Voters May Decide Fate of Parks Instead of Electeds

Fresno for Parks submitted 35,000 signatures and will now wait and see if voters decide the fate of Fresno parks instead of Fresno City politicians.

The Fresno for Parks petition drive appears to have cleared the quantity hurdle.

Next up: The quality hurdle.


If the quality hurdle is cleared, we’re likely headed for another of those “direct democracy” brouhahas that makes Fresno City Hall such a compelling story.

Fresno for Parks officials and supporters on Wednesday morning turned in nearly 35,000 signatures to City Clerk Yvonne Spence.

That’s about 11,000 more than needed to get a sales tax initiative on the November general election ballot, a proposal designed to dramatically upgrade the city’s parks system.

The nine boxes of petitions are now headed to some heavy-duty processing, first at the City Clerk’s Office, then at the headquarters of Fresno County Registrar of Voters Brandi Orth. The key for Fresno for Parks is totaling approximately 24,000 valid signatures of registered voters living in the City of Fresno. Meet that yardstick and the group’s plan is on the ballot.

Some folks always sign such petitions but don’t meet the legal requirements for a valid signature. Second chances in the direct democracy arena are time-consuming and expensive. This is why any petition drive wants as big a signature cushion as possible.

“The thousands of signatures we carried up the steps of City Hall represent the voices of our community, and this morning those voices were heard,” said Fresno for Parks Co-Chairman and former County Schools Superintendent Larry Powell in a written statement released on Wednesday.

“This is not a politician-led initiative, but rather a call to action from the citizens of Fresno who are eager for change and want better parks where kids can play and exercise. Families in our city deserve parks that are safe, restrooms that are clean, and equipment that is working.”

The question that could land in front of Fresno voters on Nov. 6 is simple: Do you want to boost the sales tax by three-eighths of a cent for 30 years to fund an improved and reorganized parks system?

An efficient and effective big-city parks system can encompass a lot of services … and costs. No need here to recap everything in Fresno for Parks’ proposed initiative. I covered (to a modest degree) those bases in an earlier CVObserver post.

The immediate significance of Fresno for Parks’ delivery to City Hall on Wednesday is twofold.

First, I found some City Hall officials earlier this month to be rather skeptical about Fresno for Parks’ chances of gathering enough signatures. The thinking was that Fresno for Parks simply didn’t have enough time in this election cycle.

I had heard similar analyses (whistling in the dark?) back when local labor leader Marina Magdaleno was trying to get Measure G on the 2013 ballot and former Fresno County Supervisor Doug Vagim was trying to get Measure W on the 2014 ballot.

In their own unique ways, Magdaleno & Company and Vagim & Company used direct action to carry the day.

Second, something amazing happens in the wake of such success: The political dynamic at City Hall and within our community changes.

Most of the time, that dynamic is one of council members and a strong mayor, entrusted with the people’s authority, conducting municipal business on behalf of the people. Along the way, there always is tension between these two power centers, the electeds and the people. But day-in and day-out that’s the typical operating model and it generally works.

Then, on rare occasions, a majority of the electeds and a well-organized slice of the people butt heads on a complex and vital public issue – the outsourcing of residential trash collection (Measure G, which went to voters, who then rejected outsourcing); the scope of residential water rates/infrastructure (Measure W, which didn’t go to voters, but whose mere presence on the political scene inspired City Hall to rethink its water plan).

To say that these events rattle City Hall in a variety of fascinating ways is to understate the reality.

So, all of us now await the final word from County Clerk Orth. No doubt among those watching with keen interest is Mayor Lee Brand; he of the shipwrecked sales tax initiative focused on public safety as well as parks; he of the repeated vows to transform Fresno’s quality of life through superior leadership; he of the upcoming 2020 effort to win another four-year term.

Fresno for Parks Co-Chairman Juan Arambula (a former Fresno County supervisor and state Assembly Member) also had a thing or two to say in the Fresno For Parks news release.

“We are proud of the overwhelming, positive response to our signature gathering efforts, and excited to let the voters decide,” Arambula said. “The proposed Fresno for Parks measure has the potential to benefit residents in all neighborhoods, and will truly transform our city.”

Those are the words of an experienced politician who senses a shift in battlefield momentum.

Twenty-four thousand valid voter signatures would be a momentum magnifier.

1 comment
  1. I was wondering why the city work with private companies and nonprofits to improve our parks. Maybe sponsorship or operate centers that provide some free and paid activities. Fresno’s lack of funding or taxes is due to the large poverty population and the anti-business environment at city hall. What if the measure pass. Will the city use the money for parks or increase their paychecks? This city needs fixing at city hall first before they ask for more money.

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