A Transportation “C” Change?

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The Measure C Extension Steering Committee consists of 22 registered voters and one non-voter. Based on publicly available voter registration data and online business profiles, this map of committee members reveals a disproportionate number of Republicans, Whites and people living in northeast Fresno and Clovis. Source: Fresno County Registrar and Google Maps

By Kevin Hall

A high tide of community leaders swept into the Measure C sales tax renewal debate last month, flooding the island fortress of the status quo that is the Fresno County Transportation Authority (FCTA). The list of concerned groups and individuals found on the sign-on letter that ran in last month’s issue of the Community Alliance continues to grow (see sidebar), and they have successfully forced open what was a closed-door process.

One of the lesser-known but more powerful public agencies around, the FCTA is the authority that collects and currently distributes nearly $90 million annually in local sales tax revenue for new freeways, old road repair, greenhouse gas–emitting methane buses for city residents, electric transit vehicles for the county, Fresno bike lanes and Clovis bike trails, other modes and more.

At its April meeting, the FCTA board agreed to have two of its members meet with advocates to discuss the community-driven process sought by those in pursuit of an equitable spending plan. It is projected that $3 billion will be raised in a 20-year extension through 2047. That amount would rise to $5 billion if they shoot for a 30-year reach past mid-century.

There is even discussion of no sunset clause for the tax, first enacted in 1986 and renewed in 2006. A 2002 renewal attempt was rejected by the community for imbalanced spending priorities.

So advocates are in for the fight of their lives. We all are, and everybody who professes any level of concern about climate change will closely follow if not get directly involved in this debate. Because this is the fight of everyone’s lives, the one for our future. No longer do people have the luxury of leaving it to others to fight it for them. Especially in Fresno County.

Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state, with a 41% share, according to California Air Resources Board data. In the city of Fresno, it’s 52%, according to the city’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan Update from March 2020, and that plan comes nowhere near reaching the 66% reduction needed by 2027.

The transportation sector is also the city’s largest recipient of taxpayer subsidies, even if taxpayers are unaware. Measure C revenue is being used to backfill the funding holes left by Fresno’s long history of failing to collect impact fees from residential and commercial developers, a failure that falls squarely on the mayor and city council.

Equity Coalition Seeks Committee Balance

The Measure C renewal steering committee, selected privately by Mike Leonardo and Tony Boren, top staffers at the Fresno County Transportation Authority (FCTA) and the Fresno Council of Governments (Fresno COG), has the structure listed on the right. Not approved by any elected body, it is a structure with origins in Kern County, where the original Business, Industry and Government coalition emerged decades ago. Public interest groups, like those on the left, are shunned, and now seek representation on the committee.

Equity Letter Sign-ons

  • Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability 
  • Building Healthy Communities Fresno 
  • Cultiva La Salud 
  • Faith in the Valley 
  • Inspiration Transportation 
  • Central California Environmental Justice Network 
  • Friends of Calwa 
  • Fresno Barrios Unidos 
  • Sierra Club, Tehipite Chapter 
  • Jakara Movement 
  • League of Women Voters 
  • Council on American Relations 
  • Audubon California 
  • Central Air Quality Coalition 
  • Youth Leadership Institute 
  • USGBC, Central California 
  • Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries 
  • Keil Schmidt 
  • Jim Grant 

Committee Membership

  • Clovis City Councilman
  • Clovis City Councilwoman
  • Fowler Mayor
  • Fresno Mayor
  • Fresno County Sheriff
  • Fresno County Staff
  • Kerman Mayor
  • Sanger Mayor
  • Alert-O-Lite
  • American Ambulance
  • Bitwise
  • Central California Labor Council
  • Central Valley Community Foundation
  • Community Medical Center
  • Economic Opportunities Commission
  • Fresno County Farm Bureau
  • Fresno Economic Development Corporation
  • Gazebo Gardens
  • Johanson Transport
  • Maddy Institute
  • Van G Trucking
  • Wolff Farms

The community letter for an inclusive transportation sales tax renewal process and equitable spending is growing. Organizations and individuals are encouraged to contact Leslie Martinez (lmartinez@lcja.org) to sign on. Read the Guiding Principles for a Just and Equitable Transportation System in Fresno County at www.lcja.org

Rather than address the imbalance, city leaders now appear poised to raid the alternative transportation fund, too. There is a long list of such thefts.

The underlying causes are the usual toxic brew of developer influence at city hall, inexperienced politicians learning on the job and a term-limited political system that reinforces the status quo through big-dollar campaign contributors. It’s easy to see how developer-adjacent Annalisa Perea raised more than $100,000 in 2020 for her June 2022 District 1 Fresno City Council run, with more than a fourth of that coming from Madera-based Industrial & Commercial Contractors, according to City of Fresno Netfile records.

It’s a record-setting pace for Perea, who describes herself as a “businesswoman and Urban Planner in the private sector.” She capitalizes “Urban Planner” because it’s her job title. Not only will people interviewing candidates like Perea want to ask about her campaign contributors but also her client list.

As corrupt as she sounds, Perea is just the latest poster child for Fresno’s broken political system, particularly its increasingly well-oiled industry-friendly candidate pipeline. District 3 Council Member Miguel Arias reached a new low with his lie following City approval of a second Amazon warehouse in the highly impacted south Fresno area.

“This agreement is an example that we can facilitate the coexistence of creating new jobs without impacting the health and safety of our neighbors,” Arias told Fresno Bee reporter Brianna Calix in March.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Or more dangerous. And what connects them all—the land use, the politicians, the developers, the fate of the entire city—are Measure C subsidies for the roads and freeways that developers depend on but never want to pay for.

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Kevin Hall hosts Climate Politics on KFCF 88.1 FM every second and fourth Friday, 5 p.m.–6 p.m. He tweets as @airfrezno and @sjvalleyclimate, coordinates an informal network of climate activists at www.valleyclimate.org and can be contacted at sjvalleyclimate@gmail.com for presentations and information.