Students help revitalize ‘Sin City’

While creating the plan for El Dorado Park, the city will take into account ideas drawn up by residents at the meeting, including this map made by (from left) ASI president Juan Pablo Moncayo, alumnus Mark Driver and Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity member Chris Frank.
Joanne Lui / The Collegian

The area behind the Fresno State sorority and fraternity houses may have been nicknamed “Sin City,” but residents of the neighborhood – actually called El Dorado Park – demonstrated on Saturday that hope is still very much alive for them.

The City of Fresno’s planning department met with people who live in and around El Dorado Park – including Fresno State students – to discuss what changes need to be made to revitalize an area that is rampant with crime and has the highest concentration of poverty in Fresno.

El Dorado Park – which spans the area between Bulldog Lane, Barstow Avenue, Sixth Street and First Street – has a history of problems with gangs, drugs, vandalism, robbery and slums neglected by landlords.

Last month, the City of Fresno approved $150,000 to develop a strategic plan for El Dorado Park. The city hired M.W. Steele, a company which specializes in renovating rundown neighborhoods.

The team from M.W. Steele and representatives from the city met with residents for five hours at Wesley United Methodist Church, which is located in the neighborhood, to discuss what new or renovated infrastructure could do for the problems that El Dorado Park faces.

Plans could include new roads, parks, apartment buildings, townhouses and community centers. Participants in the meeting were asked to draw on maps of the neighborhood, detailing exactly what they would like the area to look like. Some Fresno State students advocated more open roads, since El Dorado Park is currently an isolated neighborhood full of dead end streets.

Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) President Juan Pablo Moncayo, who served as a facilitator at the event, worked with city leaders to ensure a Fresno State presence at the meeting, since upwards of 3,000 students live in the Greek houses and apartment complexes near El Dorado Park.

“This is part of a big picture vision that we have and that a lot of people on campus have,” Moncayo said, “which is to address the major safety and infrastructure issues of the west side of campus.”

Crime is so bad in the area that managers in a nearby student complex asked ASI representatives not to leave fliers advertising the meeting on doors because they would indicate to criminals that residents might not be home.

“There is an opportunity for students to be a part in the revitalization of this [neighborhood],” Moncayo said. “The opportunity for bridge building between our residents and this area for the sake of security, I think, is really great.”

Representatives from several nearby fraternities and sororities were present at the meeting. Chris Frank, a junior viticulture major and former president of Alpha Gamma Rho (AGR) fraternity, echoed Moncayo’s sentiments.

“We recently did a community service committee to help specifically in this area,” Frank said. “We’re going to try to go the inter-fraternity council and try to talk to them and get a big Greek presence in helping this community.”

Frank said that the inter-fraternity council wanted to help in the neighborhood last year by picking up trash, but police told them it would be too dangerous.

AGR is the only fraternity whose house is actually located in El Dorado Park. Members have had problems with cars being broken into, drug dealers selling out of the AGR parking lot, vandalism and even an intruder coming into the house and pulling a gun on a member.

M.W. Steele will take the ideas from the meeting and design several different plans for El Dorado Park. After that, more meetings will be held for residents to debate and help decide on the best course of action.

Frank is not sure that the plan will actually be put into action.

“I wonder who’s going to pay for it,” he said “I wonder what difference it’s going to make.”

Keith Bergthold, assistant planning director for the City of Fresno, said the important thing is for advocates to keep working towards the plan becoming a reality. Though total revitalization of El Dorado Park may take 10 to 20 years, Bergthold thinks that once the process gets started, then private investors will follow into the neighborhood.

“If this community has a newly adopted specific plan … even the community can go lobby in Sacramento and Washington for money,” he said. “They can come to the budget sessions each year at city council and ask for public infrastructure money and other types of public moneys that should accrue to this neighborhood.”

Bergthold also thinks that students at Fresno State can play a big part in the long-term success of the project.

“Students can help advocate with the City of Fresno to stay in the game,” he said. “This stuff never goes on autopilot. It can’t; that’s when it dies.”

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