Fresno mayor marks highs, lows in 'State of City'

A crowd of around 800 attendees of this year's State of the City luncheon in Fresno serenaded Ashley Swearengin with the "Happy Birthday" song today in honor of her 40th birthday on May 24.

In addition to celebrating that personal milestone 3 1/2 years into her term as mayor, Swearengin also highlighted the opportunities and challenges facing her vision for the city. She described Fresno as a "mixed bag," at the same time facing a possible fiscal emergency while also thriving to be a better place.

Swearengin named meat processor Cargill as the recipient of the first "Champion" (Companies Helping Achieve Meaningful Progress in our Neighborhoods) award from the city of Fresno. Around 1,000 people are employed at the Southwest Fresno facility. Those employees volunteer up to 10,000 hours a year for various community causes.

Among the positive changes experienced in the city, according to Swearengin: 

• Violent crime was down 4 percent last year.

• "Operation Cease Fire," a law enforcement program stressing intervention with the city's most violent criminals, including gang members, reached 285 offenders, with only four subsequently arrested for violent crimes.

• A full-court press by local, state and national officials helped keep the 144th California Air National Guard Fighter Wing in Fresno. Now the base is poised to expand with the arrival of new F-15 fighter aircraft from Montana, creating 200 new jobs.

Swearengin also talked about the success of the second-annual Fresno Food Expo this year, pointing out some of the inroads made between local food vendors and national and international retailers. One processor, La Tapatia, is in talks to expand its line of corn tortilla chips to the Middle East, India and China. The line is currently hot in South Korea.

Swearengin tempered the successes with the release of her budget yesterday that calls on $12 million in employee concessions to help close a revenue gap. The city is currently negotiating with its public safety bargaining units.