On election eve, ponder a greener future for Fresno with Measure P
On a pleasantly warm evening a few weeks ago, when most everyone else at the Big Fresno Fair was riding rides and ingesting fried everything, three women were on the front lines of the battle to make Fresno a better place. Nikiko Masumoto, Elva Rodriguez and Amy Lawrence stood at the back of the Photography & Fine Arts Building making their pitch to anyone who would listen in support of Measure P.
“What is it?” a man wearing a Caruthers High School cap asked as he wandered past, glancing at the sea of green signs.
Pictured above: Volunteers Amy Lawrence, Nikiko Masumoto and Elva Rodriguez push for Measure P at the Big Fresno Fair. Photo: The Munro Review
Masumoto was there with an explanation that was succinct, friendly and informative. The citywide sales tax increase on the Nov. 6 ballot — which would cost the average Fresno household $39 a year — would help resuscitate Fresno’s beleaguered park system. It would also give a boost to the city’s arts scene to the tune of an estimated $4.5 million a year.
The key, emphasized Masumoto, is that Measure P is a citizens-backed initiative that was put on the ballot through signatures, not by a wheeling-and-dealing city council. In fact, the Fresno political establishment blanched at the thought of regular voters having the temerity to raise taxes (slightly) to fulfill a critical need, instead of leaving the decisions up to the heavily lobbied pros.
“We got it on the ballot,” she said. “No politicians backed this. This is 35,000 Fresnans saying we want this.”
Will this grassroots effort, which has included thousands of volunteer campaign hours (and, yes, a healthy amount of big-donor support as well) pay off tomorrow? We’ll know soon enough. The measure needs two-thirds majority to pass. (Don’t get me started on how unfair that is; look up “tyranny of the minority” and discuss.) Unlike the state and national races in tomorrow’s high-stakes election, local races such as this one aren’t usually polled. It could be winning by a three-quarters margin. Or mired in the low 40s in terms of approval.
But I can tell you one thing no matter what happens: I’m proud of the Nikikos and Elvas and Amys of the world who care enough to fight for change.
For me, Measure P is a no-brainer. Our parks leave a lot to be desired. And the number of parks, simply on a per-capita basis, is an embarrassment. The geographical distribution of those parks is even worse than an embarrassment: It should be considered criminal. There’s a vast inequity between the facilities available to the wealthier parts of town to the north and the less-fancy areas to the south.
Measure P would begin to change that right away, with many of the fixes going to the parks that need it most.
The initiative would also be great for the arts, and since I write about the arts — and passionately believe that a robust cultural scene is essential for any city to thrive and prosper — I’m of course in favor of it for that reason as well.
But mostly, I support Measure P because it’s trying to do something. It’s forward-thinking. The people behind it want to make this city better.
The price tag? It’s negligible, at least when you compare it to the cost of Starbucks or a WWF pay-per-view. Sure, there are people who oppose any new taxes. I’m not going to change their minds. None of us are. But for the rest — particularly the ones who realize that sometimes you have to make an investment in your own community — coughing up a tiny bit more for better parks, more recreational opportunities and greater support of the arts seems like a pretty good payoff.
Beyond the “no new taxes, period” mindset, other arguments against Measure P have emerged. They puzzle me.
The gist seems to be that because Fresno also needs more support for public safety, it would be foolish to raise taxes for parks as well. The establishment movers-and-shakers — many of whom, incidentally, live in large houses with lushly landscaped backyards in gated communities featuring private parks — are worried that voters won’t agree to fund public safety in a couple of years because they already “gave at the office.” Where this zero-sum game originated I don’t know, but it seems spectacularly short-sighted. Why not both? If parks and public safety are both important — and they are — why can’t we trust voters to make that determination?
As voters go to the polls tomorrow, I’m sure that most have already made up their minds. But if you’re still a little hesitant on Measure P, go to the website and read about it. Read the Fresno Bee editorial and excellent Marek Warszawski column. Read the letter that went out this weekend from David McDonald, the campaign’s biggest donor. Read the arguments against Measure P, too, if only to know where the opponents are coming from. Then decide for yourself. This is an opportunity to make Fresno better.
At the Big Fresno Fair, my “shift” hanging out with the Measure P warriors was coming to an end. The mood was upbeat, the outlook optimistic. A man wandered by. A discussion ensued. Masumoto engaged in a few minutes worth of conversation. She came back, a big smile on her face.
“I think I might have changed someone’s mind,” she said.
That vote might make the difference.
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