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Bill McEwen

A Better Fresno Is Within Our Grasp. Will We Do the Smart Thing?



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Fresno Mayor Lee Brand isn’t giving up on seeing a half-cent public-safety and parks sales tax  — split right down the middle — make it to the November ballot.

Portrait of GV Wire News Director/Columnist Bill McEwen
Bill McEwen
Despite the rejection of his proposal by the Fresno City Council, he’s determined to see the plan’s resuscitation and, ultimately, $44 million to $50 million flowing annually to our city’s betterment.
Behind the scenes, Brand has been meeting with leaders of Fresno for Parks, trying to join convince the group to come on board instead of forging ahead with its proposal of a 3/8ths-cent sales tax for parks, cultural arts, and job training.
He’s been lobbying holdout council members to take a second look.
And he’s been lining up surprising support from community conservatives whose knee-jerk reaction to raising the sales tax customarily is “hell no!”
Brand put it all out there for a roomful of downtown Rotarians to digest Monday, and he was convincing.
With a nod to Fresno State President Joe Castro, who was seated at a table near the front of the room, Brand said, “We need to be bold in the city of Fresno.”

Jobs, Safety, and Parks Are Stitched Together

Brand — a conservative in the measure twice, cut once mold — says that improving Fresno’s quality of life and expanding economic development require a sales tax that benefits both public safety and parks.
Fresno’s economy, he said, doesn’t generate sufficient general fund revenue to get the job done. Not when one in three households lives at or below the poverty line.
But 15 years from now, via economic growth and the continued paring of city debt, Fresno will be able to fully fund parks, police, and fire. This tax proposal, Brand explained, is a bridge to a much better future for Fresno residents.
The beauty of the Brand proposal is that when the tax sunsets, voters can decide if they want to keep it, adjust it or drop it. This is exactly what happened with Fresno County’s Measure C transportation sales tax. Changes were made and 78% of voters approved a 20-year extension in 2006.
One of the big points Brand made Monday was that better funding for public safety is essential to economic development.
“My number one job as mayor is keeping people safe,” he said. “But public safety is also the first thing that businesses looking to Fresno ask about.”
Right now, the answer isn’t pretty. Not only does Fresno have fewer police officers than it did before the Great Recession, it has fewer dispatchers and other civilian employees in the police department. Police radios are failing and the 911 system “is overwhelmed,” Brand said.
Our parks need big help, too. Especially on Fresno’s south side.

We Control How Local Taxes Are Spent

So people can complain all they want about laws codding criminals passed in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
But the fact is that with local taxes, the money stays local.
Local taxes allow us to shape and control our own destiny. Local taxes also put us in the running for additional state and federal grant funding. And if we don’t like how our local leaders spend our taxpayer money, we can vote them out of office.
Right now, there are a lot of balls up in the air.
Does Fresno for Parks move forward on its own — confident in its polling and that it can get 23,000 signatures to land on the ballot?
Can Brand convince five of the seven council members to approve his proposal so Fresno voters decide for themselves whether to invest in public safety and parks?
Will two-thirds of voters pass either of the proposals?

Parks For Fresno Takes Stock

Natasha Biasell, a Fresno for Parks spokeswoman, told GV Wire this in an email statement Monday:
“Our Fresno for Parks team has worked hard for more than a year to develop an initiative to benefit our city, and we are encouraged that our partners from public safety, City Council and the City Administration have joined us at the table to discuss the best possible path forward. We have not yet submitted our signatures as we are in the midst of discussions with this broad coalition of leaders, all working towards a solution that will benefit all of Fresno.”
The two sides are talking. That’s a positive sign.

Let’s Replace Divide and Conquer With Teamwork

I’ve said from the start that an equal split between public safety and parks is the way to go.
By teaming up, the two sides can get most of what they want and present a unified front to voters.
Divide-and-conquer politics long has been Fresno’s way.
This time, let’s try collaboration and vault our city into a brighter future for one and all.

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email