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Billions at stake for Measure C renewal, Fresno County’s largest plan for local transportation funding

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Days before the November midterm election, Marianne Kast, a volunteer with the Fresno League of Women Voters, is knocking on doors in central Fresno to campaign against Measure C. Voters will decide whether to renew the half-cent sales tax to fund transportation over the next 30 years.

“Hi, good morning,” Kast said, greeting a man who answered the door. “Can we count on your ‘no’ vote?” Kast is part of a team of volunteers for the ‘No on Measure C’ campaign, which has mobilized to reach voters for months.

Historically, the sales tax has won strong public support with voters first passing it in 1986 with 57 percent approval. That first version funded mostly highway construction. Then in 2006, voters renewed the tax for another 20 years, approving it with 78 percent support. That renewal provided about $1.5 billion in repairs to local roads and streets.

With the current tax set to expire in 2027, voters will decide whether to extend it through 2057. Over that 30-year span, Measure C is expected to raise nearly $7 billion. Kast said it’s a lot to take in.

“I think the details on this particular measure are overwhelming for most voters. I mean, we’re talking about billions of dollars,” Kast said.

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Marianne Kast of the Fresno League of Women Voters passes out these flyers ahead of Tuesday's election.

Supporters say it will fund the maintenance of existing roads and sidewalks to keep up with Fresno County’s growing population. But opponents argue it doesn’t do enough to fund public transportation or climate-friendly solutions. In order to pass, Measure C needs to win support from two-thirds of voters.

The plan on how to divide the funds came under fire back in July when it went before the Fresno Council of Governments, which represents Fresno County’s 14 incorporated cities plus one representative for the rest of the county. That same day, the City of Fresno proposed a change to give more funding to the incorporated cities, at the expense of the county. Many community members demanded more time for public input, but the revised plan was approved on a vote of 11 to 4.

Alma Beltran, mayor of Parlier, served on the council and supported the plan. “We've been left behind for too many years,” said Beltran, who believes the tax will benefit rural communities like Parlier.

Beltran said that currently, her town doesn’t receive enough money to fix roads such as Manning Avenue, the main corridor connecting Parlier to Highway 99. This stretch of roadway takes a heavy beating from big trucks and other vehicles.

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Manning Avenue is a main corridor that connects Parlier to Highway 99.

“We just get $500,000 a year that we can try to stretch it to cover certain small areas and that's not really enough,” Beltran said.

With the new Measure C proposal, Parlier would get $2.3 million a year and Beltran said the guarantee of future tax revenue would allow the city to borrow or “bond” funding for transportation projects as soon as next year.

“With this plan, I call it the people's plan. Not the Fresno plan, but the people's plan because it's for all us commuters that are out there that are going to have the safe roads that we need,” she said.

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Fresno County Transportation Authority's allocation chart

Fresno County would get more than a billion dollars in funding over the 30 year life of the measure.

Fresno County Public Works & Planning Director Steve White said the bulk of the measure money would be spent toward road maintenance, mainly things like patching potholes.

And the county has a lot of ground to cover. Out of all the counties in California, Fresno County has more miles of county-maintained roads than any other: 3,478 miles.

Under the new version of Measure C, the county would have more money available to help improve roads in three-dozen unincorporated communities, listed as “Priority Communities” in the county.

“So, with the new measure that paradigm will shift and be able to have more funding to be able to do more for them, to go in and do a complete road repair and the like, versus just pothole patching,” White said.

Another change with the new measure would allow existing sidewalks to be repaired, although building new sidewalks would still require other sources of funding.

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Fresno County Transportation Authority
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But opponents like Marianne Kast said the measure doesn’t do enough to plan for projects outside of roads, like public transportation for the region’s growing population.

“We have many residents who have poor or lacking public transportation and that is really a major need. We’re the fifth-largest county in the state and we basically have very little in terms of public transportation,” Kast said.

Under the new measure, about 12 percent of the revenue - or $812 million - is dedicated to public transit. But each city would decide how it wants to spend those funds, rather than have communities across Fresno County work together on public transit.

Just over half of the revenue, $3.5 billion would go to repair and maintain streets. It’s a plan that Kast says fails to address many needs.

“We're collecting a lot of money. Who is actually gonna benefit? Will it be people who have cars? Will it be trucks? Will it be industrial developers? Who is it and who needs it? And I feel that the people who need it, need more of a voice,” Kast said.

If Measure C fails to win support on Tuesday, voters would have two more election cycles to consider extending the tax before it expires in 2027.

Soreath Hok is a multimedia journalist with over 16 years of 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.