If Measure P had passed, it would have created a 3/8 cent sales tax to fund parks and trail maintenance, and arts programming over the next thirty years. The “Yes on P” campaign was advocating for safe, clean parks.
But in one advertisement from a Measure P opposition group, called “Fresnans for a Safer Community, No on P,” Police Chief Jerry Dyer says this:
“We oppose Measure P because it takes away our ability to hire the additional personnel needed to keep Fresno safe.”
It’s comments like these that have infuriated Sandra Celedon. She’s the executive director of Fresno Building Healthy communities. She thinks the opponents of Measure P were intentionally deceptive.
“There was over a hundred organizations that endorsed Measure P, and only four groups that opposed it, and that was our mayor, the Chamber of C ommerce, the Fresno police association and the fire department,” says Celedon. “So this really boils down to just greed. They wanted to show force, they wanted to show that they're the most important in town and they really wanted to make sure that they got every dime that comes into our city.”
Celedon isn’t just talking about the police chief. Fresno Mayor Lee Brand also supported the “No on P” campaign.
“I think right now, there's a lot of disillusionment with the mayor, not only because of the fact that he didn't stand up for parks, that would have been okay,” says Celedon. “We know mayors have different priorities. But it was the way he failed to lead and that was with lies.”
Brand says, it’s not the opposition message that swayed voters. It’s that voters disagreed with the measure. “Roughly half the voters didn't buy the argument of the parks measure and I think it’s because, one: I don't think they got their message resonating,” says Brand. “I think people knew there were other issues like homelessness in parks, crime, other issues that weren’t being addressed. I think some people simply didn't want to pay the tax.”
Back in June, Brand tried to add his own sales tax initiative to the ballot with a vote from the city council. It would have enacted a sales tax increase, and split the revenue between parks and the city police and fire departments. However, Brand withdrew his proposal within days of announcing it because he didn’t have support from the council.
He says that his opposition to Measure P came down to the 30-year lifetime of the tax, and that it left out public safety, despite calling for clean and safe parks.
“The fact is, the actual ballot, if you read the ballot, it talks about park rangers. It does not mention police officers,” Brand says.
Now, since the measure has failed, Brand says his hands are tied when it comes to increasing park funding. “There's a lot of needs out there. My job as mayor is to address all the needs, not just put all the, you know, all our eggs in one basket,” he says. “In my opinion that's what they're asking me to do.”
Brand says he sees potential for the two sides to collaborate, and there may be another tax initiative come 2020.
Fresno residents Brian and Maria Junker tell me they wish the initiative had passed. They regularly drive from their Fresno High School neighborhood home to play at Woodward Park with their two kids because, in their words: “Our parks kind of suck where we're at,” says Brian Junker.
He laughs as he says this, and Maria Junker clarifies: “They're not as well kept as most other parks, so that's why we tend to come to the ones that, you know, tend to be well kept.”
Since Woodward Park has an entry fee, the Junkers pay $50 for an annual pass so they can come anytime, year round. But not everyone can afford a $50 park pass.
In Southwest Fresno, you can enter most parks for free. But the one where Sandra Celedon chooses to meet is not as well-kept as Woodward. There’s trash everywhere: it’s intermixed with leaves in the empty swimming and wading pools. Highway 99 traffic is visible along one side, and people wander through with shopping carts.
“What you see is this is one of the parks that is designated as one of the poorest condition in our city,” Celedon says. She lists what she thinks could be updated in the park: take the locks off the bathroom, doors; swap out the wooden bleachers for new, metal ones. Celedon wants to work with city leaders to improve parks like these, but she’s hesitant.
“So I think when you have a side that relies on untruths and relies on misinformation, it makes it really hard to sit at the table and have an honest conversation about how do we tackle the issues, which we know there are many,” says Celedon.
This park is where Celedon wanted to meet, but she says it is not where the fight for parks ends.