A projected $7 billion transportation tax that could shape road building, mass transit, and maintenance for a generation is one step closer to the ballot.
The Fresno County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Tuesday to advance a spending plan on the renewal of Measure C, the half-cent transportation sales tax on the books since 1986.
The current version expires in 2027. Measure C leaders have been pushing for a November 2022 renewal to take advantage of project costs they say will only go up. Boosters also want to avoid a 2024 presidential ballot they predict will be “divisive.”
The Measure C renewal would be for 30 years (2027-2057), raising an estimated $6.8 billion. Nearly 70% will go to “local” projects (up from 31% in the current version). That means more spending on paving and maintenance of local roads and sidewalks.
Less money (15%, down from 30%) will go for “regional” projects such as new highway lanes.
Multiple government agencies need to give their thumbs up on the spending plan for it to reach the ballot. Last week, the Fresno Council of Governments — an agency made up of the 15 incorporated cities of Fresno County and the county itself — approved the plan 11-4.
The Fresno County Transportation Authority is scheduled to vote on the plan on Wednesday, July 20. If it passes FCTA, the Board of Supervisors would have to vote by Aug. 12 to place the measure on the November ballot.
If the renewal reaches voters, it needs two-thirds approval.
City of Fresno’s Maneuvering Questioned
Hours before the COG vote last week, the city of Fresno presented major changes to the spending formula, to allocate more money for the cities and less for the county.
The city wanted the street repair formula to be based 80% on population/20% on road miles (up from 75/25 in the Fresno COG plan). Measure C leaders negotiated the split to 78/22.
Under the city’s alternate plan, all 15 cities would benefit with more money at the expense of unincorporated areas in the county. In total, the cities would share $187 million more in local funds.
Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer justified the change by saying more county land would be annexed into cities. The tax-sharing revenue generated would offset the reallocation of funds, he said.
Mike Leonardo, executive director of FCTA, presented to the supervisors a technical account of the changes proposed by the city of Fresno and passed by the Fresno COG board.
He said he and Fresno COG executive director Tony Boren were in “an odd position,” balancing the city of Fresno’s needs versus other jurisdictions.
“With Mayor Dyer and the council opposed to Measure C, trying to get it passed in 2022 … it would be difficult to do. I won’t say it’s impossible, but it would be difficult to do,” Leonardo said.
During the county supervisors’ debate on Tuesday, the city’s move was called a “sh*tshow,” a “flip flop,” and the city “hoodwinked” the county.
Brandau Blasts City
Supervisor Steve Brandau criticized the city’s presentation of a new plan on the day of a key vote.
“We weren’t at the table, because we were on the menu,” Brandau said about not being part of the city’s new plan. “It’s very late in the game to start talking about a brand new plan.”
Brandau didn’t blame other Fresno COG members — mayors of cities in the county — for supporting the new plan.
“The city of Fresno played fast and loose with the county of Fresno’s money, and they were like playing the role of Santa Claus, passing out gifts. But it was not with their own hard-earned money,” Brandau said.
Supervisors Sal Quintero, Buddy Mendes, and Brian Pacheco were uncomfortable with the process. They all said a version of “the voters will decide.”
Pacheco was critical of the city’s process but acknowledged that the incorporated cities he represents will benefit.
“I don’t think there is a perfect solution on anything, but maybe this is the best we got,” Pacheco said.
Public Criticizes Spending Plan, Process
Although they were not as voluminous and passionate as at last week’s Fresno COG meeting, community activists articulated their opposition to Measure C.
Veronica Garibay, executive director of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, advocated for more money for smaller neighborhoods.
“This does not merely go far enough,” Garibay said.
Her colleague at LCJA, Ashley Werner, warned of legal problems based on a lack of environmental review, and alleged violations of open meeting laws.
Several supervisors responded that they never spoke with others, specifically the city of Fresno, outside open meeting rules.
Marianne Kast with the League of Women Voters said public outreach was insufficient.
Meanwhile, Brandau called the complaints “disingenuous,” saying that many community groups were included in the process to craft Measure C but quit at the end.