The Firebaugh firehouse is located across the street from City Hall. Photo by Donald A. Promnitz
Written by Donald A. Promnitz
Firebaugh City Councilman Alfred Valdez is having a hard time hiding his excitement.
With an estimated population of just over 8,300 people, the City of Firebaugh is located in the far west sector of Fresno County, between Mendota and Dos Palos, with unique connections to Avenue 7 leading to Highway 99, as well as Interstate 5. Like most of the Central Valley, the town’s economy relies primarily on agriculture — or in Firebaugh’s case — the industrial and manufacturing end of the business. Already, Wonderful Pistachios & Almonds, the world’s largest integrated growers and processors of pistachios and almonds, is located in Firebaugh. TomaTek, a group that packs industrial tomato products including paste, diced tomatoes, and concentrated crushed and organic products, also calls the little town home.
But Valdez said his hometown, which he and others call the “jewel of the San Joaquin River,” has been long overlooked. However, he and City Manager Ben Gallegos believe that all of that is going to change in the near future. And while he couldn’t divulge every project, Valdez said there’s plenty to anticipate.
“But I can tell you that we have some really, really intriguing things that are going to be coming in the near future that we were able to make contact with over the course of four years,” Valdez said.
Starting this fall, the West Hills Community College District is expected to commence construction on a new, 3-acre campus, following an allocation of $44 million in state funds for the project. According to Valdez, this comes as more and more students have been using the current Firebaugh center over time, necessitating the need. Firebaugh officials hope this project will be finished and the campus will be in operation in 2021.
Further plans are currently underway to build a new VFW hall for community events in Firebaugh, and $2.2 million has been granted for the project. A new police station is also on the horizon.
Valdez further explained that with a close-knit community, low crime rate and opening opportunities in the economy, Firebaugh has all the ingredients necessary to create a thriving city. They only need to build on the foundations that have already been laid. For example, he pointed to how many people work in Firebaugh at places like Wonderful and TomaTek, as opposed to the small population, but he’s positive that this is about to change. Currently, two companies — Arroyo Seco in Santa Barbara and Cen-Cal General Construction in Fresno — are getting involved in constructing houses in Firebaugh, while a local entrepreneur is working to develop apartments. Valdez claimed that many of the out-of-town employees working in Firebaugh are coming to live in the city. To bring in new businesses, Valdez and Gallegos have been able to market the city’s designation as a federal opportunity zone, meaning that companies can expect tax incentives for setting up shop there. All of these assets are things Gallegos, Valdez and his fellow City Councilman Brady Jenkins have been able to effectively use as the town’s economic development team (Valdez and Jenkins are volunteers; another paid member is also in the group).
“So we go out there and we do the recruitment ourselves, which we found very successful,” Valdez said.
Gallegos has also been a driving force in constructing and improving parks in Firebaugh, all of which are connected to the local walking trail.
“We’re connecting the north and south end to our trail,” Gallegos said. “So if you want to be at the north end of town and want to walk to the south end, just take that trail — it leads you to it and it leads you to every park.”
The iron appears hot and the city’s leaders appear ready to strike. With new businesses coming in, new homes being built, and investments made in infrastructure, the leaders of Firebaugh are convinced that the jewel of the San Joaquin River is about to shine its brightest.