By Sandra Celedon
The youth of Fresno have found their power. It’s based in the community, and it’s growing.
Through their ongoing movement to see a well-functioning park with enrichment opportunities within walking distance of every city resident, their historic 2018 voter petition drive, and political and legal victories after years of effort and authentic community engagement, they have proven they are a hard-working, dedicated political force.
Now becoming a reality, their decade-long parks campaign has delivered a 30-year commitment to city parks’ infrastructure, arts and cultural programming, and much more.
They will have literally changed the face of Fresno, improved the lives of tens of thousands of people for generations to come, and they’re ready to do it again with Measure C—our transportation sales tax that’s due to expire in 2026 and might be on the ballot as soon as November 2022—to extend it until 2047.
The message again from youth to the older adults in positions of power is that if you’re planning for 36 years into the future, there’s no way that you can do anything meaningful without authentically engaging young people. They need to craft their future.
Because that’s what Measure C does: It crafts futures.
In 1986, our local leaders had a vision for the future when they convinced voters to pass Measure C, and now we get to live in it 35 years later. Their promised future became our present: a city still plagued with record levels of air pollution and asthma, high unemployment and disinvestment, a diesel and methane-powered urban transit system without enough routes or buses, and sprawl freeways and roads still being built for suburbs at up to $48 million per mile.
Just as there would have been no Measure P without youth, there can be no Measure C without them either. And this time, we get to work in coalition with rural residents because while the parks tax is for the City of Fresno only, our transportation tax is countywide. Both will raise up to $3 billion, but Measure P will do it in 20 years rather than 30.
Our greatest challenge is that Measure C lacks equity, and young people get that. Because they live it. It’s the same thing with parks. I’ll always remember the group of young women who spoke up at a meeting at their middle school. We were talking about land use and general plans.
But they said to us, “Why aren’t you guys talking about parks?” They understood immediately.
I asked, “What about parks?” And it was beautiful. A respondent’s quote stayed with me throughout the years. She said, “Well, they suck.”
And when young people talk about the living conditions of their neighborhoods and rural communities, it’s not just parks. It’s transportation, too. It’s young people who take the bus. They rely on public transportation. They’re the ones that walk the neighborhoods. They’re the ones that know there’s no sidewalk, no shade.
We have young folks from rural communities who have to figure out how to get into the city because this is where most of the opportunities are. Young people know this. When they were advocating through the “What’s the FAX?” campaign, they were advocating for an expanded transportation system. They were not asking only for no fares or Wi-Fi on the bus, they were asking for more frequent service, more bus routes, cleaner buses.
Because young people know. They experience it. They know that they live in the neighborhoods that get the most pollution, but not only do you have more pollution, it goes back to you having fewer environmental protective factors. You have less tree canopy, less of every kind of protective barrier.
The unavoidable fact for the political leaders seeking to put the Measure C tax renewal on the ballot is that without the authentic, countywide engagement of youth and their families in city neighborhoods and rural communities alike, those areas best described as “low opportunity” rather than “low income,” we will not achieve a ballot measure that offers equity.
The youth whose future depends on the decisions made today know they have the power to determine that future. A truly equitable Measure C as a companion to Measure P will offer hope and new opportunities, and young people are determined to make that happen. Again.
Sandra Celedon is the CEO of Fresno Building Healthy Communities (www.fresnobhc.org).