If all goes as expected on Thursday, the Fresno City Council will vote to put the Fresno for Parks sales tax measure — which includes a healthy chunk of funding for the arts — on the November ballot. Here’s what you need to know:
You’re encouraged to attend: Fresno for Parks is putting out the word for supporters to show up wearing green at the council meeting (3-5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 9, at Fresno City Hall, 2600 Fresno St.) “to celebrate, support and witness the Fresno for Parks initiative take the final step in becoming a city-wide measure.”
The backstory: The Fresno for Parks campaign gathered more than 35,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. If approved, it will raise the sales tax ⅜ of a cent for 30 years, with the majority going to the parks system. Arts and culture would benefit greatly as well, to the tune of an estimated $4.5 million a year.
Options for the council: David Taub has a good roundup in GV Wire in which he explains that the council has three options, but two of them are essentially the same. The council can:
— Adopt the proposed initiative as is. But, because of state law regarding raising taxes, it would still need to go to the voters.
— Approve the initiative to go to the voters directly.
— Or ask the city staff to conduct a report on the effects of the tax initiative. While this would not prevent a vote, it would delay things to the point it would not be on the November ballot. It would then be placed on the March 2020 primary.
Taub adds that council members Clint Olivier and Steve Brandau, two expected opponents of the measure, are in favor of placing it on the ballot.
George Hostetter, in another good overview of the situation, writes on CVObserver: “It strikes me that the main difference between Option 1 and Option 2 is the council’s level of affection for the measure. If a council majority loves it, then Option 1 carries the day. If the council decides to take an agnostic approach, then Option 2 is the winner.”
The political dynamic: A couple of months ago, when the Fresno for Parks signature campaign was getting underway, you could sense the dismissive attitude from elected officials. (Let’s leave the governing to the pros, they seemed to say.)
Now, with tens of thousands of signatures of registered city voters in hand, the parks/arts campaign has much more of a swagger in its step.
As Larry Powell, co-chair of Fresno for Parks and former Fresno County school superintendent, told me Wednesday: “We’re looking forward to a chance to thank the council for doing what they’re required to do. Democracy wins.”
He added that he doesn’t expect any surprises at Thursday’s council meeting: “I would be mildly shocked it if was not on the November ballot.”
As for the council throwing a wrench in the timeline by insisting on a staff report, thus keeping the measure off the November ballot: Thwarting more than 30,000 voters wouldn’t seem to be a very good idea.
What’s next: A lot of work. The measure will require approval of two-thirds of voters, always a high hurdle. The campaign is looking to raise money to get its message out. “We’re going to make a case that in Fresno, we are 94th out of the top 100 cities of the nation in parks,” Powell says. “We think we can do better than that. We’re going to make the case that this is good for the economy, it’s good for families, and it’s good for bringing good jobs to Fresno.”
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