Snafus derails vote on Fresno County California transit tax plan

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Grecia Elenas of Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability speaks at the Measure C Youth Rally on June 30, 2022

The first major political test of Measure C was postponed Thursday night after technical problems derailed a Fresno Council of Governments meeting.

The COG halted its monthly meeting at its office in downtown Fresno shortly before it could hold a major vote on Measure C’s $6.8 billion tax expenditure plan for transportation.

From the outset, COG staff were unable to effectively broadcast the event live or use Spanish translation software for the approximately 300 people who joined the meeting both physically and digitally.

Thursday’s COG vote was meant to be the first step in a series of high-stakes resolutions in the coming weeks that are needed to renew Measure C in November. The current Measure C spending plan expires in 2027.

Ahead of the meeting, Fresno County youth gathered on Van Ness Avenue in the courthouse grounds to criticize the Measure C budget priorities. They called on COG to delay the Measure C renewal process to conduct more community outreach throughout the county.

The COG meeting is tentatively rescheduled for July 7 at 5 p.m. in the Fresno City Hall Council Chambers. Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer said parking meters around City Hall will not be enforced that night.

“Zoom is not new”

Fresno County residents who came forward to speak about Measure C during public comment said they were disappointed that COG could not properly conduct a meeting crucial to the future of Fresno County’s transportation infrastructure. Fresno.

Rocio Madrigal, outreach coordinator for the Central California Environmental Justice Network, said about 100 people traveled from west Fresno County to participate in the downtown meeting.

With gas prices nearing $7 a gallon, she said the trek was a “financial hardship” for many, and COG’s failure to hold an orderly meeting with 300 members of the public was unacceptable.

“Zoom is nothing new,” she said. “We’ve had these Zoom meetings for two years across the county, and we’ve never had the issues (COG staff) had today.”

Other attendees were unsure if they would be able to attend the postponed meeting.

“As a senior, the hardest part of attending these meetings is finding someone who can coordinate to drive me home late at night,” said Araceli Sanabria, a southeast Fresno resident. “With all the translation issues that happened today, it’s frustrating not being able to participate.”

Some community residents were skeptical that the COG difficulties were accidental.

“This meeting was a complete disaster,” said Lilia Beceril. “I feel like the issues at the meeting were on purpose, so the community couldn’t be heard.”

She added that COG “knows what the community thinks about Measure C, but we’ll come out at the next meeting and start all over again.”

Inability to solve basic technological problems

For more than an hour, digital hecklers hijacked all of the meeting room’s TV panels to play random music and draw obscene sketches using Zoom software. After COG staff attempted to resolve this issue, Zoom users complained that they could not disconnect to speak and others were unable to join the meeting remotely.

The software became so dysfunctional that COG could barely make a basic roll call.

Organizational issues also plagued the in-person meeting. The crowd of about 200 county residents and union leaders overwhelmed COG’s modest office, which sits above the vacant shell of the former Club One casino. The meeting room could barely accommodate 100 people, and attendees were eventually dispersed between the main hall, two overflow facilities, and a crowded hallway near the elevator entrance.

Through the rooms and the Zoom meeting, the COG staff was never able to get the Spanish translation software released properly. Citing a state law that requires accessible translation and streaming options, Kingsburg Mayor Michelle Roman called for an early end to the meeting, before the COG votes on the spending plan. the C measure.

“Unfortunately, under AB 361, the board cannot take action if there are attendance issues,” said COG legal counsel Bryan Rome.

Young people gather to criticize the spending plan

Ahead of the COG meeting, Fresno youth spoke out against the proposed spending plan for Measure C at the rally in Courthouse Park. Under a canopy of century-old valley oaks and western sycamores, they erected homemade banners that read: “Pump the brakes on measure C” and “Wait: aren’t you ‘C ‘ the problem ?”

The rally was the culmination of a multi-day effort by the Fresno Coalition for Responsible Transportation Spending in Fresno County communities. During this week, canvassers from Fresno Building Healthy Communities distributed 2,000 flyers in the Fresno Tower District to raise awareness of the COG meeting and the Measure C spending plan.

At the rally, young leaders criticized the spending plan and called on COG and the Fresno County Transportation Authority to delay the Measure C renewal until 2024. Kato Prado, an organizer with the Youth Leadership Institute, described Fresno youth as “a generation sick of pollution they have not to do.”

“They’re not afraid to tackle head-on a system that wasn’t designed for them,” she said. “These are the same young people who have always advocated for public transport systems and sidewalks that are better able to connect people to resources and opportunities like classrooms, workplaces, health centers and their inhabitants. The things that make them strong in their spirit.

Ashens Limon, 17, criticized the FCTA and COG’s latest spending plan for cutting public transit’s share of Measure C revenue by 50%. He said renewing Measure C may wait until 2024, so that COG can solicit more community input.

“We deserve more than one (high-frequency) bus line, and we have the right to ask for it,” he said. “Twelve percent of the budget is not enough to keep improving our FAX system for the next 30 years.

Marysol Madrigal, 18, said asking for a delay in renewing Measure C was not to object to money for transport.

“It’s about the old politicians who won’t live the consequences for the next 30 years that their spending plans decide for us, for me,” she said.

“If this proposed plan continues,” she added, “we will make matters worse by spending most of the money on street repairs.”

“We’ll have more people driving cars, and our air will continue to be the worst in the country,” Madrigal said. “I don’t want Fresno to continue making the same mistake for another 30 years.”

This story was originally published July 1, 2022 2:32 p.m.

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