City Manager from Sprawl City USA


When Jon Ruiz was hired away from an assistant city manager job in Fresno to serve as Eugene’s new city manager this year, he defended Fresno’s reputation for urban sprawl.

The San Francisco Chronicle profiled the sprawling, “corrupt,” “depressing” city at the millennium as “a cautionary tale of planning gone wrong and development gone wild.”

But Ruiz said the sprawl reputation had changed. “I think that’s been reversed in the last couple years.” He said Fresno is now focusing on denser development and alternative transportation to fight bad air pollution. He said he doesn’t think developers still run the town.

Not so reported a Fresno Bee investigation this week:

“A 2002 master development plan for Fresno has failed to make good on promises to curb urban sprawl, public records and interviews show.”

Here’s some more snippets from the Bee:

“‘They’re turning agricultural districts into low-density housing, which by most people’s definition is sprawl,’ said Rob Wassmer, a public-policy professor at California State University, Sacramento. Wassmer has written extensively about sprawl in the West, including a report that found Fresno was one of nine California metro areas with the biggest increases in sprawl in the 1990s.

His assessment of Fresno’s record in the last six years: “It doesn’t look like there’s been a concentrated effort to stop sprawl.”

“Despite the promises of 2002, ‘It looks like business as usual,’ said Hal Tokmakian, a former Fresno County planning director and professor emeritus of planning at California State University, Fresno.”

“Others contend that sprawl is a sign that Fresno’s traditionally cozy relationship with developers has not changed.”

“Fresno completed the development plan the same year federal authorities were wrapping up cases from Operation Rezone, which ensnared former City Council members for accepting bribes for land-use decisions. Since then, critics contend, legal money from developers — service fees and campaign contributions — has continued to tilt the system in their favor.”

“The area covers 50 square miles, potentially expanding the city by 45% to accommodate an anticipated 60% increase in population by 2025,Yovino said.

“By contrast, Sacramento expects to vote on a development plan this year that would keep all but 1% of future growth in its existing city, said Jim McDonald, a senior planner in Sacramento. As part of a nationally recognized effort to curb sprawl, cities in the Sacramento region have agreed to limit suburban growth.”

In the coming year, the city of Eugene plans to take up developers’ calls to expand the local urban growth boundary to more sprawl

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