Photo of people sitting and holding signs at a Fresno COG meeting.
Fresno County residents held up signs protesting the 2022 Measure C renewal behind Mike Leonardo, the executive director of the Fresno County Transportation Authority. Fresno COG meeting, June 30. Credit: Gregory Weaver

What's at stake:

After the state's top lawyer weighed in on Measure C this morning, the Fresno City Council said they know their constituents best.

The Fresno City Council voted 5-1 on Thursday afternoon to put Mayor Jerry Dyer’s 11th-hour Measure C transportation spending plan on the November ballot, despite a request by California’s Attorney General Rob Bonta that the council delay its approval until a better public process and environmental review was conducted.  

Fresno council member Miguel Arias was the lone no vote, and council president Nelson Esparaza abstained from the vote.

The plan faces its final vote Friday afternoon when the Fresno County Board of Supervisors is widely expected to approve the plan.

“Local politicians failed Fresno County residents, yet again,” stated Sandra Celedon, president and CEO of Fresno Building Healthy Communities in a released statement. “. . . Even a cautionary letter from Attorney General Rob Bonta went ignored.”

Despite months of criticisms about the $7 billion spending plan from various communities and the 36-member Fresno Coalition for Responsible Transportation Spending, the council members justified their support for the plan by emphasizing its workforce development benefits. 

Council member Tyler Maxwell said “putting people back to work” during a “recession” was his strongest motivation for his support to renew Measure C this Fall, despite Fresno County’s unemployment rate sitting at 5.8%, a 32-year low

“The money we have divided among the different [spending categories] is not necessarily the proportions I want,” said Maxwell, who has been one of the plan’s biggest critics for its 40% cut to public transit. “But ultimately, there are too many good things in here that I can’t ignore.”

Despite letter by attorney general, Fresno City Council stands firm on Measure C plan

The elephant in the room on Thursday afternoon was whether a letter from the state’s attorney general would convince the City Council members to withdraw their support of voting for the Measure C plan. 

The spending plan, which a coalition of community organizations point out, will allocate hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in its Tier 2 project list to highway interchanges for new industrial and warehouse development in the state’s most pollution-burdened neighborhoods, drew a critical eye from Attorney General Bonta on Thursday morning.

Projects on the Tier 2 list are not guaranteed to be funded through the life of the 30 year tax, according to the spending plan. But the plan notes that one of the interchanges proposed by Caltrans near Malaga, near industrial development, is dependent on the voters approving Measure C this fall.

Bonta called on the council to delay their approval of Measure C’s renewal until they made steps to “incorporate adequate public input and carefully develop this critical measure.” 

Among Bonta’s concerns were the plan’s cuts to public transit, the city’s lack of clarity regarding the environmental impacts of new road projects, and “a lack of adequate public process.” 

Friday is the deadline for all  approval to get Measure C on the Fall ballot, and Bonta’s letter was a strong push to get the council to hold off renewing Measure C until 2024.

But at the council meeting, Esmeralda Soria said that while she appreciated input from “outside state officials,” she knows the challenges of her constituents most intimately. 

Echoing Maxwell, Soria said putting unemployed or underemployed people to work as soon as possible should be prioritized. She also downplayed the ability for Measure C to have a decisive impact on the public health challenges created from “poor planning way before my time.”

“I also believe that Measure C is not the panacea for fixing the significant challenges that not just the City of Fresno has, but also Fresno County.” Soria said. “I’m not going to sit here and tell my constituents I’m going to fix all the problems that everyone else created for me.” 

Miguel Arias withdraws support for Measure C, citing inadequate funds for safe school routes

The major commitment that the proposed Measure C spending plan makes is to local road improvements. It is projected that the proposed measure will deliver up to $1.6 billion to the City of Fresno for local street improvements. 

Miguel Arias, however, took issue that only 20% of the street improvement funds can be used to build and repair sidewalks. 

Arias said that Mike Leonardo, the executive director of the Fresno County Transportation Authority, was imposing a limit on how much the city could spend on sidewalks. 

Referring to Leonardo as “some bureaucrat in some place, an unelected individual,” Arias said the plan, as designed, would leave the county with more kids without safe routes to school over the next 30 years.

“It’s basic math; there’s no way that a million dollars a year can satisfy the dozens of schools that don’t have sidewalks and safe routes now,” he said. “They would just permanently have no sidewalks.”

Leonardo said the decision to cap the share of street improvement funds going to sidewalks came from a discussion with Scott Mozier, Fresno City’s public works director, and that his staff ran with Mozier’s 20% ballpark figure.

In the end, Arias said that Measure C is not ready for voters to consider this Fall. 

“There seems to be this artificial push to get this before the voters without spending the time that’s necessary.” Arias said. “I don’t know when it became a standard to ask voters to renew a tax five years before it expired.”

Editors note: This story was updated to provide additional information about the proposed highway interchanges near industrial development in Malaga and south Fresno.

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Gregory Weaver

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