Cars, Climate, Clovis: “C” stands for many issues in the emerging debate over priorities for Measure C, our countywide transportation sales tax expiring in 2027. Above all else, it should stand for Community. So far it hasn’t, but there’s hope.
In November, representatives from education, disability rights and youth organizations gained seats on the sales tax renewal effort’s executive committee, and in December four environmental justice organizations joined, too. Just 10 months earlier, the original—much smaller—committee met in private, declaring itself exempt from California’s open meeting laws.
Assembled by the CEOs of the Fresno County Transportation Authority (FCTA) and the Fresno Council of Governments (FCOG), the renewal committee’s job is to create a spending plan for billions of tax dollars through mid-century. They must compile a priority list of projects and programs for voter consideration.
Taking quiet direction from their respective boards, FCTA’s Mike Leonardo and FCOG’s Tony Boren initially recruited a lopsided group dominated by White suburbanite males over the age of 50. Their only inner-city picks were a pair of White businessmen living in the Tower District. Clovis city government garnered two seats while the City of Fresno earned just one. Special interest groups such as agriculture and trucking received pairs of seats.
In a replay from the first Measure C renewal effort of 20 years ago, interested community organizations were again rebuffed and forced to engage in a political fight for spots on the committee; their efforts lasted from February to December. Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability advocate Leslie Martinez told Fresnobeeland back in March: “There’s this notion that ‘we know best, you’re not smart enough to be at this table.’”
Martinez read the room correctly, as demonstrated in a committee recruitment e-mail from six days earlier: “I have always found dairymen/women to be very strong believers in ‘common sense,’ and in this increasingly ‘woke’ world we are going to need more and more of it, particularly in our MC3 renewal process,” wrote FCOG’s Boren to Fresno County Farm Bureau President Ryan Jacobsen, who in December cast the lone vote against adding more community representatives to the committee.
But equity advocates learned long ago to anticipate such disrespect for people of color by far too many White people in power. FCTA’s tone-setters are their representatives from the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, Buddy Mendes and Steve Brandau; both men have verbally abused women from the safety of the dais in open sessions. And they’re not alone in their misbehavior.
A more subtle form of bigotry manifested itself in a recent series of scarcely attended community outreach meetings conducted by FCTA through a local marketing company now operating on a $700,000 no-bid contract granted in August. This came just as community groups were raising their voices more loudly to demand inclusion; they got the opposite.
Following a practice described in the Fresno Bee by Fresno Building Healthy Communities CEO Sandra Celedon as a “darkness that kills democracy” by violating the public trust, FCTA and FCOG staff and consultants bypassed the renewal steering committee—much to its members’ surprise—and rushed directly into the field late last year with a $50,000+ voter outreach effort that yielded fewer than 700 voter contacts.
Despite the wasted time and resources, the poor process and the apparent prejudices at work, there’s still reason to hope. The diverse community coalition that fought for and won committee seats will speak out; they can be trusted to operate with integrity, and the coalition’s “Guiding Principles for a Just and Equitable Transportation System in Fresno County” offer our community—with a capital C—the road map to a sustainable future.
Johnson Snags Pair o’ Smoggies
The medicine cabinet was quickly emptied of Golden Inhalers at the inaugural Smoggies Awards banquet last month. In the hour-long, eat-at-home, radio broadcast event on KFCF’s Climate Politics, dishonors were bestowed upon politicians, bureaucrats and irresponsible adults everywhere. The “Future is Fresno” grand prize Smoggie (title inspired by Brian Kenney Fresno’s recent work of the same name, www.bonghitrecords.com) went to developers Leland and Dennis Parnagian.
The biggest surprise of the evening came when the judges hit the golden actuator to spontaneously award Smoggies to Mayor Jerry Dyer, Clovis Community College President Dr. Lori Bennett and captive staff for their performances in the City of Fresno YouTube video “Fresno FAX Extends Route 3 to Clovis Community College.”
State Center Community College District Trustee Nasreen Johnson was the only person to take home a pair of Smoggies—first in the “Burn, Baby, Burn” category for her role in strategic communications at Caglia Environmental, which also earned her the special prize as lead actor in situational ethics and transactional politics known as “The Perea.”
The first award of the evening went to Jamie Holt of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District in the category of “Bureaucrats Endangering Public Health” for her disregard of student athletes’ health. That was followed by “Athletic Event Dys-organizer of the Year,” which was awarded by popular acclaim to Mike Herman, organizer of the California Classic Weekend, who in October sent thousands of people out on a hundred-mile bike ride and a 13-mile half marathon through the thickest, deadliest wildfire smoke this town has ever seen.
The Natural Gaslighter Smoggie went to District 3 Fresno City Council Member Miguel Arias for his work to rezone 92.5 acres along Elm Avenue to industrial use while pretending to care for his constituents’ health and claiming that the second Amazon warehouse settlement eliminated impacts on residents’ health from the massive facilities’ diesel truck and car traffic.
The ongoing Elm Avenue scandal also earned a Smoggie in the category of Industrial Growth Death Eater for Henry R. Perea for his role as several developers’ registered lobbyist with the City of Fresno.
A Golden Inhaler was awarded in the special category of Dairy SCARES to the methane greenwashing team of Producers Dairy, BMW, CalBio and Bloom Energy.
The entire Fresno City Council shared a Smoggie in the “Silence of the Lambs” category for their failure in September to utter a word while unanimously approving a disastrous greenhouse gas reduction plan update.