During this week's city of Fresno budget hearings, community members voiced concerns about a change that limited public comments to three minutes at the start of each meeting, rather than per department.

June 5, 2023 — Fresno City Council Budget Hearings

Documented by Josef Sibala, Anthony Corda, & Andy Hansen-Smith

What happened: The city of Fresno’s budget hearings began on Monday morning and continued Thursday as each department head presented their portion of the city’s record $1.85 billion proposed budget for the 2024 fiscal year.

A noticeable change in the city’s hearing process was a lack of public comment period following each department’s budget presentation, which limited community members to just three minutes per day at the beginning of the meeting, rather than per department as it has been done in the past. 

During Tuesday’s meeting, several community members commented on the change from prior budget hearings, some noting that it was a step further away from a participatory budget process. 

“Not having the public comment during each item keeps people from giving more detailed, thoughtful responses in each of the departments and I ask that that be extended during each department,” said community advocate Brandi Nuse-Villegas.

Robert McCloskey with the Fresno Homeless Union and Community Alliance agreed saying, “We should have public testimony for each topic on this, but so be it.”

Ashley Crystal Rojas spoke via Zoom and also commented on the choice of the council to hold budget presentations during weekday mornings when many are working.

“Glad to make the call for our so-called participatory budget process that is inaccessible to the majority of our community as these meetings take place during the time when most people are working one, if not more, jobs to survive in our local economy where homelessness has grown 30%,” she said.

Lisa Flores also questioned the allotment of just three minutes per day for public comments on the budget.

“This three minutes for a global discussion of what citizens’ concerns are, you guys can do better, come on,” Flores said.

And also: The majority of community members used their three-minute public comment period to ask that funding be allocated for rent control, affordable housing, resources for the unhoused, LGBTQ+ resources, and express opposition to over policing, and the HART homeless team.

Additionally, many spoke in support and against allocations in the Parks, After School, Recreation & Community Services Department budget for pickleball courts.

Nishea Balajadia with Mighty Community Advocacy called the proposed budget “violent” in a city without a safe lot, 30% unhoused student population, and prevalence of adolescent births.

“The city of Fresno continues to be, again, optical in equity at best,” Balajadia said. “You’re being called on by your constituents to fund community solutions and organizations, listen.”

Up next: The city of Fresno’s budget process will continue on June 14 at 9 a.m. when the council will vote on motions proposed during the hearings. The final budget will then be voted on during the regular council meetings at 9 a.m. on June 22 and June 29.

Read live-tweets from the budget hearings:

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The Fresno Documenters are a group of local residents who are trained and paid to attend and take notes at local public meetings where officials decide how to spend public money and make important decisions...