Leaders talk drought and crime at 15 Cities Summit in Downtown Fresno

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- An historic meeting to talk about historic problems was held in Downtown Fresno on Monday. Drought and crime plague much of the Valley right now. And for the first time, county and city leaders representing all of the more than 950,000 people living in Fresno County met at once to find solutions.

Two things specific to drought and crime: groundwater management and the county's marijuana ordinance. Both of these, and land use, are ongoing issues in the county and its cities. But until now, there hasn't been one big conversation.

This roundtable -- the 15 Cities Summit -- was host to elected and hired leaders running all incorporated cities in Fresno County. Each is facing major challenges with drought, crime and development.

"It is the perfect opportunity to try to brainstorm and see how we can help each other out with our crucial situations," Parlier Mayor Alma Beltran said.

Beltran is in her first term as Parlier's mayor. She's looking for teamwork from the others. She says things like groundwater supply aren't yet critical issues, but she doesn't want it to become that for the people who live in Parlier.

"This is the issue of our time. I mean, it's unprecedented," Fresno County Supervisor Andreas Borgeas said.

Borgeas says a summit like this is paramount for the county to thrive. Several council members from the smaller rural cities raised issues like costs of groundwater sustainability, water transfers and imports -- things that could make or break smaller communities that already struggle.

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims took the mic, laying out the county's zero-tolerance marijuana ordinance. She points to illegal pot grows and their tie to violent crime. Many leaders, like one Sanger council member, said they'd like to adopt it uniformly across all local governments. But the county has been wrapped up in lawsuits over enforcement -- questioning tactics. Of course, this costs the county in legal fees.

"I think that's important for the other cities to understand that that's happening before they adopt the same stance or the same enforcement tactics," attorney Brenda Linder said.

This was a meeting of decision and lawmakers, with no notable outcome -- except networking and idea sharing.

"It might not work for my city, it might work for their city, and so just depending on what we can do for each other to help each other out," Beltran said.

Monday's meeting dealt with issues of a more rural focus but still impacting our metro areas. Another 15 Cities Summit is expected later this year.
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