Moments before submitting signatures to the city clerk, advocates for a sales tax to benefit parks were one short of a nice round number. In order to achieve it, they even asked a cameraman covering the occasion if he was a registered Fresno voter. Absent that, Fresno for Parks turned in 34,999 signatures.

It was another milestone in potentially getting the measure in front of Fresno voters this November. The group is seeking a 3/8th-cent sales-tax hike for parks and related programs.

“We intended to submit the petitions. It keeps faith with the 34,999 people who signed to bring it forward. Meanwhile, other conversations continue.” — Elliott Balch of Fresno for Parks

But the parks advocates acknowledged that there may not be enough time to get their measure on the November ballot.

Thus they are holding the door open for a compromise with a competing tax plan emanating out of City Hall. And if those negotiations fail, the 2020 primary ballot is a possibility.

The Fresno for Parks plan estimates it would raise up to $38 million a year for refurbishing current parks, building new parks, and maintaining trails on the San Joaquin River Parkway. Additionally, funding would go to programs for arts, seniors, after-school activities and job training.

Signatures Submitted, But Negotiations Continue

Elliott Balch, a member of the Fresno for Parks coalition, said his group had been negotiating with other community partners about a compromise sales tax plan. That group includes Mayor Lee Brand’s office, which continues to push a plan that would raise the sales tax a half-cent, split between parks and public safety.

Brand introduced his alternate plan last month, only to have it resoundingly rejected by the city council through comments to traditional and social media. Brand withdrew his motion before an actual vote. He revived the idea, though, in a speech to the Fresno Rotary earlier this week.

“We intended to submit the petitions. It keeps faith with the 34,999 people who signed to bring it forward. Meanwhile, other conversations continue,” Balch said.

“Each side wants more than they probably should get, or could get in a compromise. We’re going to continue to move forward. We are not closed to talking, we still want to be able to do that.” — Larry Powell of Fresno for Parks

Balch left open the possibility of proposing a joint plan with the mayor.

“We are interested in making sure the needs of Fresno are met and being part of a solution. We are still very open to conversation about serving both parks and perhaps other related needs as well,” Balch said.

Larry Powell, the former county schools superintendent, says the parks tax plan is “transformational.” He is also optimistic on negotiations with the mayor’s office and other interested parties, like the city council and public safety unions.

“Each side wants more than they probably should get, or could get in a compromise,” Powell said. “We’re going to continue to move forward. We are not closed to talking, we still want to be able to do that. We are going to continue to move forward. You have to with all the deadlines we have to face.”

Balch did not want to say anything specifically how negotiations with Brand’s office are going, but said things are fluid and could still change.

“I wouldn’t want to foreclose on any possibilities.”

Meeting Deadlines

However, turning in the petitions late in the game may jeopardize Fresno for Park’s chances of qualifying for the Nov. 6 election. They will settle for the March 2020 election if need be.

Park tax advocates need 23,273 valid signatures of registered city voters to qualify the proposal for the ballot. They are confident they have that.

But the city council also must approve for it to qualify. That’s the time crunch.

Verifying ballots is a two-step process. The city clerk will take a count of signatures on the petitions, then turn them over to the county clerk for verification. City Clerk Yvonne Spence told GV Wire she will use extra staff for the count and that it should take a couple of days.

August 10 is the state-mandated deadline to place an item on the November ballot. There is only one city council meeting, July 26, between now and Aug. 10. And, the agenda for that July 26 meeting must be set by Thursday at 5 p.m. That means the council will not have a chance to place the measure on the ballot at that meeting.

State law allows the clerk up to 30 days (excluding weekends and holidays) for verification. Aug. 10 is only 23 days away from today (July 18), including weekends.

The council could call a special meeting or add an additional meeting between now and the deadline. When the council votes, it has two choices (once the petition signatures are verified): adopt the petition into law (subject to the mayor’s veto) or place the item on the election ballot.

If Mayor Brand submits his own plan, or a compromise with Fresno for Parks emerges, a vote of five city council members (out of seven) would be required to place it on the ballot.

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