A 2007 report on Measure C boasts of freeway expansion. Credit: Fresno County Transportation Authority

What's at stake?

After over a year of criticism for a process that advocates say lacks transparency and inclusion, the Fresno City Council is set to consider a resolution to oppose the current version of Measure C at their June 9 meeting.

The Fresno County Board of Supervisors has yet to decide to put Measure C – a $6.8 billion transportation spending plan – on the ballot for this November. But significant opposition is mounting from the public as well as from some members of the Fresno City Council. 

At a meeting held in downtown Fresno on May 26, county residents expressed frustration, claiming that the community outreach of the Measure C renewal process was inadequate. Speaker after speaker called on the Fresno County Council of Governments to delay the public vote on the renewal by two years. 

“I think how outreach has been done has been a major call for question,” said Naindeep Singh, executive director of the Jakara Movement. “Signatures were being collected, but with very little conversation or engagement. And later, when people found out what [the expenditure plan] was about, they actually felt as if the [renewal process] was not properly sharing information.” 

Some members of the Fresno City Council appear to agree. The body will vote on a resolution June 9, calling on the ballot measure to be delayed to 2024.  The current Measure C sunsets in 2027 without an extension.

If the majority of the city council supports the resolution, as much as $300,000 in city funds could be used to finance community engagement efforts for Measure C’s renewal in 2024.

“We really need a robust, meaningful civic engagement process,” said Pedro Navarro Cruz, a Fresno-based organizer with Communities for a New California Education Fund. “We know what it feels like to actually be included, and what it feels like to be undermined or tokenized, and we very much feel that’s what’s going on right now.” 

“There’s strong reservations about this plan”

In the hour-long train of testimony to the board of county mayors at COG, nearly all of the residents who spoke, talked about a failed community engagement process and the misplaced spending priorities that shaped Measure C’s proposed 30-year spending plan.

A a crowd of roughly 100 people who called in from a packed community room at Fresno Building Healthy Communities headquarters took turns at a laptop to tell the assembly of mayors that they will not support Measure C’s renewal this fall.

“We could have done more community input,” said Jasreet Ghor, a member of the Punjabi-Sikh community.  “There’s strong reservations about this plan within our community and all across the county.” 

Two weeks ago, the Fresno Coalition for Responsible Transportation Spending submitted a letter to the two major agency boards, urging a two-year delay to vote on Measure C. The letter stated that more time was needed to incorporate community needs around complete streets, street maintenance and public transit into the transportation spending plan.

In the wake of the letter, four members of the coalition – Veronica Garibay of Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, Sandra Celedon of Fresno Building Healthy Communities, Nayamin Martinez of  Central California Environmental Justice Network, and Leticia Valencia of Faith in the Valley – resigned their Measure C executive committee spots. 

More organizations could pull their support from Measure C soon.

Fresno City Council delays vote on Measure C resolution until June 9

At the May 26 City Council meeting, members expressed their own concerns about the Measure C renewal process.

“Seven billion dollars, a 30-year tax, and six weeks before the Board of Supervisors votes to it, and [the renewal committee] just figures out a formula which hasn’t even been presented to the largest city in the county,” said Miguel Arias, council representative for District 3. “That’s a problem.”

Echoing Arias, Councilman Tyler Maxwell criticized a recent quote attributed to Tony Boren, executive director of the Fresno County Council of Government overseeing the Measure C renewal process, in which Boren said that getting people out of cars and into buses was an “idyllic dream.”

“That’s really disheartening,” Maxwell said. “I’d like to know what the average income is of the families that [Boren] surveyed, because I can tell you my working-class, blue-collar families in District 4 rely heavily on the bus.”

Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer, a key representative of the Measure C renewal executive committee, told the City Council that public criticisms of the proposed Measure C expenditure plan were distorted. He cited potential benefits like the percentage of the Measure C revenue that could benefit central Fresno’s dilapidated neighborhood streets. 

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there about what the expenditure plan does and doesn’t do,” Dyer said at the City Council meeting. 

At the meeting, council members were mixed on what to think of the expenditure plan. 

As part of a compromise with conservative councilmember Mike Karbassi, the City Council agreed to delay an official vote on a resolution sponsored by Arias, who has become an outspoken critic of the Measure C process. His resolution claims the current Measure C spending proposal “fails to address the needs” of Fresno’s existing road network and “threatens the fiscal health” of the city. He argues it underfunds local street maintenance and burdens future generations with more-costly road repair bills.

Karbassi said he did not know what was on the proposed Measure C expenditure plan and suggested that Tony Boren and Mike Leonardo, the executive director of the Fresno County Transportation Agency, present the key details of proposed Measure C spending plan to the Council before they voted on Arias’ resolution. 

The resolution claims that the proposed Measure C spending plan is a missed opportunity. Despite its potential to strengthen the economy, create jobs, clean up air pollution and make streets safer, the resolution says the spending plan instead directs its revenues to Fresno’s suburban fringe. This leaves existing city neighborhood streets “without repair, underfunds the development of complete neighborhood streets … and does not prioritize strategic regional growth.”

“The proposed Measure C renewal allocation plan reduces future public transit investments by 50% and active infrastructure investments by more than 83%, compared to the current expenditure plan,” Arias’ resolution states. “[The plan] focuses on capacity-increasing projects and fails to consider pollution levels and impacts of climate change.”

The resolution calls on the agencies overseeing the Measure C renewal process, the Fresno County Council of Governments and the Fresno County Transportation Authority, to reject November 2022 as a suitable date to put the expenditure plan on the ballot.

Instead, it requests FCTA and COG to obtain more community feedback across the county and develop a new expenditure plan for approval in November 2024. 

The City Council resolution proposes that the 2024 expenditure plan direct more money to repair roads in established Fresno neighborhoods, create safe routes to schools, and restore active and public transit resources in neighborhoods that lack proper transportation infrastructure.

COG and FCTA will meet with the Council’s Transportation Committee before June 9 to discuss the proposed Measure C renewal spending plan.

The City Council will then listen to a public presentation by Boren and Leonardo at the June 9 meeting and vote on Arias’ resolution after that. 

 “The fact is that this train is moving pretty fast. This body has not had a discussion [about Measure C],” Arias said. 

“But ultimately, I’m the one that has to answer to the 95-year-old WWII veteran who’s been waiting 40 years to get their street repaved, and who was promised that it would be done 40 years ago, and is still waiting.”

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Gregory Weaver

Gregory Weaver is a freelance journalist who covers the environment, air quality, and development for Fresnoland.