wondering if any reader knew the answer.

In the Fresno and Clovis area, you come upon many lots which are zoned for commerce (and in one example, a park). The very first thing built in these lots is a parking lot. The whole deal, asphalt, lights, lines, even the handicap signs. And then it sits there.

Sometimes for years. And years. Some locations have parking lots that were built 5+ years ago, with no building to go with it.

And I just don't get it.

Parking lots aren't free. The rule of thumb for a surface lot is $8,000 per space, not including land cost. So why would a developer come in, plop down up to half a million dollars worth of asphalt, so that an empty parking lot can sit?

Now, I understand because of the recession, certain properties were all ready to go, and at the last minute construction was called off, because the market fell. That explains some of the lots, but not all of them. As I said, they're not uncommon.

Further, even that explanation doesn't fully make sense. A parking lot can easily be the last thing built. The construction workers can park on dirt, and in fact, the heavy machinery is probably just going to ruin the asphalt.

And remember, I'm talking about a city where all suburban parking is free, so it's not like the developers are making 5 years worth of sales on parking spots. They just sit there, unused.

So why not start the building first, and THEN do the parking lot, which can be finished relatively quickly.

Why build parking lot years in advance of the building?

Here are some examples:

This is an odd one, each lot is in a separate state of construction, from fully complete, to just dirt.

Why lay down the paint?

This is an unfortunate example. This one was built by the city, for a park and a pet adoption center. Why is that unfortunate? It was built years before the adoption center was approved, inf act, the center is still going through the NIMBY process right now. So why lay down a parking lot for something that may not get approved?

This one will be a Fresh and Easy. Even the little stroller icon and painted in the spaces. That stop bar makes absolutely no sense.

This is another Fresh and Easy. The company hasn't made a single cent in profit, so how can they be so sure of their expansion plans that they create a parking lot years before they might possibly build their store? Won't the lines be faded once the customers arrive?


So much parking, so few people.

And finally, this one is sort of the opposite. It's creepy actually. It was built last year, and the satellite shows it full. But why? There's no building nearby! Look north, that building has an enormous parking lot that is usually empty, and there's a fence blocking access. West, there's a highway, and beyond that a shopping area with too many spaces of their own. East? Empty lot and then some offices with plenty of empty spaces. South? nothing.

So weird.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Fresno Bee apparently supports HSR: 15 page special pro-HSR segment in today's paper

Today's paper was fatter than usual. Like most American papers, the Bee has shrunk over the past decade. But there was a surprise inside. A 15 page full-color special HSR segment, explaining all the benefits of HSR to the central valley.

Articles inside include:

Downtown Station Could be Regional Hub by the executive director of the Fresno Council of Governments
Japan's Rail Lines Reliable, Quake-proof by the consulate general from Japan
Making the Case for HSR by Steve Geil

Among many others. A timeline, "myths vs reality" and several local ads by pro-HSR companies are included.

There was one not-so-positive article,
Route Main Issue of Concern for Farmers by the CEO of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, but even that stated it was pro-HSR as long as the route was "right".

I can't find the articles online, so here's a small look at the section




Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Clovis: No effort to imrpove bus service, even with lower cost

On June 6, the Clovis City Council met, and one of their items of discussion was to renew their agreement with FAX (Fresno Area Express) which has a single bus line enter the city limits to reach a transfer center at Sierra Vista Mall.

As I've been discussing, Fresno has a very mediocre bus system, but Clovis, which operates their own system, has an absolutely terrible one. A grand total of two and a half bus lines, operating Monday-Saturday, 6am-6pm, once an hour.

So Clovis pays FAX to extend route 9 into the city to allow people to transfer between systems. It makes sense, as the cities flow into each other, and having no connection between the two transit systems would be ludicrous (it's already wasteful enough to operate two independent systems). It also helps Clovis, as it allows shoppers and workers to reach Sierra Vista Mall, which houses a movie theater, Sears, Kohls, and various standard mall shops like Victoria's Secret, and Gamestop, and a good dozen restaurants.

This is what Clovis pays for:
The City of Clovis pays for the operation of FAX Route 9 on Shaw at thirty-minute intervals running consistently to the Sierra Vista Mall, Monday through Friday from 6:15 a.m. to 8:25 p.m. FAX Saturday and Sunday service on Route 9 provides service to the Sierra Vista Mall on thirty-minute intervals from 8:15 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.

So this year, FAX said that the service will cost 1.3% less, because of saving on their end, down to $213,955.20.

So Clovis saves a grand total of around $3,000 a year. Not much, not at all, but it's something. Better than nothing.

So what can $3,000 a year in saving pay for? Well, assuming the numbers in the council document are all correct (and my math),
(Found here: http://www.cityofclovis.com/Government/PublicDocuments/Documents/Agenda20110606/CC-E-3.pdf )

then the city could pay for one additional bus trip every Saturday and Sunday, for the entire year.

That way, instead of providing bus service on weekends from 755 a.m. to 3:25 p.m., service could be extended to 3:55pm on weekends (as the bus operates every 30 minutes). That's a tiny bit more useful.

And the increase in service could have been done without spending a single additional cent.

But instead,

Staff has analyzed the recommendation for the regional fixed-route transit services operated by FAX for F& 11-12 and have concluded that maintaining the same hours for service as FY 10-1 1 would reasonably meet the needs of the community.

Yeah, because everyone is finished with their day by 3:25pm.

Quite the missed opportunity, but it's par for the course in this region.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Fresno releases "Downtown Development Code" public draft + video of new lofts

Because of new interest in building downtown (after 2 decades of zero growth), the city has decided to rework their zoning code for the area, to take into account urban concepts like street-walls, hidden parking and yes, buildings taller than 2 stories. Previously, builders had to go through mountains of red tape to get approval for urban buildings in a code designed for suburban sprawl.

The public draft of this new form-based code is now available online

There will also be a public "exploration" of it next week.

To kick-off the public review process, the City of Fresno will hold a public workshop to orient property and business owners, residents, and the public with the new draft Code. Click here to see agenda. The meeting will occur at Fresno City Hall, 2600 Fresno Street, Fresno, CA:

City Council Chambers
Monday, June 13
5:00–8:00 pm

Also this week, channel 30 released a video piece about an old building downtown being converted into lofts.

The Mayflower Lofts at Broadway and Tuolumne offer a penthouse view of Downtown Fresno. The building sat vacant for two decades until Jake Kojikian bought it. His team built on top of the three-story building.

While the developer of this loft project is Jake Kojikian, the news piece features a bit with Reza Assemi, the man who really started the residential revolution downtown.

That video can be seen here:

In a few days, I'm going to look into all the recent residential development in downtown Fresno.

And on a side note, the Fulton Mall downtown will be hosting the Fresno Chili Festival, June 18th, 11am-7pm.

Details can be found here:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Millerton New Town - More sprawl, coming soon!

The Fresno Bee recently gave an update about a proposed new city by Millerton Lake, ingeniously known as "Millerton New Town". This development has struggled to get going since the 1980's, and the developer, Bonadelle, has finally decided that the time is right to start bulldozing the rural landscape to built new subdivisions.

This is leap-frog development inducing new sprawl in a beautiful rural area, and what does the developer have to say about that?

"This is a little different than talking about urban sprawl where you just build out from the fringes of the city and keep going," Ewell said."

Um...what? That's exactly what they're doing!


Grading has already been done, and google earth shows that this work was actually completed over 6 years ago


Does that location look like the sustainable home for 10,000 new people?

Here you see the one and only access road, Friant.


Now the developer makes two ridiculous claims about the traffic inducing nature of the development:

1) It's aimed at retirees, so they won't be commuting to Fresno
"His vision always has been a self-sufficient community where residents don't have to leave the foothills to shop or go to school, meaning smog-producing traffic would be minimal."

Let's look at how little sense these two comments make.

Note: The area is not served by transit, and never will be.

1) Why would someone want to retire in a car dependent exurb? Hospitals? 30 minute drive. Doctor? 30 minute drive. Friends and family? 30 minute drive. As people get old, they lose their ability to drive, and they become more reliant on doctors. Putting old people in an isolated rural subdivision? Bad idea. And assuming these are wealthy retirees, don't they want to dine at nice restaurants? Those are in Fresno. Don't they want upscale shopping? Fresno.

