Many in the community spoke out against the Measure C initiative, urging for time to study before the Council of Governments voted for it to be on the ballot this fall during a meeting Thursday, July 7, 2022 in Fresno. Credit: Eric Zamora

What's at stake?

The final bureaucratic approval to place the measure before Fresno County voters this fall is on Aug. 9, when the Fresno County Board of Supervisors is widely expected to approve the plan.

Measure C passed one of its last hurdles to get on the November ballot on Wednesday, when a majority of the Fresno County Transportation Authority board voted 7-1 to approve the $6.8-billion transportation spending plan. Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau, representing urban north Fresno, was the lone opposition vote.

The final bureaucratic approval to place the measure before Fresno County voters this fall is on Aug. 9, when the Fresno County Board of Supervisors is widely expected to approve the plan.

Buddy Mendes, FCTA chairman, said that the public criticisms of the spending plan should not overshadow the billions of dollars Measure C will bring to Fresno County.

“At the end of the day, you need some sausage to eat,” he said.

FCTA blasts community organizers for recent problems

Before the vote, however, a majority of the FCTA board blamed local community-based organizations for recent controversies swirling around the plan.

Lynn Ashbeck, FCTA vice-chair and chair of the Measure C renewal executive committee, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer, Steve Brandau and Mendes of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, said that a group of community-based organizations were responsible for most of the last-minute changes to the Measure C spending plan and its lackluster community engagement process.

Turning away from the board members to address representatives from Leadership Counsel and Fresno Building Healthy Communities directly, Ashbeck, who is also Valley Children’s chief community impact officer, said, “The inability of your constituents to have their voices heard is a result of your performance in this process.”

“If you had spent as much time bringing people here to oppose the measure to help us shape [the spending plan], we might be in a different place.”

Brandau thanked Ashbeck for “exposing the undermining of the process that often goes on in community engagement.”

Dyer admitted he had been largely quiet during the 18-months of executive committee meetings, adding that it was “extremely frustrating” to sit through the community groups’ incessant criticisms, which prevented the renewal committee from “getting to the substance” of Measure C.

Mendes, the last of the four-member FCTA bloc to speak on the matter against the community organizations, was the most direct in his condemnation.

Mendes said, “It was a horrible process.”

FCTA vote comes after months of public controversy

Before the community organizations emerged as a topic of discussion, FCTA’s meeting to approve Fresno County’s half-cent transportation sales tax passed mostly as a formality.

Mike Leonardo, the executive director of FCTA, recited his 20-minute presentation about the timeline and details of the 30-year spending plan. During public comments, community organizations and local Carpenters Union 701 called on the transportation board to wait until 2024 to renew Measure C. Buddy Mendes, FCTA chair, even knew most of the commenters by name.

But once Ashbeck condemned the community group’s comportment during the Measure C renewal, FCTA leaders quickly joined in, declaring the community groups as the source of the plan’s public problems.

The Fresnoland stories over the last few months have detailed how the Measure C renewal process has been fraught with controversy. The lines of opposition pit government officials, who designed the measure’s expenditure plan, against community based organizations and environmental activists.

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.

They 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 polls, which claim that road repair is the top priority for Fresno County residents.

Opponents of this year’s renewal process, however, say 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.

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 on July 8, Fresno’s Council of Governments — a board of mayors from Fresno County — approved a new plan that was crafted within the previous 48 hours 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.

In order for the plans to win over the rural mayor’s approval, Dyer’s revised plan redistributed county Measure C funds to city agencies. 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.

Brandau said during the FCTA vote that this last-minute change “may or may not have been legal.”

Despite the headwinds of opposition, Fresno city councilmember Esmeralda Soria was proud of the plan.

“The process, to some degree, worked,” Soria said. “What I’ve learned in my time as a policy-maker here is that we cannot allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.”

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Gregory Weaver

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

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