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Coalinga Council Opposes Fresno State Sales Tax, Says It Would Siphon Money Out of Small Towns
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By Edward Smith
Published 2 months ago on
February 16, 2024

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The Coalinga City Council on Thursday opposed a .25% sales tax that would fund Fresno State construction and maintenance projects.

Councilmembers say the sales tax would take money out of small towns and not provide enough of a benefit in return.

One councilmember says the controversy surrounding Measure E backer Richard Spencer caused him to oppose the tax.


The Coalinga City Council on Thursday voted to oppose the sales tax measure funding construction and maintenance projects at Fresno State.

“We have a major developer, (Richard) Spencer, that decided this (Measure E) was a great idea to run. It failed the first time it ran and then the $81,000 was put in to put people on the board and now you have these politicians that decided to back this, that’s very interesting.” — Coalinga City Councilmember Nathan Vosburg

The four councilmembers present agreed that Measure E siphoned money out of Coalinga and did not provide services in return.

Councilmember Nathan Vosburg went further, saying the measure did not provide necessary oversight. He also expressed concern that the sales tax’s biggest backer, developer Richard Spencer, had a history of benefiting from school construction contracts.

Vosburg also opposed the option for oversight committee members to pay themselves up to $81,000 a year.

The council approved the resolution opposing Measure E 4-0, with councilmember Jose Manny Ramirez absent.

“Fresno will be the beneficiary of these tax dollars when they build their new programs over there,” Vosburg said. “It’s going to entice more people to leave small towns and go to Fresno and when they do, when they spend their money over there for going to these projects and services, they’re going to reap the benefits, not Coalinga.”

Not Enough Benefit to Coalinga: City Council

Measure E would add a .25% sales tax to support new academic and athletic facilities at Fresno State. The tax would raise approximately $63 million annually over the measure’s 25-year lifespan. It will appear on the March 5 Fresno County primary ballot.

Coalinga Councilmembers all said Measure E would draw money from the city and not provide enough of a benefit in return.

“This measure right here is going to pull anywhere from $1.5 to $2 billion, just for this measure right here to go to one school and every city in Fresno County will have to cover it even if they don’t utilize it,” said Mayor James Horn. “And people around here, most citizens can’t afford it.”

The resolution stated that only a small percentage of Coalinga residents attend Fresno State.

The resolution also stated that supporters of the measure didn’t get local feedback about how the money should be spent.

Vosburg said they should have included funds for programs at West Hills College.

“If it’s not benefitting our city; they don’t need to take our money,” said councilmember Lennie Hitchcock.

Coalinga voters largely opposed the first iteration of Measure E. The two voter precincts in the area reported 61.64% opposed and 56.34% opposed, according to a heat map from the Fresno County Clerk/Registrar of Voters.

A heat map shows how Coalinga residents — in the circled area — largely opposed the first version of Measure E in November 2022. (Fresno County Clerk/Registrar of Voters)

Councilmember Brings Up Spencer’s Past

Richard Spencer, founder of Spencer Enterprises and owner of Harris Construction, funded the first version of Measure in 2022 largely single-handedly. The measure failed with 52.86% of people voting against it.

The newest version has more diverse financial backing, but Spencer-related entities have provided the lion’s share of funding. Kerman-based MEC Aerial Lift Platforms, owned by Spencer and Chinese investors, has donated $1.2 million to the campaign, by far the greatest amount.

In May 2023, the California Supreme Court invalidated a $36.7 million “lease-leaseback” construction contract between Harris Construction and Fresno Unified School District to build Gaston Middle School. The contract, executed in 2012, is still being litigated.

Vosburg said he didn’t support the first version of Measure E because of that controversy, saying the same thing could happen at Fresno State.

“We have a major developer, Spencer, that decided this (Measure E) was a great idea to run,” Vosburg said in the meeting. “It failed the first time it ran and then the $81,000 was put in to put people on the board and now you have these politicians that decided to back this, that’s very interesting.”

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Edward Smith,
Multimedia Journalist
Edward Smith began reporting for GV Wire in May 2023. His reporting career began at Fresno City College, graduating with an associate degree in journalism. After leaving school he spent the next six years with The Business Journal, doing research for the publication as well as covering the restaurant industry. Soon after, he took on real estate and agriculture beats, winning multiple awards at the local, state and national level. You can contact Edward at 559-440-8372 or at Edward.Smith@gvwire.com.

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