All You Need to Know About the Fresno City Parks Initiative

Twelve points every Fresnan should know about the upcoming parks initiative should it make the November ballot.

The Fresno for Parks initiative runs to 26 pages. Each page is packed with details on how the alliance of community activists would transform the city’s Parks Department should the initiative get on the November ballot and receive at least two-thirds voter approval.

I walked by the Target store in River Park earlier this week. Someone from Fresno for Parks had set up a card table by the entrance. The alliance continues its all-out effort to get enough signatures from registered Fresno voters to put the plan on the ballot.


Should that happen, Fresno for Parks officials would have a lot of educating to do in a short amount of time. I give you a dozen brief items from the initiative that caught my eye. My purpose is merely to give readers a sense of initiative’s ambition and complexity.

  1.  “This Initiative would provide a guaranteed, local funding source for Fresno’s parks through a 3/8-cent sales tax in the City of Fresno, raising an estimated $38 million per year and requiring voter approval for renewal after 30 years. That’s an average of $39 per household each year (or just $3.25 each month) and would ensure visitors and non-Fresno residents pay their fair share.”
  2. Annual revenue is “to be spent as follows:
    1. 46% ($17.25 million) on maintaining clean and safe parks;
    2. 21% ($7.9 million) on new parks and recreational facilities;
    3. 8.5% ($3.2 million) on youth and senior recreation, after-school programs, and job training;
    4. 11.25% ($4.2 million) on improved walking and biking trails, the San Joaquin River Parkway, and beautification of streets; and
    5. 12% ($4.5 million) on expanded access to arts and culture.”
  3. The initiative includes a resolution which states in part: “WHEREAS, the City of Fresno is ranked 90th of the 100 largest cities in the nation for its lack of parks with only 4% of the city area dedicated to parklands and only half of city residents living within walking distance (one-half mile) of a park entrance; and WHEREAS, park assessments have rated 80% of Fresno parks to be in ‘poor’ or ‘fair’ condition. The backlog of deferred capital improvements is over $110 million dollars; and the cost to make improvements for better functionality and safety at current parks is over $175 million. Just to prevent further deterioration at the current levels would require an estimated $5 million annually over current spending….”
  4. “The City Controller shall establish a Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Account and all retail transactions and use tax proceeds generated by this ordinance shall be deposited by the City Controller into the Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Account. Such proceeds shall only be used for the specific purposes identified in Section 7-1406.”
  5. Section 7-1406 requires the money to be spent on one of the following:
    1. “Provide clean, safe neighborhoods parks for all Fresno residents;
    2. Reduce crime and homelessness in parks;
    3. Update and maintain park bathrooms and playgrounds;
    4. Reduce graffiti and vandalism in parks;
    5. Maintain and improve after-school, youth, and senior recreational programs;
    6. Provide job training for at-risk youth and veterans;
    7. Beautify landscaping and remove weeds and litter along major roads and highways;
    8. Create parks in neighborhoods that don’t have good park access, including soccer and sports fields;
    9. Improve walking and biking access to parks and trails, including the San Joaquin River Parkway; and
    10. Expand access to local arts and cultural programs.”
  6. “The Expenditure Plan in Section 7-1406 is intended as a specific and legally binding and enforceable limitation on how the proceeds of the transactions and use tax imposed by this ordinance may be spent. The revenues collected as a result of this tax may not be used for any purpose not specifically identified in this ordinance.”
  7. The initiative calls for 21.5% of funds to be invested in the development of new parks/recreational facilities such as: “i. New neighborhood parks, pocket parks, and community gardens; ii. Public restrooms in new parks; iii. New senior and community centers associated with the park system; iv. New regional parks located in the City of Fresno; v. Playgrounds and picnic areas in new parks; vi. New public sport facilities and swimming pools; vii. The planning, designing, engineering, and permitting activities associated with the above improvements.”
  8. The initiative calls for 12% of funds to be made available for competitive grants to nonprofit organizations involved with arts/cultural programming: “Grants funded pursuant to this paragraph shall be implemented by the Commission in partnership with the Fresno Arts Council, or its successor local arts agency, using multiple solicitations that allow for a diverse set of programs, with different program sizes and reach, including core operating and project-support grants, to be funded. The Commission shall ensure that grant applications are reviewed in a transparent, competitive process….”
  9. The initiative calls for 11.25% of funds to be spent on various aspects of trails, street beautification and the San Joaquin River Parkway: “Of the funds made available pursuant to this paragraph, forty-seven percent (47%) shall be made available for acquisition, development, improvement, restoration, operations, maintenance, or rehabilitation projects including: i. Trail development, including bike, pedestrian and equestrian trials, as identified in the Active Transportation Plan, including trails that support safe routes to schools; ii. Urban greening and tree planting along designated trails in the Active Transportation Plan; iii. The planning, designing, engineering, and permitting activities associated with the above improvements….”
  10. As to where ultimate authority resides, the initiative states: “Authority to expend funds, issue grants, or enter into contracts or memoranda of understanding relating to the revenues deposited into the Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Account pursuant to Section 7-1404 is delegated to the City of Fresno, provided that no expenditures may be made from the Account except as provided in this ordinance.”
  11. The initiative calls for the creation of a Parks, Recreation and Arts Commission with nine members appointed by the Mayor and approved by the City Council: “(c) The membership of the Commission shall reflect the cultural, demographic, and geographic diversity of the City of Fresno, with at least one-third of the Commissioners residing in highest-need neighborhoods, as defined in Section 7-1408… (e) The Commission shall have primary authority on behalf of the City to: (1) Conduct hearings and receive public input on allocations related to this ordinance, updates to the Parks Master Plan and Cultural Arts Plan, and annual PARCS Department Budget and Capital Improvement Plans; make recommendations to the City Council; (2) Review City staff recommendations for budget allocations related to this ordinance to ensure consistency with the ordinance and Expenditure Plan; make recommendations to the City Council for adoption of expenditures in connection with annual budget process and any amendments thereto; (3) Review and recommend for City adoption guidelines for competitive grant programs established with funds from this Measure; (4) Oversee development and recommend City Council adoption of the Cultural Arts Plan and subsequent updates; (5) Review and make recommendations to the Mayor and City Council on fees related to parks, trails, and open space…The City Council shall have the authority to further define the role and powers of the Commission by adopting implementing ordinances and revising them over time.”
  12. Among the initiative’s “miscellaneous provisions”: “(b) The department shall not sell bonds secured by any revenues made available by this ordinance…. (d) No provision of this ordinance shall be construed as authorizing the condemnation of privately-owned lands. Acquisition of property through eminent domain shall be strictly prohibited with the funds generated by this ordinance.”
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