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.” [caption id="attachment_9548" align="alignnone" width="640"] Photo / Fresno for Parks Facebook page[/caption] 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.
Mayor proposes alternative ballot measure, setting up potential conflict with Fresno for Parks campaign
UPDATE 06/28: George Hostetter of CVObserver reports that Mayor Brand pulled his proposed ballot measure due to lack of Council support. For a deep dive on the politics of all this, Hostetter also posted this interesting piece. ORIGINAL POST: For the past couple of months, as organizers of the Fresno Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Initiative worked to gather enough signatures to quality the sales-tax measure for the November ballot, there’s been uncertainty about a public-safety tax-increase proposal floating around. If both measures qualified, would two-thirds of voters look kindly on approving not one but two tax increases? Would it come down to essentially an either/or situation: uniformed officers on the street vs. places for our kids to play? With a City Hall announcement today, the situation got even more complicated -- or a lot simpler, depending on your perspective. Mayor Lee Brand is proposing a one-half cent increase in sales tax in the City of Fresno that would fund both public safety and parks. If this measure is supported by two-thirds of the voters, it will raise between $44 and $50 million dollars a year, according to the city. Half the money would go toward police and fire, including hiring between 160 and 200 additional new police officers, firefighters and civilian support personnel. The other half would triple the annual parks budget and go toward implementing most of the recommendations of the Parks Master Plan. And how would funding for the arts fare? In the Fresno for Parks ballot measure -- which would raise taxes by ⅜ of a cent -- arts and culture would get a dedicated funding stream to the tune of an estimated $4.5 million a year. The city’s split proposal does not specifically identify arts funding, says city spokesman Mark Standriff. “But it certainly will be considered as part of the 1/4 cent going to parks if the measure passes,” he told me.
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. [caption id="attachment_9123" align="alignnone" width="720"] Photo / Fresno for Parks Facebook page[/caption] 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.)
Stuff I won't forget: The goulash. The fresco-slathered ceiling of the Bucharest concert hall. The staggering heap of beat-up luggage in Auschwitz left behind by a fraction of those who lost their lives in that place of human-soul darkness. The $30 prime orchestra seats to the ridiculously good opera in Prague. The strange sight of dozens of Communist-era busts and statues exiled to an outdoor museum display in Sofia, Bulgaria. The spectacle of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” family-ballet-style, in Budapest. The kitschy appeal of Casa Vlad Dracula, a restaurant in the Transylvanian village where the world’s most famous “vampire” was supposedly born. The sweeping hilltop views of Veliko Tarnovo, once the capital of an 800-year-old nation. The cathedrals, the pastries, the 2 a.m. passport checks on the overnight trains, the monumental socialist-age buildings, the vibrant contemporary art. The jet lag. [caption id="attachment_9106" align="alignnone" width="1300"] At the Museum of Socialist Art in Sofia, Bulgaria, prominent statues and busts from around the country were rounded up and plopped into an urban patch of grass. Photo / The Munro Review[/caption] Did I mention the goulash? I’m back from a riveting trip to Eastern Europe, and I can’t wait to write about my adventures in detail over the coming weeks and months.
Audra’s home. This time it’s going to be extra special. The Broadway star (and winner of more Tony awards than anyone) today (Saturday, May 26) will get a key to the city and a street named after her. How cool is that? To top things off, she will sing for the first time with the Fresno Philharmonic in one of the highlight cultural events of the year. (For those who haven’t figured out by now, I’m talking about none other than Good Company Players and Roosevelt High alum Audra McDonald, known with a first-name simplicity as “Audra” to this blog and a large number of fans throughout the area.) To mark the occasion, I wanted to do something special, too, as a welcome. The result is “Dear Audra.” I asked my readers to write brief recollections and appreciation letters.
Stage doorDear Audra, I’m completely an Audra girl. I’ve seen you live three times (“Lady Day,” “Shuffle Along,” and your Modesto show) and I’ve been lucky enough to meet you when my mom and I stage-doored “Lady Day” in 2014.
Imagine a wonderland in which arts organizations get to divvy up $4.5 million annually in public funds to make their city a better place. What’s that, you say? You can’t quite dare to dream that big? Go ahead. It’s possible. If community supporters have their way, a sales-tax-increase on the November ballot will fund parks, recreation and arts programs for 30 years in the city of Fresno. Voters will have to approve it -- and by a whopping 66.7 percent margin, which is a steep hill to climb. But it’s possible with a lot of organizing and hard work. I dropped by an organizing meeting on Tuesday evening to learn more: The scene: The meeting room at the Central Valley Community Foundation, which is helping to organize the ballot measure, was crowded with the biggest concentration of arts movers-and-shakers (and just plain enthusiasts) that I’ve ever seen.
As the Rogue Festival comes to a close, here are some thoughts from a younger audience member. Could shorter performances be the wave of the future for more than just fringe festivals? Here's a view from one of my students in the Fresno State journalism class I'm teaching. He originally wrote this piece for a class assignment: