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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

County planning director claims massive sprawl development is not sprawl

What do you call 30,000 homes being developed outside a city boundary on farmland?

This is what Norm Allinder, Madera County planning director thinks, according to a new article from the Fresno Bee:
“This doesn’t perpetuate the legacy of sprawl,” he said. “Gunner Ranch is contiguous; it’s a logical expansion for urban development.”

The yellow star is the area he is talking about, in relation to the clearly identifiable City of Fresno.



And this is what they're planning there:

Principal owner Tim Jones’ vision for his nearly 6,600-home development a few miles north of Woodward Park is a subdivision with six separate themed districts. Riverstone will compete for home buyers with southeast Fresno, northwest Fresno, southeast Clovis and a new community planned south and east of Clovis North High School.

The Rio Mesa Area Plan will result in more than 30,000 homes when built out over 30 years. About 18,000 homes have county approval. The contiguous communities could incorporate to create a new Madera County city that could dwarf the city of Madera and have a population greater than Madera County’s current population of 150,000.

At Riverstone, McCaffrey Homes will build homes on 5,500-square-foot lots and 7,700-square-foot lots. Jones said a contract for a second builder for the first phase has not been finalized.

6,600 homes, starting off with 5,500 square foot lots, just off the highway, and surrounded with nothing but farmland.

Sprawl? Of course not, the planning director says so!

“We want to create a place where you live, work and play,” he said, “a place where you don’t have to rely on your automobile.”

Of course! Just look at all the places one can go without an automobile!



Now, hold on a second. Sure, one will need a car to access jobs, schools, supermarkets, restaurants, bars, and anything else you'd want, but maybe there's something we're missing here?
The new Madera County developments will be cutting edge, meeting and exceeding the best projects in Fresno County, including the Clovis master-planned communities of Harlan Ranch and Loma Vista, Allinder said.
Oooooh! Cutting edge!

Let's take a look at the site plan!



Single family homes, set inside winding, dead-end streets, all leading to larger arterials which in turn direct one to a state highway.

The future has truly arrived in Madera County. 

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HOLD ON!

Did you just get the feeling that you've read this before? I sure did when writing it.

We must be thinking of a post I put together almost exactly a year ago:

Beautiful countryside to make way for massive 5,000 home sprawl project

Am I repeating myself and rehashing old news?

Nope. That's a completely separate project. That's the Tesoro Viejo development, which is also underway.

Here's a map showing their relationship:



Sigh. Continuing on then.

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Considering these new development are surrounded by zero infrastructure, and aside from a gas station, all the shops, jobs, schools and restaurants are in Fresno, one would think Fresno County would be concerned. Every single resident moving in here will shortly be clogging the CA-41 off-ramps onto Friant and Herndon for all their daily needs.
Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea said that Fresno and Fresno County benefited from the housing boom for much of the past 50 to 60 years. And, in the short term, Fresno County will benefit from new homes just over the border, he said.

Residents in the new Madera County subdivisions will spend money in Fresno, and the city doesn’t have the burden of paying for infrastructure and other needs caused by the population of the new developments.

“Many of those folks will drive into Fresno County for jobs and shopping, and we will probably benefit,” he said. 
There is literally one, and only one road from these developments to anything and everything, and that's CA-41. Every new resident in this development means a car on CA-41 trying to get off at one of these off-ramps to reach essential services like a neighborhood supermarket.



Surely that means Fresno won't incur costs!

Aside from added congestion, air pollution, noise, "mandatory" road widening, and "upgraded" traffic signals of course. 

Norm Allinder fights back at these allegations of new vehicle miles traveled and congestion.

Eventually, vehicle miles traveled will drop substantially because many residents will work at Children’s Hospital and the Riverpark office complexes down the road. Riverstone also will contain its own business district and other developments will have zoning for commercial and office space.
Yes, because that's how sprawl works. LA doesn't have traffic because everybody works immediately adjacent to their home!

In Norm's mind, people ALWAYS live adjacent to where they work. Housing development near hospital? Only doctors will live there! Downtown job? Live downtown! Work a part-time job at 7-11? You'll live a block away!

In their magic little world, this is what commuting patterns look like, green being the housing areas, red being commercial:




In reality, people commute like this:


That's how you get congestion. That's how you find yourself in a situation like Los Angeles or Houston where it's not uncommon to run into a traffic jam at 11pm.

In Norm's world, every house has one worker, who works 40 years at the same job, meaning he can locate within an easy, predictable, commute.

Norm lives in some idealistic 1950's world.

In the real world, one house can have 4 workers all going to vastly different jobs, in vastly different places. Further, the new gas station with a minimum wage clerk position is not going to be staffed by the person who moves into the brand new 7,000 square foot lot next door. That resident will probably work an established job a 30 minute drive away. And because the gas station isn't near any transit, the new clerk will also be driving 30 minutes from their home in South Fresno to make $10 an hour.

It's 2016, why is this still happening?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

That Fresno Blog returns - Also, why does the Fresno blog scene suck?

