What's at stake:
South Fresno councilmembers have sounded the alarm on more infrastructure needs in their districts. Will the council budget subcommittee accomodate their asks while trying to balance the budget over the next week?
Debate over street repairs and which Fresno neighborhoods should be prioritized have taken center stage in budget hearings this month, but most of those discussions will happen behind closed doors with little public participation or scrutiny.
Over the next week, the city council’s budget subcommittee will meet with Mayor Jerry Dyer’s administration to balance his $1.85 billion proposed budget — which he released last month — with more than 120 budget motions from city councilmembers.
The council’s three-member budget subcommittee — composed of Council President Tyler Maxwell, Vice President Annalisa Perea and Councilmember Mike Karbassi — began meeting with Dyer’s administration on Friday.
While the discussions are happening behind closed doors, all the decision-making will occur in public, according to Maxwell. The two sides will meet three more times ahead of Thursday’s regular city council meeting when the subcommittee will present its budget recommendations for the full council to vote on publicly.
“I believe we’re close to $140 million over a balanced budget right now with all the motions that have been made to date,” Maxwell told Fresnoland on Thursday. “Our job will be to either remove some of the mayor’s items and replace them with our own or take out some of the council motions.”
All four subcommittee meetings are closed to the public and agendas, minutes, and attendance won’t be released.
Maxwell said the budget subcommittee meetings aren’t subject to California’s Brown Act because only three of the city’s seven councilmembers participate — not enough for a quorum. He described the subcommittee as a temporary ad-hoc body that makes no final decisions.
“As with any subcommittee, it’s just a recommendation because it’s less than four members,” Maxwell said. “It really doesn’t hold a lot of weight other than this is a recommendation from your president and vice president.”
However, making every councilmember happy with whatever the subcommittee brings forth will be challenging, and street repair funding remains a major sticking point.
“It’s unfortunate that Measure C, in my opinion, didn’t pass in 2022,” Maxwell said. “That would have allowed us to start bonding against future dollars yesterday. We could have funded a lot more of these public works projects when it comes to streets when it comes to sidewalks — which is what consumes most of our budget motions.”
Councilmembers Miguel Arias, Luis Chavez and Nelson Esparza make up just over half of all budget motions seeking new street repaving projects. That’s no surprise, as the three held a June 1 news conference, slamming Dyer’s proposed budget as “dead on arrival” for what they said was a failure to prioritize infrastructure needs in South Fresno.
However, a breakdown of future street repair projects and their costs by council district shows that more street infrastructure investments are being made in South Fresno than elsewhere in the city, in large part thanks to federal and state grants, according to Public Works Director Scott Mozier’s budget presentation.
Arias’ district would get the biggest chunk of infrastructure dollars allocated for repaving streets in next year’s proposed budget. Arias, Esparza and Chavez’s districts account for 55% of the money allocated for repaving streets in the proposed budget.
With Perea’s district, the four southernmost city council districts in Fresno would get about 75% of funding out of the total $51 million budgeted for repaving streets.
Maxwell said that while he empathizes with his colleagues in South Fresno, he said it’s “asinine” to suggest dollars aren’t being invested in South Fresno based on the figures from the Department of Public Works.
However, Arias told Fresnoland it’s important to understand how those investments are broken down. He said that while South Fresno council districts are getting more funding for street repair projects, most of that funding is coming from federal and state levels, not from the city’s general fund. He wants to see that change going forward.
“It is accurate to say that the federal and state governments have made an unprecedented investment into South Fresno neighborhoods,” Arias said. “But it is not true to say that the city of Fresno has prioritized South Fresno because not one dollar of those resources are from the city’s general fund, or even from Measure C Flexible Funds.”
Chavez also told Fresnoland that current investments in South Fresno are not enough to reverse several decades of disinvestment in South Fresno.
“When you neglect an area, it essentially costs you more later because now you have to do a full rebuild of the street instead of doing a slurry seal or repaving,” Chavez said. “If you ask any resident in South Fresno if it’s enough what we’re doing, they will tell you that absolutely it’s not enough.”
Arias and Chavez both said they are hopeful some of their budget motions will be kept in the budget proposal that the subcommittee brings forth next Thursday.