As deadline looms, supporters push Fresno ‘parks and arts’ signature drive

Can Fresno’s parks/arts petition drive get enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot? Organizers are hoping a final push this weekend will put them over the top.

The proposed sales-tax increase would fund parks, arts and recreation in the City of Fresno for 30 years. A big chunk of the money would go to parks (which are desperately needed). But arts and culture would benefit greatly as well, to the tune of an estimated $4.5 million a year.

Here’s a rundown on the initiative drive:

How many signatures are needed?

The required number of signatures is 10% of registered voters, so this number fluctuates a bit, according to Natasha Biasell, a Fresno for Parks spokesperson. A rough estimate is about 24,000. As with any petition drive, organizers want to get more signatures than the bare minimum in case some are invalid. (You have to be a registered voter in the city of Fresno to sign a petition. People who live in county islands aren’t eligible.)


What’s the deadline?

“This answer is somewhat complicated,” Biasell says. “Our goal has always been, and continues to be, to collect the required number of signatures as soon as possible. Our push for this weekend allows for processing time for the County Clerk and City Council, and ideally avoids a special election. However, after the signature collection and counting phase, Council technically has up until Aug. 10 to include it on the November ballot.”

How close are they?

No definitive answer there, either. “I don’t have any figures to give at this time,” Biasell says. “We are actively collecting signatures multiple times a day from a variety of sources — both paid and volunteer — and it is difficult to track and tally accurate numbers at this point in the signature drive.”

Is there a danger the petition drive might fall short?

There’s some buzz going around the arts community that this might be the case. I couldn’t confirm or deny it with organizers.

Fresno for Parks has been mounting an aggressive email campaign in these final weeks. One solicitation read: “We are offering an incredible 500 Club bonus opportunity for our top performing canvassers. In addition to the $4 per signature we are offering, we will double this to $8 per signature for anyone who collects 500 or more valid signatures this next week; June 1st through June 8th. Canvassers can earn $4,000+ per week!”

The Central Valley Foundation, led by former Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin, is providing much of the financial muscle behind the initiative effort.

If the Fresno for Parks measure gets on the city ballot, could it wind up competing with other tax-increase proposals for attention?

That’s a possibility. George Hostetter of CVObserver writes:

Bottom line – the City Council is expected to soon vote on placing a public safety sales tax initiative on the November ballot.

I have no details. But the unfolding scenario is amazing: The Swearengin team holding down one spot on the ballot with a significant boost in the sales tax just for parks, the City Council team holding down another spot on the ballot with a significant boost in the sales tax just for public safety.

I’m not sure if dueling tax hikes, no matter how virtuous, will please the voters.

I agree it would be hard to convince voters to approve two tax increases in one election. But perhaps the Fresno City Council will balk at putting a public safety measure on that ballot for that reason.

How can you sign a petition if you haven’t already?

Click here for details on signature locations and paid/volunteer canvasser orientations.

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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