City of Fresno could lose 49 acres for proposed park

FRESNO, Calif (KFSN) -- A 49 acre field just off of Peach Avenue, near Butler in Southeast Fresno used to be home to a federal plant research station. When it shut down, the city of Fresno thought it would be a good place for a park. The National Park service agreed, and deeded it to the city, but the city has dropped the ball, and the government could take the land back. Despite the documented lack of parks in Fresno, City officials don't seem to care.

The National Park Service gave the land to the city of Fresno in 2006. The goal was to build the Peach- Butler Community Park. But it hasn't happened. In a recent letter to the city the National Park Service said: "...the city is in substantial non-compliance with the terms of the deed."

The Park Service says among other things the city failed to file regular reports and come up with a plan to develop a park. The city has been given 90 days to comply or, the letter said, "...we are forced to consider reversion of the property to federal ownership for re-disposal."

That means, the government would take the property back.

Jose Leon Barraza the head of the Southeast Fresno Community Economic Development Association doesn't want that to happen. He said, "We in the community would like the city to comply with the requirements of the Federal Government so that this becomes a park, a facility our residents can enjoy."

But, City Manager Bruce Rudd says a big new park is out of the question. Rudd explained, "To go out and take on the responsibility of constructing what would be yet a fourth regional park, I don't see that being a viable alternative any time in the future."

Rudd says the city wants the State Center Community College District to turn the property into a campus for a vocational school. But the deal with the Park Service only allows the land to be used for a park. So, Rudd says, perhaps the city should let the government take it back. Rudd added, "Another branch of the Federal government could certainly then transfer the property to State Center College District."

However, Lucy Ruiz, Communications Director for the State Center Community College District told Action News the district has already purchased 120 acres of land in Southeast Fresno, for a new campus. She noted Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin asked the district to consider the site on September 22nd". The college board agreed to consider it.

Ray Murray, who heads the land partnership program with the National Park Service, and is the author of the letter to the City of Fresno, told Action News that if the city allows the land to revert back to the Federal Government, there's no guarantee another entity could simply get it for free. He notes the city was able to get the land at no cost because of the need for parks in Fresno. In the letter he states, "If the land reverts to federal ownership, both the City and the NPS will have failed to provide a public park to a community we know is in need of one."

Barraza said, "It should not go back to the Federal Government. We in the community should find ways of improving the property the way it was promised to the federal government."

Barazza notes the city of Fresno has among the nations lowest ratio of park space to people and has joined other community groups in recent demands for more greenspace.
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