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Planned Farm At Running Horse Site Draws Opposition From West Fresno Residents

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Rebecca Plevin
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Valley Public Radio
Pastor Booker T. Lewis opposes a proposal to allow agriculture operations in areas zoned for homes.

About a dozen West Fresno residents and advocates gathered in front of Fresno City Hall today to express their disapproval of a text amendment that would pave the way for Granville Homes to plant a 360-acre almond orchard in their neighborhood.

Among them was Venise Curry, a West Fresno resident and physician. She’s concerned the proposed operation could expose residents to dust and pesticides, and harm their air and water.

“We are opposing this text amendment on the grounds of public health,” Curry said. “We know it’s not in the best interests of our community. All parts of Fresno are important, and public health should be a priority over profit.” 

"Public health should be a priority over profit" - Venise Curry

Years ago, the property, then known as Running Horse, was supposed to be a luxury home development and golf course. But that fell through, and Granville acquired the land this year.

Granville intends to grow 50,000 almond trees on the site, re-named Mission Ranch, until the housing market improves. But current city zoning laws prohibit agriculture in areas zoned for homes. That’s why the council Thursday will debate a city-wide change to the law, which is being sponsored by the developer.

At today’s press conference, Pastor Booker T. Lewis, of the Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church, said he opposed the change. It would effectively allow for large-scale agriculture near the new veteran’s home and an elementary school, in a community already burdened by heavy industry.

“The residents of this community desire the zoning to remain residential, for building of middle- to moderate-income housing,” Lewis said.

But Darius Assemi, president of Granville, said living near orchards and vineyards is nothing new for Fresno residents. And, he said, the area around Mission Ranch is already agricultural. 

"We're actually converting it back to ag land" - Darius Assemi

“Everyone talks about Fresno being prime ag land,” he said. “Occasionally, ag land becomes residential, and that’s what everyone gets upset about. In this case, we’re actually converting it back to ag land, until there’s a demand or need or market for a housing development.”

The zoning change would allow for community gardens as well. But garden advocates have also raised concern about the amendment, and what Granville’s project could mean for West Fresno.

The City Council is expected to consider the zoning change on Thursday evening.

Rebecca Plevin was a reporter for Valley Public Radio from 2013-2014. Before joining the station, she was the community health reporter for Vida en el Valle, the McClatchy Company's bilingual newspaper in California's San Joaquin Valley. She earned the George F. Gruner Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and the McClatchy President's Award for her work at Vida, as well as honors from the National Association of Hispanic Publications and the California Newspaper Publishers Association. Plevin grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is also a fluent Spanish speaker, a certified yoga teacher, and an avid rock-climber.
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