The City of Fresno was selected as a first round Strong Cities, Strong Communities site in 2011. Unlike Baltimore and Detroit, the Fresno team was not organized around a single event, such as the Baltimore unrest or Detroit bankruptcy. Rather, the team was organized to work with the Mayor’s office to help address stubborn and long-term challenges of unemployment, poverty, and underdeveloped infrastructure; and to help Mayor Ashley Swearengin realize her vision around economic development and community revitalization. Also unlike Baltimore and Detroit, the Fresno team had a specified, time limited engagement of two years.

Phase I: Start-up and Short-term Activities
Assembling Federal Team: The Fresno team was assembled in early 2012 with the city’s selection for SC2. The team lead was an official from EPA, who was based in the agency’s San Francisco office. The team also had a place-based, full-time member from HUD, a second place-based, full-time member from EPA, as well as representatives from 10 other federal agencies. At startup, the team had 20 members across 12 agencies. One resource the team was able to use was the Presidential Management Fellows program. Several fellows participated on the team out of their home agencies.

Coordination structure: The SC2 team was embedded directly in the Mayor’s Office, per the SC2 model. The team worked directly with Mayor Swearengin and her staff to develop a set of priorities and scope of work.

Short-term focus: The team began its work with a series of site visits to build relationships with local agencies and organizations and familiarize themselves with the city. In partnership with the Mayor’s office, the team developed a one-year work plan with 10 focus areas aimed to address both short-term and longer-term goals. The development of the work plan took about three months. In the short-term, the team focused on several projects that could deliver immediate results. DOT team members helped the city finalize a first-ever Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line. The team pushed the city to re-route the line through the heart of downtown to connect with proposed revitalization projects. This engagement led to Fresno receiving a $2.45 million Bus Livability discretionary grant from DOT for the project, and ultimately $39 million in federal funding.

In the short-term, the SC2 team also worked with the city to develop several feasibility and strategic planning documents around comprehensive economic development strategies and Fresno’s food sector. SBA paid for 12 local businesses to participate in its “e200” Emerging Leaders business development and management course. Finally, working with the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, the team was able to designate Fresno as one of 10 USICH priority communities nationwide for preventing and ending homelessness. This designation ultimately helped the city cut the number of unsheltered homeless people in half between 2013 and 2015.

Another key, quick “win” for the Fresno SC2 team in working to build local capacity was helping to secure an Americorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) Team in Fresno. The eight-member NCCC Team worked on neighborhood revitalization activities such as planting street trees and building a community garden in the Lowell Neighborhood.

At the end of 2012, the SC2 team released a brief fact sheet on its first-year accomplishments.

Phase II: Ramp-up to Full Implementation
Downtown Revitalization: With some initial accomplishments achieved, the SC2 team turned its long-term focus to Fresno’s top priority of downtown revitalization. The Mayor’s goal was to reconnect an 18-square-block street grid in Downtown Fresno near the proposed site of a high speed rail station with the Fulton Pedestrian Mall, Fresno's historic Main Street. The city had previously unsuccessfully applied for a DOT TIGER grant to get the project started. The SC2 team advised the city to apply for a more appropriate DOT grant they might be more competitive for, the Transportation, Community, and System Preservation Program. Fresno was awarded a $1 million grant through this program in 2012, which helped the city develop capacity and led to a TIGER grant awarded in September 2013 of $16 million, which is covering most of the project’s full cost.

A related effort to this project was the engagement of the SC2 team’s GSA representatives who worked through the GSA Real Estate Acquisition office to negotiate new, long-term leases and building renovations to re-locate two federal agencies to the Fulton Pedestrian Mall. One of the new tenants was a Social Security Administration office, which opened in early 2013 and has created an influx of 4,300 patrons a month to the heart of Fresno’s historic district, greatly contributing to the area’s revitalization.

Updating the Scope of Work: Moving into its second year, the SC2 Team re-evaluated priorities with the city. A number of tasks had been accomplished and new objectives were added to the list. Recognizing that some areas of focus could take a decade to fully show results, such as the city’s high speed rail goals, the SC2 team focused on providing assistance that would put the city on a good path for implementing projects and ultimately meeting longer-term goals.

Technical Assistance and Capacity Building: Given some of the city’s longer-term goals, the SC2 team emphasized assistance that could build the long-term capacity of the city to manage and support projects. As such, the team focused on assistance in developing planning expertise, accessing federal funding, and implementing planning that had been completed during the first year. For example, EPA provided funding and technical assistance around the establishment of a 45-member Fresno Infill Development Task Force, which identified innovative strategies to achieve infill development in a distressed city like Fresno. Recommendations of the task force have resulted in the infill development that is currently underway in downtown Fresno. Approximately 1,000 downtown housing units have been completed or are under construction since 2011.

The team also focused on helping city, state, and other partners more effectively communicate and coordinate efforts in areas such as transit planning, affordable housing, renewable energy, neighborhood revitalization, and workforce development.

Phase III: Sustaining the Work In November 2013, the SC2 team and leadership from federal offices including EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy gathered with Mayor Swearengin and city leaders to mark the official end of the SC2 engagement in Fresno. The gathering was an opportunity to celebrate the team’s accomplishments and look forward to future achievements. While the work of the team formally closed-out by the end of 2013, the team lead and members of the team have maintained communication with city partners to monitor progress, track federal resources, and provide basic navigation and technical assistance as possible.

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