Members of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, from left, Nathan Magsig, Steve Brandau, Brian Pacheco and Buddy Mendes hold a news conference outside the Hall of Records in downtown Fresno on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (Bee file photo) Credit: Fresno Bee file

What's at stake?

While criticizing the city of Fresno for leaving them out of last Thursday’s crucial 11th-hour negotiations, the county board of supervisors voted to support putting the $6.8 billion spending plan on the November ballot .

The Measure C Renewal transportation expenditure plan moved closer to getting on the ballot this November. In a 4-1 vote, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors approved the spending plan which was written by Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer and approved by the Fresno County Council of Governments last week.

The plan gained the key support of Buddy Mendes, County Supervisor and Fresno County Transportation Authority chairman, who is the crucial swing vote for the Fresno County Transportation Authority’s approval of the spending plan on July 20. 

Mendes’ support significantly boosts the chance that the current plan will get a majority of the votes when the FCTA and the Fresno County Board of Supervisors take up the matter in the next month. 

“The best thing to do, I think, is to forward this thing and let the voters decide,” Mendes said, citing the spending plan’s potential to repave neighborhood roads.  “Let them decide if they want this or not.”

The 30-year spending plan, which economists estimate will raise $6.84 billion over its lifetime, has the power to fundamentally transform Fresno County’s transportation infrastructure by locking in how those dollars are spent until 2057. 

Speaking only at the end of the supervisor’s two-hour debate about the spending plan, Mendes did not spare the board his criticisms of the city of Fresno.

“The biggest problem was the city of Fresno, Mendes said, addressing Fresno City’s 11th-hour changes to the spending plan. “I don’t know if they were asleep. I don’t know what the hell they were doing.”

Playing ‘Santa Claus with the county’s money.’

Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau described the Fresno city plan as “completely different” from FCTA’s original version that was finalized on June 30th, and that it was too late to present a “brand new” plan which played “Santa Claus with the county’s money.” 

“This is a fiasco I can’t support,” Brandau said. “There’s some gross violations going on here about how to proceed, in my opinion.”

According to a number of stories published by the Fresno Bee/Fresnoland over the last few months, the present Measure C renewal process has been fraught with controversy, pitting the government officials designing the measure’s expenditure plan against community based organizations and environmental activists, finally resulting in a last-minute plan advanced by the city of Fresno leaders.

At the heart of the disagreement is whether the public had adequate input in the tax measure and whether the interests of the various communities were considered.

Critics of the new spending plan say that the achievements of the 2006 spending plan – which established funds for public transit and bike routes – would be erased by the committee’s recommendations to prioritize road repair and highway expansion. 

The critics maintain that despite statewide efforts to reduce car travel, expand public transit, and address climate change, the transportation agency executives and elected officials with the most influence on the Measure C update decided to spend most of the 21st century Measure C revenues on Fresno’s 20th century, road-centric infrastructure. 

The plan being considered for approval by voters this November largely focuses on buying the labor and materials to repair and expand Fresno County’s thousands of miles of asphalt and concrete roads, while cutting public transit’s share of revenues by approximately 40%. 

The plan’s proponents cite internal pollster work, which shows that road repair is Fresno County’s top priority.

Critics of the renewal process, however, are worried that the plan’s community engagement process was not thorough, and have called for a delay for Measure C’s renewal to 2024. The current Measure C plan does not expire until 2027.

Community-based organizations, which have emerged as the plan’s most vocal critics, point out that despite the far-reaching consequences of the spending plan, only two nights of in-person community outreach meetings were held during the 18-month drafting process, and community residents never got a chance to look at any draft of the spending plan during those meetings. 

In late June, as the details and ramifications of the spending plan became clear, the Fresno City Council and the Dyer administration took measures to alter the spending plan to address its public criticisms.

Citing the plan’s 38% revenue cut to public transit, Fresno City Council members Miguel Arias and Tyler Maxwell expressed concern that the city would have to cut bus routes and FAX staff or other alternative transit projects.

As a result, on June 30 the city council included $500k for potential Measure C “education” this fall in its annual budget and threatened to write its own city-wide transportation sales tax measure for the November ballot. 

By then, the city planned to oppose Measure C.

Then, in a turn of events last week, Fresno’s Council of Governments — a board of mayors from Fresno County — then approved a new plan that was crafted within the previous two days in a 11-4 vote. Hundreds of people and three hours of public comment nearly unanimously told the board of mayors to hold back from renewing the measure. 

The plan largely worked by giving Fresno County cities more Measure C money, at the expense of revenues that were slated to go to the county. By adjusting its allocation formula for a pot of $4.7 billion, the city’s plan reduced the county’s share of Measure C funds by $187 million.

But the compromises the plan struck to appease both urban and rural mayors on the COG board jeopardized its political viability.

Before Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors vote, the potential dismissal of the plan by key Fresno County Board of Supervisors members, Brandau and Mendes, would have ended the prospects for Measure C’s renewal this year. 

However, like the rural mayors who voted for City Hall’s revised plan without actually reading the plan, the Board of Supervisors found the county’s projected $1.1 billion slice of the Measure’s C’s revenues too difficult to pass up. 

“We were hoodwinked at the last minute,” said Brian Pacheco, county supervisor and chairman, adding that elected officials have a “God-given right” to make last-minute changes to even the most consequential spending plans.

“I like the sausage analogy: we don’t like how it’s made,” he added, “and if you learned how a hot dog is made, nobody would be eating hot dogs. Yet, it’s one of our favorite foods at the baseball game.”

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Gregory Weaver

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