The City of Fresno passed a Parks Master Plan in January. The plan outlines the city’s goals to maintain and improve existing parks, and add more to the system. But over the years, the city’s parks budget has decreased. A new coalition hopes their efforts will put new life into parks, with a tax.
In Central Fresno at Lafayette Park, just off of Blackstone, David Toscano watches his cousin and a friend play basketball.
“We always go to park, just to play,” says Toscano, “Just to get some exercise and have some fun.”
They’re only using one side of the court, but throughout the asphalt are weeds pushing up through cracks.
This park is near where Toscano lives, but he says he usually goes to Clovis West High School, or Woodward Park instead. He says, this park is okay, but it could be better.
“I think it should be a little wider for soccer and there's homeless people and everything,” Toscano says.
Toscano isn’t the only who thinks the parks could use some work. Mary Creasman is with the Trust for Public Land, a group that advocates for more green space and ranks the most populous cities in the nation based on their parks.
“The first, I think, four years we did it Fresno was at the bottom of the rankings,” says Creasman.
Since then, Fresno’s performance has improved marginally. In 2017, Fresno ranked 90 out of a hundred cities. While Trust for Public Land emphasizes accessibility of parks, Creasman says Fresno could improve it’s score just by investing in what they have.
“The median average for spending per resident is $80 per person, nationally,” says Creasman. “Fresno spends about $38 per person.”
Fresno’s budget for parks has decreased over the years. On top of that, the Parks Master Plan estimates the city would need $112 million just to bring parks up to speed on maintenance. The plan says the city should add another $5 million a year to the existing budget to keep them that way. The Master Plan doesn’t specify where this money should come from.
Last Wednesday, a coalition called Fresno for Parks announced their campaign to fund these improvements via a measure on the November ballot. They’ve proposed adding a 3/8 cent sales tax to support parks, arts and trails. They say this would raise $37 million a year. The coalition is sponsored by the Central Valley Community Foundation.
Fresno Building Healthy Communities is another group supporting Fresno for Parks. Executive Director Sandra Celedon says they’ve been advocating for better green space since 2013.
“When you look at indicators of who gets to live a quality of life, oftentimes a lot of folks in Fresno are not experiencing that,” says Celedon. “So how do we change that? And one way to do that is through parks.”
Lilia Chavez, with the Fresno Arts Council, says this isn’t just about parks. It’s about creating a city with better amenities.
“You hear a lot of negative things about Fresno,” says Chavez. “I believe that it’s because people maybe have not been willing to invest and take the high road and make things better.”
While Chavez and Celedon are among those excited about improved parks and art programs in the city, some disagree that adding a sales tax is the way to go.
Tal Cloud is the political director for the Lincoln Club of Fresno. He says he’ll fight tooth and nail to avoid paying a sales tax for parks.
“If I choose not to go to a park, I can't not choose to pay for the park,” says Cloud. “This is an additional tax I'm going to have to pay for whether I use the parks, and live in the city of Fresno or not.”
This might not be the only measure for a sales tax on the ballot this year. Another group is reportedly working on a public safety tax, which Fresno Mayor Lee Brand has said he will likely support. The mayor has not officially taken a stance on the proposed parks tax.
Despite the opposition, Fresno For Parks, along with the Trust for Public Land say that they’ve polled the community and the majority of responses are in favor of improving parks. Celedon with Fresno Building Healthy Communities sees this as a positive sign.
“For Fresno, at least, I know that it is a priority for a majority,” says Celedon. “I think the other pieces that we’ve demonstrated as a community is that we're willing to pay for things that are important to us.”
Fresno for Parks began gathering signatures for their measure this week. It won’t be a walk in the park, but the group hopes to see better amenities by 2020.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story said Fresno for Parks began gathering signatures on Wednesday, April 4. The group began gathering signatures on Wednesday, April 11.