The Fresno blogosphere is surprisingly desolate. With a metropolitan population of just under 1 million, you'd expect a lot of voices online, typing away about Fresno food, events, crime, planning - whatever. However, for reasons I don't fully understand, that's quite not the case.

I've been operating this blog for almost five years now, which typing it out, is kind of shocking. In that time, I've seen a dozen Fresno-oriented blogs come and go. Unfortunately, there have been more going than coming. Right now, my list of Fresno blogs to read is not much of a list.

Some, like the Cured Ham, IBikeFresno, Fresno Bites, Taste Fresno, and the Fresnan, remain online, frozen with posts from two, three or four years ago. Others, like Urban Fresno have been taken offline entirely. A couple of professional blogs keep trucking, namely the Fresno Beehive and the Downtown Fresno Blog, but those are paid efforts, not products of passion (not that they're bad).

What inspired this post was the return of That Fresno Blog (TFB), which relaunched this past weekend. Probably the best looking of all the amateur blogs, TFB launched with a bang in 2011 but didn't last long before the fresh content dried up. The blogger, Veronica Stumpf remained active online - on Twitter and Instagram - but a tweet, in my opinion, is no replacement for an article. This time around, she's narrowed her focus to real-estate, and has been blessed with a Fresno Bee article to serve as initial push in readership. I hope that the narrowed focus helps her keep the blog going this time around. I also encourage my Fresno readers to add that site to your bookmarks, as the content looks very promising. 

The truth is, blogging is incredibly time consuming, and abandoning a blog is quite frankly the most logical decision for most people. Even a picture-heavy post, with half-sentences as captions can take hours to put together. Post such as the one of the Fulton Mall Deconstruction can rival a full time job in the commitment it takes to build - even if the end result isn't particularly beautiful.

Hell, I have 102 (!) posts in various stages of draft form, from one or two topic sentences to a 1,500 word post on bicycling in NYC I just haven't gotten around to finishing.

As such, I completely understand why bloggers must throw in the towel. There's something especially crushing about spending 10+ hours on a high-quality post to see the visitor needle barely budge, while something quickly put together, such as my post on Sim City 5, receives over 10,000 views. Even hitting the click jackpot isn't going to bring any money in - the view count is mostly for ego really, and an encouragement to keep going.

Jarrett Walker of the Human Transit Blog hit on this point a few years ago, when looking into what brought in visitors to his blog:

No, it was post about new transit-themed toys by Lego, a post that took me less than 10 minutes to prepare as it was mostly a friend's email.

Am I focusing on the wrong things in life?

However, individual bloggers making the decision to move on doesn't quite explain the current state of the aggregate scene. After all, shouldn't we expect a dead blog to be replaced by a new effort ever few months?

I don't know of any database that tracks blog activity, but here's a couple of quick example of how Fresno stacks up.

Looking at the Streetsblog Network, which only tracks urban planning blogs, one can quickly see that the Central Valley is not a blog hotspot. For the entire valley, you're looking at me, and a dead biking blog.



Even the Santa Cruz metro area - pop 271,804 - outdoes the valley, with 3 blogs to 2.



I also decided to look at Reddit as a proxy for online activity related to local blogs. If you're not familiar with Reddit, the site has thousands of subreddits, which are dedicated to one specific topic. That is, the Fresno subreddit is about all things Fresno, and is populated with links to local articles or text posts with questions or comments.

Here are our peers by metropolitan population (MSA):
Tucson, AZ  - 1,004,516
Urban Honolulu, HI - 991,788
Tulsa, OK - 969,224
Fresno, CA - 965,974
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT - 945,438
Worcester, MA-CT - 930,473
Albuquerque, NM -  904,587
Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA - 904,421

And here is how their Reddit community stacks up, in terms of subscribers, and also how far back the front page covers (less days means more recent activity)

Tucson - 6,551 .... 5 days
Honolulu - 1,565 (960 + 615) .... 25 days
Tulsa - 4,773 .... 4 days
Fresno - 2,334 .... 15 days
Bridgeport-Stamford N/A
Worcester - 338 .... 6 months
Albuquerque - 4,953 ... 5 days
Omaha - 6,579 ... 2 days 

Of those, I'd argue the most comparable in terms of land use and community cohesion are the ones I bolded. That is, while the Worcester metro is of a comparable size, the city itself is more like Clovis in terms of size; people in the metro area probably do not feel like Worcesterites. Bridgeport/Stamford is impossible to compare, since it's half the state, and Honolulu is a case where most people probably post under the Hawaii tab since most Hawaiians live on Oahu.

Under that metric, Fresno has an underrepresented online presence. Not as bad as Bakersfield though (1,740 on Reddit), but the underlying causes are probably identical. I wonder if the statistics hold true for online activities that aren't text heavy, such as Instagram?

I wonder if there's a solution to this lack of online engagement in Fresno?

Or maybe I'm asking a question that is no longer relevant. Maybe it's true that blogs everywhere are being replaced with Twitter thoughts and Instagram pictures. If that's the case, then I think it's a shame, although I'm sure long-form journalists felt the same way when blogs threatened to eat their lunch.

That being said, I'm going to keep on blogging, and I'm excited to see Veronica jump back on board because it's gotten quite lonely around here.


