Measure C Math: How Fresno Transferred $20M Away from Neighborhood Improvement
I’m teaching my daughter algebra and she asked me the universal teenage question — when will I ever use this in real life?
Here is a real-world Fresno example:
C + 1 = -20 million;
Where C is Measure C, the Fresno County sales tax up for renewal; where 1 is One Fresno, Mayor Jerry Dyer’s slogan for unity; and $20 million is the amount Dyer took away from a project in my neighborhood to widen Temperance Avenue.
I live in east Fresno, where several orchards have given way to home developments in the past 20 years. Unfortunately, services like parks, bus lines, and widened roads have not followed.
About four years ago, neighbors up and down Temperance Avenue met with our city councilman at the time and city officials about the lack of stop lights and sidewalks, creating traffic and safety issues. City leaders got an earful.
All the new residences have led to the opening of three elementary schools in the last 10-plus years. Yet sidewalks leading to Boris Elementary, at Temperance and Clinton avenues, are limited to the block surrounding the campus.
Traveling Temperance from Shields Avenue to Highway 180 used to take five minutes. Now, that time has increased and is much worse during rush hour.
A line-item in the latest Measure C proposal could have fixed that. A $30 million project was on the books. Two lanes between Highway 180 and Clinton Avenue would expand to six with a median. The improvements would include bike lanes, a trail, sidewalks, curbs, and gutters.
Hours before a government agency was to approve the Measure C spending plan, Dyer and the city proposed a new plan, removing $20 million from the Temperance Avenue project to go elsewhere in the city. The city also changed the spending formula, giving more to cities and less to unincorporated areas.
Dyer told me he needed to balance spending in the city’s rural outskirts with the urban areas.
“(City councilmembers) should have a say so within the city. I’m the mayor, but I’m not a dictator,” Dyer said. “We want to focus on neighborhoods within our existing neighborhoods and making sure that those streets are paved, that we’re minimizing congestion, but we don’t want to forsake the future either. So it’s going to be a balance and we’ll figure out ways to get where we need to go. But trying to satisfy everybody’s desire in this is very challenging.”
Temperance Neighborhood Not Happy
That move did not go over well with neighbors I asked on a local Facebook group.
“I can honestly say the sidewalks or lack of sidewalks on the southeast corner of Temperance has been an issue. I think the streets should be widened and sidewalks available for foot traffic,” Christine Meza said.
“I believe with the fast growth that has occurred, we need to get (to) work on widening the Temperance from (Highway) 180 to Shields. That is a must. Please include sidewalks as well with bike trail,” Janet Haro wrote.
What would Dyer say to those neighbors?
“We’re trying to make up for the sins of our past, which was urban sprawl, which was allowing the freeways to expand so much that many of our neighborhoods got left behind in terms of development because people were developing on the fringes. We’re trying to correct some of that now,” Dyer said.
Dyer said he wants to work with developers, state and federal funding, and Measure C to “relieve congestion in those neighborhoods as well.”
$45 Million Allocated to Other City Projects
The late changes to the Measure C renewal were made in part by the Fresno city council’s transportation committee, consisting of Miguel Arias, Tyler Maxwell and Esmeralda Soria.
I wanted to ask Soria about the Temperance change at a recent FCTA meeting.
“I didn’t do my hair. I had a long night,” she said scampering out of the room.
Most of the residents who live in and around Temperance Avenue are now represented by Councilman Nelson Esparza.
“I think it’s clear that the decision-making happens largely outside of the individual legislative bodies,” Esparza said in a text. “My understanding of the latest language is that there’s some flexibility in the city’s resources. To whatever degree is possible, I will explore if it is still possible to fund that project.”
I understand One Fresno can be a hard goal to achieve. Especially when spending millions of dollars.
Dyer has tough decisions to make about where to spend money, that’s what he gets paid to do. But, it is hard to justify taking millions away from a project that the residents have been seeking for years.
The city also removed $25 million for lane-expansion projects on Grantland Avenue. The $45 million between the shuttered Temperance and Grantland projects will instead be spent on “east/west corridors west of (Highway) 99” ($40 million) and “Blackstone BRT Corridor, Smart Mobility improvements” ($5 million).
Dyer supports allocating Measure C dollars to densely populated areas of Fresno.
“It’s important that the streets are taken care of, the infrastructure is in place to allow the development, but that we also have public transportation available to those particular areas. Measure C supports all of that,” Dyer said.
Dyer admittedly says there is not enough money to address all of Fresno’s projects. I wish one project did not have to be pitted against another.