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Friant Ranch development proposal threatens salmon recovery


The Event:  Friant Ranch Hearing at Fresno County Board of Supervisors meeting February 1st, 2011, Room 301 of Hall of Records, northwest corner of Tulare and M St. downtown.  Press conference Friday January 28th at 10:00am at Lost Lake Park hosted by Friends of Lost Lake.


The Issue:  Friant Ranch is an unsustainable community designed without adequate transportation or municipal infrastructure to support the proposal.  Wastewater will be discharged to the San Joaquin River threatening salmon recovery, farmland will be lost, air pollution will increase, and the taxpayers will be stuck with the bill.   


The Solution:  Write a letter or come out to the hearing to show opposition to this poorly planned leapfrog development project.  Also, we need your support for a Press Conference on Friday, stand up and be counted.  Stop sprawl and show your support for the San Joaquin River.


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The Background:


Don’t let the recession fool you, the land rush is on! A handful of developers in Fresno and Madera Counties have been given the green light to create what will be the fourth largest urban area in the San Joaquin Valley.  The plans call for a set of twin cities facing each other on each side of the river in a remote area 20 miles outside of the urban cores of Fresno and Madera.  Call it Rio Mesa, New Town Millerton, or the newly expanded community of Friant, for lack of a more official name. Right now these proposed urban growth areas are uninhabited rolling hills and ranchlands.  On the bluffs overlooking the San Joaquin River, the grazing cattle actually maintain the vernal pools here which provide habitat for more threatened and endangered plant and animal species than anywhere else in Fresno County.  This land, alive with natural resources, may soon be lost.


Friant Ranch is the newest project proposal in Fresno County which plans to expand the community of Friant ten-fold, adding a 6,000 resident active retirement community plan. 

The owner, Madera County Supervisor Mike Bigelow, has decided that this land would be better off urbanized, but local advocates are saying NO!  Fresno County has failed to plan for urbanization within the Friant-Millerton Region as outlined in the General Plan leaving transportation, water supply, and recreational planning behind, and our public resources at risk.  The lack of planning further complicates our ability to comply with new Greenhouse Gas reduction targets and may put our County transportation funds in jeopardy due to the project’s incompatibility with local air pollution and transportation plans. 


Friant Ranch, if approved, will build a large sewage treatment plant on the San Joaquin River Floodplain adjacent to Lost Lake Park.  Wastewater will be discharged into the river or applied as irrigation to landscaping and to Lost Lake Park, degrading habitats that support fish and wildlife.  Even though waste is treated, pharmaceuticals and other dangerous chemicals remain that may affect spawning salmon and their recovery under the San Joaquin River Restoration Program.  We must encourage protection of our river and its water quality for the sake of clean drinking water, sustainable farming, and recreation. Would you let your children swim below a waste discharge pipe?


County decision-makers are ushering this project through in hopes of new revenues for an ailing County budget. However, they need to realize that the costs of poorly situated developments, unsustainable water supply schemes, and unmitigated environmental impacts will cost the County more than we can afford in the long-term.  Has history taught us anything?  These same dramas are being played out with developments across the County as communities like Mendota, Quail Lakes, Appaloosa Acres, and other struggle to pay the costs of bad planning.  Friant Ranch is the wrong project, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. 


The Fresno County Board of Supervisors will hear a development proposal on Tuesday December 7th, 2010 for the Friant Community Plan Update and the Friant Ranch Specific Plan.  This project expands the boundary of the Friant Community Plan to encompass a privately developed ‘New Town’ with 2,996 new residences and 250,000 sq/ft of commercial space. The project if approved will increase the population of Friant ten-fold drawing more residents out of our communities and into leapfrog developments nearly 20 miles away from the urban core of Fresno. Roughly 92% of the new development will be age-restricted to 55 and older and enforced through a homeowners association. This proposal is not consistent with the County’s General Plan or Blueprint planning as it is far outside the Fresno/Clovis Sphere of Influence which still has over 23,000 acres of undeveloped land.


Without adequate regional and environmental planning, this project will have real impacts to the San Joaquin River. Friant Ranch proposes discharging nearly 1 million gallons of stormwater and wastewater per day to the San Joaquin River.  This treated wastewater carries with it harmful chemicals like pharmaceuticals and landscape chemicals that can impact fish.  The San Joaquin River Restoration Program anticipates the return of salmon by 2012, however, these efforts may be hampered if this and other projects in the vicinity are approved without regard for the spawning salmon and their sensitive eggs.  It is not only the salmon that are impacted by this proposal, riparian habitats, vernal pools, ephemeral creeks, and the County’s greatest concentration of endangered and threatened species could be lost if the project is approved.

Please come out to the Board hearing and express your opposition to the project. Without a proper cumulative impact study, adequate wastewater treatment, and other mitigations for agricultural land loss, air quality, and traffic impacts, we are allowing another taxpayer boondoggle. Just travel down Golden State, the Fulton Mall, or Chinatown and ask yourself if we really need another development 20 miles North of town mining our existing residents and leaving behind vacancies.


With growth rates of 1-2% this project may struggle to meet its intended completion projections of 15 years, as projects proposing thousands of units adjacent to this have been approved for decades without yet breaking ground.   

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