Fresno council approves tax plan amid opposition from CA AG

This story was produced by Fresnoland, a nonprofit news organization that partners with The Fresno Bee.

Fresno City Council voted 5-1 Thursday afternoon to put Mayor Jerry Dyer’s Measure C transportation tax expenditure plan on the November ballot, despite a request from California Attorney General Rob Bonta that the board is delaying its approval until a better public process and environmental review has been completed.

Council member Miguel Arias was the only one not to vote; Council President Nelson Esparza abstained from the vote.

The county’s tax plan faces its final vote on Friday afternoon when the Fresno County Board of Supervisors is expected to approve putting its renewal before voters. The current plan is not expected to expire until 2027.

“Local politicians have failed the residents of Fresno County yet again,” said Sandra Celedon, president and CEO of Fresno Building Healthy Communities in a released statement. “…Even a warning letter from Attorney General Rob Bonta was ignored.”

Despite months of criticism of the nearly $7 billion, 30-year spending plan from various communities and the 36-member Fresno Coalition for Responsible Transportation Spending, council members justified their support for the plan highlighting its workforce development benefits.

Council member Tyler Maxwell said “getting people back to work” during a “recession” was his strongest motivation for his support for Measure C’s renewal this fall. Fresno County’s unemployment rate sits at 5.8%, a 32-year low.

“The money we’ve split between the different (spending categories) isn’t necessarily the proportions I want,” said Maxwell, who has been one of the plan’s biggest critics for its 40% cut. in public transport. “But at the end of the day, there are too many good things here that I can’t ignore.”

Despite AG’s letter, board members remain firm on support for Measure Plan C

The elephant in the room on Thursday afternoon was whether a letter from the state attorney general would convince city council members to withdraw their support for the vote for Measure C.

The spending plan, which will allocate hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to highway interchanges for new industrial and warehouse development in the state’s most polluted neighborhoods, caught the attention of Attorney General Bonta in a letter released Thursday morning.

Bonta called on council members to delay their approval of the Measure C renewal until they have taken steps to “incorporate adequate public input and carefully develop this essential measure.”

Among Bonta’s concerns were the plan’s cuts in public transit, the city’s lack of clarity about the environmental impacts of new road projects, and “a lack of adequate public process.”

Friday is the deadline to complete the complex approval process that puts Measure C on the November ballot, and Bonta’s letter was a strong push to get the council to put Measure C’s renewal on hold until 2024. .

But at the council meeting, council member Esmeralda Soria said that while she appreciates the contributions of “out-of-state officials,” she knows very intimately the challenges of her constituents.

Soria said getting unemployed or underemployed people to work as soon as possible should be a priority. She also downplayed Measure C’s ability to have a decisive impact on the public health challenges created by “poor planning long before my time.”

“I also believe that Measure C is not the panacea for solving the significant challenges facing not only the City of Fresno, but Fresno County as well,” Soria said. “I’m not going to sit here and tell my constituents that I’m going to solve all the problems everyone else has created for me.”

Arias withdraws support, citing insufficient funds for safe school routes

The main commitment made by the proposed Measure C expenditure plan concerns the improvement of local roads. The proposed measure is expected to bring up to $1.6 billion to the City of Fresno for local street improvements.

Council member Arias, however, took issue with the fact that only 20% of street improvement funds can be used to build and repair sidewalks.

Arias said Mike Leonardo, executive director of the Fresno County Transportation Authority, placed a limit on how much the city could spend on sidewalks.

Referring to Leonardo as “a bureaucrat somewhere, an unelected individual,” Arias said the plan, as designed, would leave the county with more children without safe pathways to school over the next 30 years.

“It’s basic math; There’s no way a million dollars a year can satisfy the dozens of schools that don’t have safe sidewalks and routes now,” he said. “They just wouldn’t have sidewalks all the time.”

Leonardo said the decision to cap the share of street improvement funds going to sidewalks came from a discussion with Scott Mozier, director of public works for Fresno City, and his staff ran with the ballpark figure of 20%. by Mozier.

Arias said Measure C is not ready for voters to consider this fall.

“There seems to be this contrived push to get this in front of voters without spending the necessary time.” Arias said. “I don’t know when it became a norm to ask voters to renew a tax five years before it expires.”

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