SEGA Debate: Wasted Ferrari or Necessary Expense

FRESNO, Calif.

Former mayor Alan Autry's administration launched the plan to build up southeast Fresno four years ago. Now, some newer council members are calling it an unnecessary expense.

The wide open space is costing the city of Fresno millions of dollars and it could cost hundreds of millions more.

The city hired a Bay Area urban planner to map out a plan for the Southeast Growth Area -- also known as SEGA.

The unfinished plan is already held up by some as a shining example of how cities should plan for expansion.

"SEGA is innovative in a way that gets attention to Fresno in a way that can help us bring financial resources," said Jamie Holt of the city's planning commission.

But council members Lee Brand and Andreas Borgeas are questioning the value of the city's investment.

"It's like looking at a Ferrari," said Brand. "What's not to like about a Ferrari? The question is: 'Can I afford a Ferrari?'"

The plan has cost more than $3 million, and it's not done yet. Even when it is finished, developers aren't likely to start building anything for decades.

"The timeline for SEGA is 25, 30, 50 years out, so the question is: 'If it's that far out, should we be using dollars now?'" said Borgeas.

Expanding into SEGA would require a new water treatment facility, a new sewage treatment facility, and an expansion of Highway 180 -- including an exit at Dewolf and an overpass at Locan.

City employees estimate the price tag on those upgrades is more than $600 million. But the census bureau expects the city's population to grow by 125,000 people over the next 40 years with 20% of it in the southeast.

Some council members say the master plan is the only way to avoid the haphazard growth of Fresno's past.

"We get the worst of urban sprawl, really the textbook definition: subdivision, subdivision, strip mall. Subdivision, subdivision, strip mall -- from here all the way to the river," said council member Larry Westerlund.

The final master plan should be ready by the middle of next year.

The city is still making payments to the urban planner, but Westerlund says none of the money is coming out of the general fund that pays police and firefighters.

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