Life out here - A viewpoint by Bret Kofford: Following Fresno

January 24, 2001

FRESNO — "The only place you can find culture in Fresno," my friend Ed Martin said in response to a newspaper man-on-the-street question sometime around 1979, "is the county health department."

Twenty to 25 years ago, people in the Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco Bay areas considered Fresno for bad jokes. Dirty, dusty, crude, country, sun-baked, classless, ugly and boring were just a few of the more flattering terms used to describe Fresno. A quarter-century later, many of our fellow Californians feel the same way, and use the same words, about our Imperial Valley.

The Fresno area has doubled in size over the last 25 years. Those who mocked it, and their children, now live in Fresno County. What happened is people who came to Fresno to go to college or for business stayed. With the growth has come smog, congestion, crime and the reduction in intimacy that comes along with the transition from small city to fairly big city. Yet with the growth has come more culture, more arts, more shopping, big-time college sports and, best for people like me, a Triple-A pro baseball team.


While I was born in the San Joaquin Valley and went to college in Fresno, I hadn't been to the city in about 15 years until coming here on business this week. While it has grown to the north, west and east and has more amenities, stores and chíc joints, it's still the same old Fresno I loved, the place to which I long longed to return. Fifteen years later the people are still nice, the pace is still slow and the best old places are still going strong.

I no longer hope to return to Fresno. Now, when I return to the Imperial Valley, particularly when I return via air and see the rectangles of brown and green and the neatly laid-out little cities, my heart warms. This is my home now, the place I love and want to make better.

Growth and progress is what we always hear from our leaders, and if that is what we desire — and we need to think about that — there is much we need to do.

We need to, most of all, get more of our talented young people to stay in the Valley or to come back after college. To do so we have to provide things to do. Our burgeoning arts scene has to keep burgeoning. If a group or show comes to town that you might want to see, go see it. If a bowling alley comes, go bowl. If a batting cage comes, go bat. If a miniature golf course comes, go hit the ball through the clown's mouth.

We have rid ourselves of or turned away many of the knuckleheads, self-serving back-slappers and out-and-out crooks running things here and replaced them, mostly, with bright people, even some visionary people. These are the people who can help us find more jobs, better jobs. Like Fresno, though, we should keep our agricultural base, our rural flavor, our Western outpost feel.

We need to support and expand our educational opportunities. California State University, Fresno, with a steadily improving reputation and visibility around the state, has been a huge catalyst for growth and good things here. That's what an active, unique campus can do. Ours are getting there, but they need our support.

We need to do more. We need to paint things, clean things, plant things. No one wants to come to a place that doesn't take care of itself. One place to start would be the dirt brown median on Highway 86 that greets visitors with ugliness all the way from Imperial to north El Centro.

It's the simple things we don't do and haven't done that can bring the elusive growth, the elusive progress, we allegedly desire.

Fresno has done it and done it right. So can we.

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