2) A self-sufficient community? So much laughter. 2,800 homes may be able to support a supermarket, a CVS, a few nail salons and chinese take-out....but people want more. People want to shop at Target, Best Buy, Costco, etc, none of which will EVER locate in a community of that size (they require much larger customer bases). People want a Cinema and bowling alley. People want a large selection of restaurants.

So residents will have to drive for 30 minutes, through the only road, which is used by those heading to the lake for recreation, or passing through to the national parks. That means congestion.

And the future supermarket, library, pharmacy, elementary school etc? The people who will end up working there won't move into an expensive rural suburb. They're going to live in Fresno. And every single one of them will have to drive in that one road. The idea that the retirees will be so self-sufficient that they will be busing tables at a small chinese restaurant is hilarious.

So the idea that traffic will be minimal, when residents will be required to drive to Fresno to go to the stores they want, and the restaurants they want, and the doctors they need, AND on top of that the low wage service employees will have to drive to the community to stock shelves, sort books and sweep floors.....is ludicrous. Did I mentioned the gardeners, plumbers, contractors etc? They don't live near Millerton lake, they live in Fresno.

The next ridiculous idea is that the development is unique and will sell.

"Although the current real estate market is soft, Bonadelle said the unique rural feel of his community offers a niche that is more immune to economic downturn.

"It looks like something out of central Italy here. You have the rolling hills, the oak trees and the rocks," he said. "It's a little valley that we've built this neighborhood in."

There's nothing rural about a 2,800 tract development. It's rural now, but once the homes are up, it will look just like Fresno or Clovis.

And note this line:

"The project, which will sit next to the smaller, half-built Brighton Crest community"

Someone else has already started building stuff there, years ago. The project wasn't completed because of the lack of demand.

It's a shame that the developer is looking to profit by sticking thousands of people in a place that can't support them, with the assumption that the county and state will eventually drop millions in taxpayer money to fix the problems the community created (traffic, water issues).

And it's a crime that the county approved the project, and threw out every plan and guide that supposedly was written to stop this kind of damaging sprawl. general plan? Not when short-term money is involved.

Hopefully demand is so low for these homes that after the first 100 or so are built, the developer is forced to abandon the project.

By the way, you know how online article comments are usually filled with complete idiocy? It's interesting to note that for this article, commentators are strongly against the project and point out many of the flaws. And they're not NIIMBY's, as the location is isolated and thus has few neighbors. These are people in Fresno that realize the plan is enormously screwed up.

Fresno Bee article:

Local section
Bonadelle breaks ground at Millerton New Town
Lake development has seen decades of delays.
Posted at 11:07 PM on Thursday, Jun. 02, 2011
By Kurtis Alexander / The Fresno Bee


Sunday, June 5, 2011

New Google satellite imagery for most of California

Google has really ramped up the pace of updates to their satellite imagery in google maps and google earth. A few days ago, they launched updated imagery of Fresno and Clovis, taken on April, 25, 2011. Also added were no images for large parts of the state, including Los Angeles. Google has not announced the extent of the update.

Before that, the imagery was from 9/24/2009, but in mid 2010, Google uploaded aerial imagery taken sometime in early 2010 (before June). The aerial imagery is take by an airplane at an angle, so instead of just looking at rooftops, you get to see some facades and an idea of depth.

Before that, the images were from November 28, 2006. Google did not provide satellite imagery service before that*.

So to recap, the images have been from:

November 28, 2006
September 24, 2009
Early-mid 2010
April 25,2011

So clearly the rate of updates has sped up.

This will make reporting last years bike lanes easier (note my problems with Google Mapmaker) as the editors can no confirm that I am not making things up.

*Using Google earth, you can access historic imagery, and some recent imagery not deemed good enough for google maps (problems with lighting, clouds etc). For Fresno, the oldest images are from 1998, but other cities have images from as far back as the 1940's.

I'll be using the new images to discuss the unfortunate "New Town" project near Millerton Lake.