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Measure C heads to November ballot with final approval from the Fresno County Board of Supervisors

Fresno City Council members discuss Measure C renewal plan at meeting on Thursday, August 11
Fresno City Council members discuss Measure C renewal plan at meeting on Thursday, August 11

Updated Friday, August 12, 2022 at 5:30pm

The Measure C half-cent sales tax renewal is officially headed to the November ballot. The Fresno County Board of Supervisors made the final vote today to place the 30 year, nearly $7 billion tax before voters this fall. The meeting lasted just six minutes and had no public comment. The supervisors voted unanimously to approve the expenditure plan, despite opposition from community advocates who demanded more time for public input.

Final approval comes one day after Fresno City Council vote

The Board of Supervisors’ final approval comes a day after the Fresno City Council voted to move the plan forward. At the council’s meeting on Thursday, Measure C elicited mixed reactions – including surprise and confusion – among the city’s councilmembers.

Council Vice President Tyler Maxwell said he believed that the procedural process of renewing Measure C was flawed, arguing that it demanded councilmembers to become more engaged in the 45 days leading up to a voting deadline than they were for the last 18 months since the process started. “I don't think it should be a surprise to anyone that we are here at the 11th hour making this tough decision,” he said.

Council president Nelson Esparza was unaware of the council’s need to be involved. As Esparza said he understood it, the council made the appropriate appointments for others to be part of the renewal process. Esparza said it was brought to his attention only in the last couple of weeks through the administration that the council would even have to vote on the plan. “I wish I had known from the beginning that that's what the process would be,” he said.

In a 5-1 vote to approve the plan, Esparza abstained from voting and councilmember Miguel Arias was the lone dissenting vote. One of his concerns centered around transportation funding for safe school routes. According to Arias, the plan does not designate enough money toward building sidewalks to keep pace with population growth and the amount of schools that would likely need to be built in the future. “As designed we would have more schools without safe routes to schools after this 30-year measure than we do today,” he said.

In order to move the renewal plan forward, the Fresno County Transportation Authority (FCTA) needed to adhere to a state code that requires the expenditure plan be “approved by the city councils representing both a majority of the cities in the county and a majority of the population residing in the incorporated areas of the county” before a tax can be placed on a ballot.

But as the largest city in the county, with 55 percent of its population and its highest tax revenue, Arias probed the City of Fresno’s lack of weighted representation on the FCTA board. He questioned Mike Leonardo, executive director of the FCTA, whether it’s in the best interest of everyone if the FCTA could be changed to a weighted system of representation.

“I don't think I'm in a position to make an opinion on that. I will tell you that Fresno has at least two…maybe three votes off of the nine-member board,” responded Leonardo. Arias reminded Leonardo that that number doesn’t reflect Fresno’s 55 percent population. “I’m sure we generate more than 55 percent of the revenue. And this measure gets us 45 percent of the revenue,” he said.

Community advocates rally in Calwa against Measure C renewal on Monday, August 8
Soreath Hok/KVPR
Community advocates hold a news conference in Calwa against Measure C renewal on Monday, August 8

Community advocates have been ramping up calls to halt the process of placing Measure C on the 2022 ballot due to concerns about access to public transportation and adequate funding for road repairs. Because the current measure doesn’t expire until 2027, advocates want to postpone the ballot placement until 2024 to allow for more time for community input. At a news conference in the unincorporated community of Calwa on Monday, Veronica Garibay, co-founder of the nonprofit Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, said city and county leaders need to take a step back. “I think it would behoove decision makers to really consider this rush to get to the ballot and what appears to be this sprint to do it right knowing that they haven't done it right,” she said.

Members of the public gathered to watch Fresno Council of Governments meeting on July 7, 2022.
Soreath Hok/KVPR
Members of the public gathered to watch Fresno Council of Governments meeting on July 7, 2022.

Garibay said in the two weeks leading up to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors’ final August 12 vote, the 15 cities on the Fresno Council of Governments (COG) to benefit from Measure C have been rushing to hold city council meetings to approve the expenditure plan. But these meetings happened well after a majority of mayors on the Fresno COG already voted in favor of last-minute changes the City of Fresno presented about the plan at a July 7 meeting.

“The majority of the mayors voted on a plan a couple of weeks ago that they didn't even read,” Garibay claimed. “How shameful and disrespectful is that to Fresno County communities who deserve to have a say in the process and who deserve to see their taxpayer dollars reinvested back into their communities.”

Reedley Mayor Mary Fast was one of the few mayors who voted against the plan on July 7. Fast said she had not yet read the new proposal and could not make a vote. But in an interview Monday, Fast said she has since been able to review the plan and get her city council to approve it as well. “Oftentimes the county doesn't have funding to do roads that are close by our cities and this will help to give us some of that funding so that we can work together to keep our public happy,” she said. Looking back at the July 7 COG meeting, Fast said it could have been handled better. “I just think Fresno City should have been a little bit more prepared,” she said.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta also made a stop in Calwa on Tuesday to listen to community advocates speak about ongoing issues like air quality. Bonta expressed solidarity with residents in the community, which is surrounded by industrial development. Following his visit, Bonta drafted a letter to the Fresno City Council, asking councilmembers to postpone their vote. In the letter Bonta called on council members to address community concerns about a “lack of adequate public process involved with setting the Renewal Plan’s proposed expenditures.” He also urged the city to conduct adequate environmental analysis of projects before they are funded and approved.

Community advocates against the push to place Measure C on the November 2022 ballot have made plans to mount a ‘No on C’ campaign. If the measure is not passed, elected officials say they’re willing to restart the renewal process again for 2024.

Soreath Hok is a multimedia journalist with experience in radio, television and digital production. She is a 2022 National Edward R. Murrow Award winner. At KVPR she covers local government, politics and other local news.