(Look for various posts on downtown Fresno construction updates in the upcoming days/week). 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

An Attempted Look at High Speed Rail Construction in North Fresno

Is 2016 finally the year for High Speed Rail (HSR) in California? Construction has been underway on the boring part for over a year now - relocation of utilities, and demolishing of abandoned buildings. However, for most people, that type of invisible work doesn't count. It's hard to tell if a hole being dug in a street is for HSR or one of 200 other possible reasons, after all.

We want to see real construction - that means bridges, tracks, tunnels, etc.

And so a couple of weekends ago, I decided to tour the High Speed Rail construction sites in Fresno to take a close up look at the real progress. I've done this tour before, for about three years now, and each time came up with a big pile of nothing. Was the January 2016 edition any better?

Let's take a look. 

Construction is supposedly focused on two parts right now. On the north end of Fresno, at the Fresno/Madera border, where the rail line will cross the river, and then in downtown Fresno to the south, where the station will eventually be.



Today I'll post pictures for the northern part. Later this week, I'll post pictures from downtown, including the relocation of the Greyhound Station.

San Joaquin River Crossing

Unfortunately, the satellite images from the area are from April, so I couldn't quite tell which access road would get me closest to the fun. I ended up approaching in 4 directions, starting on the Madera side.



Attempt 1.

So it turns out that Road 33 isn't as much a road as it is a farm driveway. It isn't paved, and it made me feel like I was trespassing, as it brought me right up to a home. However, these folks do have an amazing view.






Of the construction? I couldn't tell. It would have required me parking and walking through their orchard.




1 is where I took the picture, 2 is the house. 3 is where I would have parked and walked to 4 and probably have gotten a great view - but I didn't want to do this.




Attempt 2.

Hm, maybe we can get a good view from under 99, looking to the river? The goal: reach 1



Sadly, a roadblock emerged at point 2.


Foiled again.

No worries. I'm sure the Fresno side is more exciting.


Attempt 3.

Once again the goal was to reach number 1, but I would have accepted number 2.


Instead, I was stopped stopped at point 3. Google promised me a road that no longer exists.


That roadblock isn't compliant with signage standards either.

Attempt 4.

This location looked to be the most promising originally, so I saved the best for last.



The goal of course, to access the river at 1. Potentially by parking at 2 and walking.

You get there by going through a very neglected/forgotten residential neighborhood, which Google Maps used to identify as Highway City, but now simply says Herndon. You know it's been there awhile because their tiny grid replicates the one downtown, which is oriented with the rail line as a reference point, rather than the equator.

Here is their attempt at traffic calming:



However, once I got to 2, it looked like that wasn't going to happen.





So after driving around in circles, I managed to see zero construction. Not that the day was a waste though. It's the reason I stopped by the new shopping center with the Tesla Supercharger, and I also checked out the progress of some trail extensions, which I will be posting.

It appears that for now, the only way to see what is going on in this area is by having a media invite, or by accessing the project Facebook page.

They have been pretty active. Here's what I wanted to see for myself, which they posted today:




I suggest subscribing to their Facebook page for construction updates, as they're clearly doing a better job than I am.


In a few days I'll post my downtown pictures, which at least allowed multiple takes of the action. That action includes the demolition of the Tuolumne Bridge, the relocation of the Greyhound station, and a detailed look at the right of way. No real structure though, that's all at the river.

As a bonus, I was able to get multiple shots from way up high. Here's a teaser, showing the Fulton Mall:


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Fresno's First Tesla Supercharger About to Open

In November I reported that Fresno was finally getting a Tesla Supercharger - high speed electric chargers that can "refuel" a Tesla in 30 minutes. Although originally scheduled for 2015, Tesla missed that goal, although it looks like they're about ready to open up.

Let's take a look:

The Supercharger is being installed at Herndon and CA-99, in a new shopping center anchored by Target.





Conveniently placed by plenty of electricity, see the green fence in the background?



Peeking over the fence, here's what it looks like now, with 10 charging stalls (one didn't fit in the shot):



Still some minor work left.


Up close:



Stepping back, you can see the site is currently fenced off. However, note that little shed? (Not the ATM)

There's some heavy duty equipment inside:




Tesla puts these superchargers in shopping areas because while they're faster than a standard plug (30 minutes vs 8 hours), it's still much slower to charge than pump some gas. Tesla occupants need something to do while they wait.

Target is a hike across the asphalt.


Some other food places to the right:


And to the left:



My personal favorite, Robertito's is at the far end of the center. A quick 5 minute walk which seems like miles in the endless burning hot asphalt (thinking of Fresno summers). Most Tesla drivers will probably drive to it and use the drive-thru.

There's also a McDonald's and Panda.

Note that Telsa superchargers only work with Tesla vehicles.

While the charger won't be a huge help for Fresno residents, it will incentive more Tesla owners to use CA-99 rather than I-5 when coming up the valley, and hopefully stopping at more places than this soulless strip mall - such as downtown.

Speaking of soulless, I have another post coming up looking at how this shopping center and the new one on Friant do when it comes to bicycle parking.

Hint: Not well.