Technology problems canceled a discussion to renew a countywide transportation tax at Fresno COG headquarters.
Instead of taking the next step to get Measure C — the half-cent Fresno County sales tax for transportation projects — on the November ballot, the Fresno Council of Governments spent most of its Thursday evening in an awkward meeting that left most attendees frustrated.
Holding the meeting in-person and on Zoom, the legally required Spanish translation for the online service failed. The Measure C discussion was shut down and rescheduled for next week — July 7, 5:30 p.m., at Fresno City Hall.
It appeared Fresno COG was using a version of Zoom that allowed everyone to participate all at once. Other agencies, such as the city of Fresno, use a version that allows control for more orderly meetings.
“We had a situation where we had technical difficulties. Part of that was tied to the public Zooming in, doing what they call Zoombombing,” Tony Boren, Fresno COG executive director said. “We had people drawing pornographic drawings on the agenda … and making lewd noises … Then we had to mute everybody and that created the problems with the translation.”
Social Justice Group Frustrated
“The English part is always prioritized and it feels sometimes like people who don’t speak English get pushed to the side.” — Aracelia Sanabria
The Measure C renewal would yield $6.8 billion over 30 years.
More than 100 social justice advocates packed the downtown Fresno meeting room and two overflow rooms. They are asking for a delay in the vote — Measure C expires in 2027 — until more public outreach happens.
Sandra Celedon, president and CEO of Fresno Building Healthy Communities, said that Thursday night’s events demonstrated why Fresno COG and other agencies need to wait before putting the renewal proposal on the ballot.
“I think they’re a perfect example of how this body doesn’t have any experience actually talking to everyday Fresnans,” Celedon said.
Celedon was critical of the technology issues.
“I think it’s a disaster and an embarrassment that elected officials, some of them who actually just voted to give themselves a raise, don’t know how to do something that I’m sure a 16-year-old in the room could have probably done easily,” Celedon told GV Wire.
The reference was to the Fresno City Council voting to raise members’ salaries earlier in the day. However, no members of the Fresno City Council are actually on the Fresno COG board. Councilmen Miguel Arias and Tyler Maxwell were present to speak on Measure C. They both support a delay.
— David Taub (@TaubGVWire) July 1, 2022
The technology issue presented hardships for people like Aracelia Sanabria of Fresno. She said Fresno COG should have been prepared. Transportation to and from the meeting is a challenge. So were the translation issues.
“The English part is always prioritized and it feels sometimes like people who don’t speak English get pushed to the side,” Sanabria said through a translator.
Fresno Mayor Frustrated
The fifteen incorporated Fresno County cities and the county comprise the membership of Fresno COG. Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer represents his city on the 16-member board.
Instead of relaxing after securing a budget victory just hours earlier, Dyer walked into a meeting, knowing of its contentious nature.
“It was frustrating in the sense that the technology’s not working. The people are here — 150 plus people that are here can’t have their voices heard. People on the board can’t have their voices heard,” Dyer said.
When the technology failed, Dyer told the meeting attendees that parking would be relaxed for the evening. He then offered City Hall — with its larger meeting space and access to technology and translators — as an alternate.
At one point, Dyer stepped into the hallway outside the meeting room, talking with constituents about the recently passed city budget.
For Measure C to make the November ballot as boosters wish, Fresno COG — which deals with transportation issues — must vote on the spending plan.
If approved on July 7, it would go to the board of the Fresno County Transportation Authority. It is scheduled to vote on July 20.
Finally, it will be eventually up to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors to place the measure on the ballot. The supervisors have until Aug. 12.