An up-close look at Fresno’s dirty-air condition as Air Quality Awareness Week approaches

With Air Quality Awareness Week fast approaching, the focus of discussion today centers on Fresno, a central California city that year after year sees some of the country’s worst air pollution. Having said that, what better time than this to bring attention to the air-quality deficit that Fresno has long been hamstrung by, done in the hope that considerably more attention than what had been paid in the past will be heaped on this community going forward so as to advance mitigating strategies to not only result in the area’s air being far, far improved, but also enable the city to meet key air-quality standards that thus far have yet to be met. That’s what this thread today is all about.

As it relates, I have lived in Fresno, in the heartland of California’s San Joaquin Valley, for more years than I have not lived here. In that nearly half a century’s time, I have seen a bevy of changes. However, and truth be told, the more things have changed in these here parts, the more they’ve stayed the same.

Now, a sentence like that definitely requires explanation. So, what I mean by that is that the kind of change occurring has been consistent. And, by the way, this type of change isn’t just limited or specific or exclusive to Fresno and Fresno County. Similar type changes have occurred all up and down the Valley and even extends into the nearby Sierra-Nevada-Mountain foothills.

What I’m talking about here, of course, is growth, or, if you prefer, building and development.

The backstory

It really all started when the railroad entered the northern, central and southern portions, respectively, of this approximately 24,000-square-mile region commencing in 1872. That accomplishment, that achievement, is what laid the groundwork, setting the growth movement in motion.

Residential, commercial, industrial and institutional building spread like wildfire in urban, suburban and rural Fresno alike. And, the constant that building and development is, has seen no let-up. And, practically all of it in outward, horizontal fashion.

As for the houses here, they’re mainly cookie-cutter and punctuated by green-grass lawns. Add to this subdivision after subdivision after subdivision of such containing these structures.

Concomitant with this development pattern or trend has been roadbuilding, the paved travel ways seemingly placed every which way but … . Well, you get the idea.

In addition, there has been commercial spread, everything from mom-and-pop to big-box retail and everything in between. Then there is industrial growth and with institutional expansion, the picture is complete.

Interesting it is and at the same time ironic that in the period of all of this furtherance or progress that, incidentally, has been ongoing for quite some time, while all of this was going on, in the more recent past, anyway, railroad mileage in the area had been shrinking, that is, until it wasn’t anymore. The change or turnaround in this regard began in earnest during the mid-2000 teens in 2015. This is when construction started on California’s and America’s first true high-speed-train system. While the initial structure to be built on the system was a viaduct crossing over the Fresno River, State Route 145, Raymond Road and a canal all in neighboring Madera County, much of the building activity took and is taking place within both city and county of Fresno boundaries.

Now, has all of this building, development, growth, call it what you will, been a positive for this community?

In answering that question, well, it depends on one’s point of view.

It is obvious that people residing here need places to live, and in response, residential-dwelling provisions comprised primarily of houses, apartments and condominiums, have been made available. Coupled with this, there must be a network of connecting roads, trails, walkways and bike paths to enable area inhabitants and others to get from Points A to B, and back, of course, when the situation dictates such. There must as well be educational, employment, entertainment, medical, shopping, etc. provisions, the ingredients that make a community whole. Fresno is not unlike other communities situated elsewhere in the United States, in this very same regard.

An overhead looming cloud

However, this community, with its population of over a half-million people, literally and figuratively has a dark cloud looming overhead that otherwise goes by the name air pollution.

In fact, the pollution that is in Fresno’s air is often described as being among the nation’s worst. At the same time, many would argue that over the years, because of mitigating efforts that have been advanced both locally and regionally to help lessen the presence of pollution in the air, air quality here has improved. While this may be true, there are multiple air-quality standards – regional, state and national alike – that remain to be met.

As this all relates, air pollution in “The Big Raisin” (as locals often affectionately refer to Fresno as), has been here in this Central California metropolis for as long as I have (some 45 years) and, presumably, was present long before I had even first stepped foot here, which, by the way, was in 1973. At that time, I was just passing through. We only stopped the car to fill up on gas.

That all said, I would like better than anything else if Fresno’s and the surrounding counties’ air quality or air condition were far, far improved compared to what it is presently. While outward expansion continues apace and consumes vast acreage and tracts of land, there is the glimmer of hope that, as a result of implemented initiatives and efforts to reduce the quantity of pollutant emissions that pour into the region’s air year after year after year, what with the continuing construction of high-speed rail, along with greater and greater reliance on zero- and near-zero emissions motor vehicles, the embracing of photovoltaic (solar) systems both at the farm-scale and individual dwelling-unit level, that plus other similar mitigating approaches and practices, etc., it is in that very regard that we, the people of Fresno, will reap the benefits of the positive changes being made and that includes those to the air.

Meanwhile, at home and close to it, California has initiated its “Keep California Golden” campaign which reminds residents to use less energy between the hours of 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. when demand for electricity is typically higher and availability of green energy is typically lower. To observe such practices could result – and presumably does result – in reduced energy costs.

Added to this, starting back on Jan. 1, 2022, the Golden State approved a new recycling and composting program.

As pointed out in: “California adopts new recycling and composting law” (a Jan. 14, 2022 Air Quality Matters blog post), “… in California, beginning this year, a new ordinance concerning where what household waste product or material is directed, goes into effect. The point of this is so more and more of said discards will be destined for composting and recycling while less and less solid refuse will end up being landfilled.”

This may sound cliche, but every little bit helps.

– Alan Kandel

All material © 2022.

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