Twenty years ago, Fresno County residents fell into acrimonious debate over transportation, land use and air pollution. Fueling tensions was the process being used to renew Measure C, our countywide half-cent sales tax for transportation, and the strong resistance local leaders were exerting toward smart growth advocates. No major changes were needed, they said, assuring us that the freeway-centric plan from 1986 was doing just fine and that Fresno and Clovis weren’t sprawling.
The renewal committee bulldozed a path to the ballot in 2002 but then failed to achieve the two-thirds voter support necessary in the face of the “Got Smog, Got Asthma? No on C” opposition campaign and strong public support for clean air. Four years passed before a grassroots-balanced spending plan succeeded at the polls, but it hasn’t worked as well as wished.
Healthy air remains a distant hope, roads are not being maintained, rural communities are falling further behind and sprawl is worsening. The plan approved in 2006 obviously deserves serious reconsideration.
Instead, we are witnessing a repetition of the mistakes of 2002. A new generation of politically effective advocates has emerged with urgent priorities of transportation spending equity and climate resilience, but they are being rebuffed by local leaders in charge of the Measure C renewal process who, like their predecessors, claim the current system needs little change.
Advocates’ priorities are being scorned and they’ve experienced disrespectful treatment. The smart growth coalition gained seats after just one appearance before the Board of Supervisors in March 2001, whereas this coalition of people of color fought with the Fresno County Transportation Authority (FCTA) from February to December 2021 for appointments to the renewal committees.
Rather than choosing to engage productively with such community groups last year, the FCTA awarded a $700,000 no-bid contract to a local advertising agency and proceeded to waste months of precious time and more than $50,000 on advertising and hastily planned community events, all to get people to hear presentations or complete an online survey.
Fewer than 200 people in total attended seven forums; only 500 surveys were completed, yet these near useless exercises are now being said to count as community engagement by the committee’s elected officials, transportation agency staff and their consultants. This is an unnecessary, ill-fated rush to the November 2022 ballot.
Remember, Measure C does not have to be renewed until 2026, and it should take less than 18 months of patient effort to complete a healthy process in a safe manner.
More than two years ago, the FCTA board approved a seven-point plan that, if followed, would have accomplished this already. Staff was directed to contract with consultants, coordinate with the Chamber of Commerce, conduct a voter survey, meet with agencies and stakeholders, form a steering committee, hire a facilitator, and develop and participate in consensus building and public outreach programs, according to the staff report of Aug. 7, 2019. Much energy has gone into the first four activities while the others languish: no neutral facilitator, no community engagement.
In the interest of time and taxpayer dollars, let’s restore integrity to the process of developing a $3 billion spending plan through the year 2047.
The Fresno County Board of Supervisors and the city councils of Fresno, Clovis, Fowler and Mendota must direct their representatives on the FCTA to pause the Measure C renewal process: Neutral, professional facilitation is needed urgently; the bifurcated committee structure should be replaced with a steering committee and work groups; and authentic outreach programs should be started.
The community needs to be engaged on Measure C, not have it sold to them.
Forever Tax Fail, Introducing FresNoise
By Kevin Hall
Madera County’s Measure T renewal committee voted last month to recommend making its sales tax for transportation last forever, while Fresno County’s Measure C renewal committee learned it lost that option last year.
One of the original California counties to tax itself for transportation, on which Fresno County leaders have spent $3 billion subsidizing sprawl roads and freeways since 1987, Fresno has its own enabling legislation in state law. Twenty years ago, backers pulled a fast one and remembered to change the legislation from 20 to 30 years before that renewal committee ever met; this crew forgot that trick, and an amendment now would face the insurmountable hurdle of a two-thirds majority of the legislature.
Madera operates under later, more generic legislation without specific lengths. Committee members there did a good job of convincing themselves that their base of conservative voters will support a forever tax.
As part of our ever-expanding political coverage of the most critical issues of our time, Guy Sharwood has agreed to join the fight with art and humor through this brand new comic strip, FresNoise:
“I’m Guy Sharwood. I appreciate the Community Alliance and have for years. I love to draw and have been drawing ever since I learned what a crayon is for. People seem to like it so I keep on doing it.
“I also enjoy writing, reading and playing harmonica and spoons. I’ve lived in Fresno since 1958 (not to be misconstrued as braggadocio). Graduated both City College and Fresno State. Been married to Lynda since 2008.”
Welcome aboard, Guy!