Fresno · Politics

Fresno City Council shrugs off AG Bonta blitz, advances Measure C plan

A last minute Hail Mary by Attorney General Rob Bonta and social justice advocates to hit the brakes on the renewal of Measure C – Fresno County’s marquee transportation tax – the Fresno City Council pressed the gas.

Measure C first passed in 1986 and was renewed in 2006 for another 20-year term. The Fresno County Transportation Authority sought an early renewal of the the half-cent sales tax for an additional 30 years. 

Friday, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors will hold a special meeting to vote on placing Measure C on the November ballot. 

But Bonta’s eleventh-hour attempt to delay the renewal effort on Fresno County’s transportation tax raised some alarm at Fresno City Hall. 

Bonta sent a letter to the Fresno City Council on Wednesday, one day ahead of the body’s vote to support the Measure C expenditure plan. 

His opposition centered on the county gathering “adequate public input” on the measure. 

“As a policy matter, locally derived sales tax funding should be directed toward projects that are identified as priorities by the residents that stand to benefit from them, and who will be most affected by them. Yet several community based organizations and residents throughout the City and County have expressed concern that the proposed Measure C Renewal Expenditure Plan shifts away from some [of] the priorities laid out in the 2006 Measure C expenditure plan, by reducing the percentage allocation of funding to support safe and accessible transit options and sustainability programs. They have also expressed concerns regarding their experience of a lack of adequate public process involved with setting the Renewal Plan’s proposed expenditures,” Bonta wrote. 

“I know that meaningful engagement and a comprehensive public process is as important to you as it is to me and to our shared constituents – especially those constituents who have historically been disenfranchised from the processes that impact their health and well-being. The current Measure C expenditure plan, which does not lapse until 2027, allocates significant funding to expand public transit programs in the county and to improve local streets by adding sidewalks and bicycle lanes, to support active transportation – funding programs that many Fresno residents care about deeply. For this reason, I ask that you consider ways to address residents’ concerns regarding lack of adequate public process undertaken to develop the Renewal Plan, and to meaningfully engage those residents left out of the process to date.” 

Those comments virtually mirror talking points conveyed by local social justice advocacy groups that have strenuously pressed for the measure’s renewal to go on the 2024 ballot.

Bonta was also concerned with adequate environmental review on each project that will use Measure C funds and who will be responsible for conducting such reviews. 

Bonta’s words were not agreeable to Fresno County Transportation Authority Executive Director Mike Leonardo. 

When asked by Councilman Miguel Arias what his response to the letter was, Leonardo said that most of the letter is inaccurate. 

“I think we had a significant public process, and considering the struggles we had with COVID in the middle of this, I think we did a really good job at having an adequate public process,” Leonardo said. 

Leonardo also strenuously pushed back against Bonta’s concerns about environmental reviews. 

“This is the same process in this next measure that we use in this process,” Leonardo said. “Each project has a lead agency. For instance, even though Veterans [Blvd.] is on a state highway, the City of Fresno was lead agency on that. Whoever the lead agency is has to conduct the environmental review. They have to follow CEQA. It’s a very exacting process. Each of these projects will have a designated lead agency.” 

Arias, who architected the City of Fresno’s changes to the Measure C spending formula, moved to approve the plan with an amendment to remove spending caps on local control dollars.

His concern, which didn’t dwell on Bonta’s letter, was that the spending caps left the city without adequate funds for sidewalk repairs.

Leonardo expressed that amending the plan would restart the entire Measure C renewal process, and Arias struggled to find any support among his colleagues.

Instead, the council voted 5-1 to pass the plan, with Arias casting the lone no vote and Council President Nelson Esparza abstaining. 

Fresno Yosemite International terminal construction receives green light

Fresno Yosemite International is set for a hefty expansion on the horizon.

The Fresno City Council approved a contract with Teichert Construction for $10.1 million for the Terminal East Apron Reconfiguration Project. 

With terminal expansion on the way, the airport needs an additional apron area that will provide the necessary space for aircraft circulation as well as relocated parking positions to serve gates with passenger boarding bridges. 

The city sees the apron expansion as critical for the future of the airport, according to the staff report accompanying Thursday’s council agenda. 

Along with the apron expansion, Director of Aviation Henry Thompson submitted an update to the council. 

The main takeaway: the airport is on track to have more than 1 million travelers in 2022, marking the first time Fresno’s airport cracked a seven-figure count for passengers traversing through its gates.

Council says no to later closing time for bars

An effort by State Senator Scott Wiener (D–San Francisco) to allow bars to remain open until 4 a.m. met resistance at Fresno City Hall. 

Under Wiener’s proposal, Fresno would be one of seven pilot cities in the state that could have bars remain open until 4 a.m.

But the Fresno City Council unanimously rejected the idea, passing a resolution that formally opposes the bill. 

The council also requested that Fresno be removed from the list of cities in the pilot program. 

Six-figure grant headed to Advance Peace postponed

Although the council signaled its intent to support the grant at a later date, a $375,000 that was scheduled to be awarded to controversial anti-gun violence program Advance Peace was put on halt Thursday. 

The grant to advance peace is part of a larger $1.5 million in funding that the city is awarding to various organizations as part of its Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative. 

Councilman Tyler Maxwell asked to have the grant awards postponed to a future meeting in order to give him enough time to learn where the money is going and how it will be used. 

At Councilman Garry Bredefeld’s request, a city employee confirmed that the city funds will not be used for the stipend portion of Advance Peace that pays would-be shooters to not commit gun violence.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.