What's at stake:
Community members expressed disappointment that the high stakes Measure C vote was cancelled due to technology failure.
Measure C’s first big political test was postponed Thursday night after tech issues derailed a Fresno Council of Governments meeting. COG stopped its meeting short on Thursday night before it could hold a major vote on the $6.8 billion Measure C transportation spending plan.
The much-anticipated meeting could not be held due to technology issues. From the start, COG staff were unable to live stream the event or use the Spanish translation software for the 250 people who joined the meeting physically and digitally.
The COG’s vote was supposed to be the first step in a series of high-stakes resolutions in the coming weeks that are necessary to renew Measure C this November. The current Measure C spending plan expires in 2027.
Before the meeting, Fresno County youth rallied, criticizing the budget priorities and calling for a delay of the vote to allow COG to conduct sufficient outreach to various communities.
The COG meeting is tentatively rescheduled for July 7 at 5:30 p.m. at the council chambers of the Fresno City Hall. Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer said parking meters around City Hall will not be enforced that night.
‘Zoom is not new’
Fresno County residents, who came to speak about Measure C during public comment, said they were disappointed that COG could not properly conduct a pivotal meeting for the future of Fresno county’s transportation infrastructure.
Rocio Madrigal, an outreach coordinator at Central California Environmental Justice Network, said roughly 100 people had come from West Fresno County to participate in the downtown meeting.
With gas prices at nearly $7 a gallon, she said that the trek to Downtown Fresno is a “financial hardship” for many, and that COGs inability to conduct an orderly meeting with 250 members of the public was unacceptable.
“Zoom is not new,” she said. “We’ve had these Zoom meetings for two years all across the county, and we never had the issues [COG staff] had today.”
Other attendees were unsure they would be able to attend the rescheduled meeting.
“As an elderly person, the hardest part about attending these meetings is finding someone who can coordinate to drive me home late at night,” said Araceli Sanabria, a southeast Fresno resident. “With all the translation problems that happened today, it’s frustrating that we can’t participate.”
Some community residents were skeptical that the COG’s difficulties were by accident.
“This meeting was a complete disaster,” said Lilia Beceril. “I feel like the problems at the meeting were on purpose, so that the community couldn’t be heard.”
She added, “[COG] knows how the community feels about Measure C, but we’re going to come out next meeting and do it all over again.”
Failure to resolve basic technology issues
For over an hour, digital hecklers used the meeting room’s set of TV panels to play random music and draw lewd sketches using the Zoom software. After COG staff tried to solve that issue, people on Zoom complained they could not unmute themselves to speak and others were locked out from joining the meeting remotely.
The software became so dysfunctional, COG could barely conduct a basic roll-call.
Organizational issues plagued the in-person meeting as well. The crowd of roughly 150 county residents and union leaders overwhelmed COG’s modest facilities, which sits above the vacant husk of the old Club One Casino. The meeting room could barely seat a hundred people, and the attendees were eventually dispersed between the main room, two overflow facilities and a packed hallway by the elevator entrance.
Across the rooms and the Zoom meeting, the COG staff were never able to get the Spanish translation software to broadcast properly. Citing a state law which requires translation and accessible streaming options, Kingsburg Mayor Michelle Roman called for the meeting to end early, before COG voted on the Measure C spending plan.
“Unfortunately, under AB 361, the board cannot take action if there are problems with participating,” said Bryan Rome, legal counsel at COG.
Youth rally, held before meeting, criticizes Measure C spending plan
Before the COG meeting, Fresno youth spoke out against the proposed Measure C spending plan in a rally at the Courthouse park. Underneath a canopy of hundred-year-old Valley oaks and western sycamores, they raised homemade banners that read, “Pump the brakes on Measure C” and “Wait: don’t you ‘C’ the problem?”
The rally was a culmination of a multi-day effort by the Fresno Coalition for Responsible Transportation Spending across communities in Fresno county. Over the course of this week, canvassers for Fresno Building Healthy Communities handed out approximately 2,000 fliers across Fresno’s Tower District to alert the neighborhood about the COG meeting and the Measure C spending plan.
At the rally, youth leaders criticized the spending plan and called on Fresno COG and FCTA to delay Measure C’s renewal to 2024. Kato Prado, an organizer at Youth Leadership Institute, described Fresno youth as “a generation sick from pollution they did not make.”
“They are unafraid to tackle head-on a system that was not built for them,” they said. “These are the same young people who have historically advocated for transit systems and sidewalks that are better able to connect people to resources and opportunities like classrooms, workplaces, health centers, and their people. The things that make them strong in their spirit.”
Ashens Limon, 17, criticized FCTA and COG’s latest spending plan for cutting public transit’s share of Measure C revenue by 50%. He said the Measure C renewal can wait until 2024, so COG can seek more community input.
“We deserve more than one [high-frequency] bus route, and we have the right to ask for it,” he said. “Twelve percent of the budget isn’t enough to keep on improving our FAX system for the next 30 years.”
Marysol Madrigal, 18, said that calling for a delay for Measure C’s renewal was not about opposing money for transportation.
“It’s about the old politicians who will not live the consequences of the next 30 years that their spending plans are deciding for us, for me,” she said.
“If this proposed plan moves on,” she added, “we will make things worse by spending most of the money on street repairs.”
“We will have more people driving cars, and our air will continue to be the worst in the country,” Madrigal said. “I do not want Fresno to continue making the same mistake for another 30 years.”