Fresno County’s mayors met Thursday night in downtown Fresno to discuss the renewal of the multi-billion dollar transportation tax, Measure C.
After the tax measure’s extension defeat in 2022, supporters met with opponents to develop a framework to increase public input on how Measure C money should be spent.
Supporters from the Yes On Measure C campaign chose five representatives and opponents from the #Transportation4All Coalition chose five representatives to huddle.
Nine of the 10 representatives supported a plan adding several layers of input to the method of selecting Measure C projects.
But one of the representatives, former Fresno City Councilman and County Supervisor Henry R. Perea, warned the compromise takes power away from the Fresno Council of Governments and gives it to unelected residents.
He said conservative voices opposed to Measure C — who made up the strongest opposition to the tax’s renewal — were not included in the decision-making process.
And, the transit projects some community groups have called for with Measure C fall outside the measure’s original intent, he said.
“The reason why you’re here is because of people that voted for you, your communities gave you the responsibility to make decisions on their behalf,” Perea said. “This document takes that away from you.”
Community Forum Would Decide How to Spend Measure C Money
The half-cent sales tax is set to expire in 2027. Wanting to get ahead of the due date, the Fresno County Transportation Authority, which oversees Measure C, ran a renewal campaign in 2022 that earned 58% support —well short of the necessary two-thirds for approval.
While previous Measure C dollars went to build out Fresno’s highway system, proponents advertised Measure C as focusing on repaving roads.
Some of the most vocal opposition to Measure C claimed that money wasn’t being spent equitably. Groups said funding wasn’t going to rural and poorer communities.
“We were not part of the process,” said Eliseo Gamino with the Central Valley Leadership Round Table. “We have a lot of issues in Mendota, Firebaugh, San Joaquin.”
The plan the group of 10 came up with added several layers of community input, drafters, and administrators that would select projects for approval.
Members of the group described the first meetings as hostile.
“We went into this not knowing whether we could have good ongoing communication,” said Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer.
“You know how hard it is for me and Dyer to sit at the table,” said Gloria Hernandez, a community organizer with Mothers Helping Mothers.
Clovis Mayor Lynne Ashbeck said the group came to an agreement on how Measure C should work.
“If there’s any takeaway from all this in my mind, it’s one group coming forward with this kind of a framework,” Ashbeck said.
Veronica Garibay, co-director of the Leadership Council for Justice and Accountability, said a community forum of Fresno County residents and stakeholders would decide on what Measure C money should be focused on.
A 14-member administrative team, which includes members of the group of 10, would be in charge of facilitating a community forum.
A drafting team would create language from the community forum and present it to the COG and the Fresno County Transportation Authority.
“The community forum will be a series of meetings where the public can come and help establish the goals, priorities, and outcomes of the measure,” Garibay said.
Perea: Whoever ‘Talks the Loudest, They Control the Dialogue’
While the item was informational for COG members, eventually the plan would go before them to vote on. Many members seemed amenable to the plan details.
But Perea warned the various mayors that within the bureaucratic process is the ability of non-elected community groups to wield outsized control over them in crafting the future of Measure C.
“I can tell you, they are very strategic and they are three steps ahead of you, I know that. And if you pass this document, you’re going to be in a box,” Perea said. “Whoever these 10 people are going to be, I just don’t think you want to give that kind of authority to people who aren’t elected.”
Perea said the current process to get Measure C approved already works. He said elected officials who make up Fresno COG are the best to represent their communities. He said the mayors could decide on how a community forum could be held.
But the proposed plan would take power away from the COG and give it to the group of 10.
And the bureaucratic process can be taken over, Perea said. Those who have time to show up to the most meetings would have control over the decision over how future Measure C money should be spent.
“We all know a lot of times folks don’t come to meetings for a variety of reasons, so it becomes whoever really does take the time to go to meetings and talk the loudest, they control the dialogue,” Perea said.
It’s still unclear what would be presented to the community forum for discussion. Who would be invited and how big the forum would be also are unclear.
Garibay declined an interview with GV Wire.
And, while the group of 10 was supposed to be inclusive, no one reached out to conservative groups who opposed Measure C.
“Common sense would tell you, you’ve got to talk to them, why did you not support it?” Perea said. “You probably want the Lincoln Club, the Clovis Chamber of Commerce, the industrial groups that represent businesses, no one’s talked to them.”
Measure C Focus Could be Shifted Away from Roads
Groups officially opposed to the Measure C extension wanted to see more money spent on clean air initiatives and transit projects.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, along with the No on Measure C 2022, weighed in saying traditional transportation investments “exacerbated the region’s air quality issues.”
Gloria Hernandez, president of Mothers Helping Mothers and a member of the group of 10, said she wants to see more public transportation dollars in Measure C. She spoke of transit in China and New Jersey.
“Why can’t we have the same?” Hernandez said.
Sher Moua of the Youth Leadership Institute said young people rely on public transportation to move throughout the county. And young people need a voice like that in the community forum.
“They are going to be bearing the brunt of climate change,” Moua said.
Perea worried the discussion of climate change could change the scope of Measure C away from its original intent of fixing roads.
However, because of a lack of trust in the community, control over the renewal process would shift to community groups.
“There’s no trust by elements of the community, of the current board, their processes, et cetera. What they’re saying is ‘we can’t trust you, so we’re going to create our own process and move forward,'” Perea said. “I mean, I can understand why they’re doing it, but I think there’s a lot of danger in that.”