As Measure C opponents hash things out, next renewal vote likely bumped to 2026 | Opinion

Fresno County officials and community advocates, fresh off their bitter election battle over Measure C, don’t appear interested in a hasty rematch.

So unless there’s a rapid coming together of the opposing sides — which as of this writing remains a possibility — residents are unlikely to vote on another transportation tax renewal until 2026.

Seven months after Measure C garnered 58.20% approval among the county electorate, well shy of the needed two-thirds majority, the Fresno County Transportation Authority Board held its first public postmortem. During Wednesday’s special meeting, board members and the public discussed the results of a survey designed to gauge voter perception of the failed initiative and illuminate potential paths forward.

Conducted in January by Los Angeles-based FM3 Research, the study polled 654 Fresno County residents who voted in the November 2022 election. Of those, 44% lived in the city of Fresno, 20% from Clovis and 21% from unincorporated areas.

The results mostly reaffirm our perceptions. For example, 76% of liberals said they voted “yes” on Measure C compared with 63% of moderates and 43% of conservatives, who made up the largest share (35%) of the sample.

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That ratio carried over to political party affiliation, where 73% of Democrats said they voted “yes” compared with 53% of independents and 42% of Republicans.

No real surprise there. Liberal Democrats are always more willing to tax themselves than conservative Republicans. Such is life.

Except that doesn’t give the necessary context to Fresno County’s unique political chessboard, where the liberal-leaning coalition that defeated Measure C spent most of its campaign war chest targeting conservative Republican voters. Their message of “Broken Roads, Broken Promises” resonated.

“Strategically, they did a good job,” agreed Fresno County supervisor Steve Brandau, who also serves on the FCTA board. “They killed it.”

Fixing roads ‘clearly the top priority’

Eighty percent of those surveyed perceived at least some need for the county to have extra funds for transportation, with 86% saying that money should be spent on road repairs.

Spending on historically overlooked and rural low-income communities is next at 65%, followed by highway safety/congestion (64%), improving air quality (60%) and bike and pedestrian infrastructure (58%). Further down the list are public transit (48%) and reducing the county’s contribution to climate change and fossil fuel dependence (both 46%).

“Fixing existing roads and potholes are clearly the top priority for residents, but the past two versions of Measure C have not addressed that,” said Miguel Arias, the Fresno City Councilmember and FCTA board member (since January) who contributed $50,000 to the No on C campaign. “The street in front of your house and the ones you use to drive across town are in terrible shape.”

Brandau, who ultimately voted in favor of putting Measure C before voters after being highly critical of the process, largely agreed.

“The survey clearly showed that if people were going to take a tax on transportation, they want the roads fixed,” Brandau said. “Some of the peripheral stuff got a lot less support.”

Mike Leonardo, the FCTA’s executive director, had a similar takeaway: that fixing roads is the No. 1 priority among voters. However, he thinks Measure C was unfairly blamed because it wasn’t written with that as priority. Only 15% of current funding is set aside specifically for street repairs.

“People kind of faulted the current measure for not already fixing the roads even though it was a very small part of what it was supposed to do,” Leonardo said. “I don’t know how you fix that messaging.”

Opponents hold unofficial talks

There doesn’t appear to be any rush to do so. During Wednesday’s FCTA board discussion, Clovis Mayor Lynne Ashbeck (who serves as vice chair) spoke briefly about two meetings involving Measure C advocates and opponents from the last election cycle. A third is planned.

The meetings are not sanctioned by the FCTA or any government agency. It’s just concerned citizens meeting together, with a facilitator present. The purpose, Ashbeck said, is to determine if “there’s enough trust” between the two sides to move forward with a broadly supported ballot measure.

“We’re talking to see if we can find a way to work together,” said Veronica Garibay, the co-executive director for Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “We’re not discussing any specifics.”

While the two sides hash things over, time is quickly running out on the 2024 election cycle. Even if long-standing issues are suddenly resolved, it will still take months for a new initiative to be written and for a campaign to restrategize.

“I just don’t think (the March primary is) possible — that’s less than a year away,” Leonardo said. “The general (election) in November might be possible, but even that’s 18 months away. We spent much more time meeting and gathering information (in 2022), and some people felt even that was rushed.”

Although previously mentioned as a possibility, it does not appear Measure C supporters or opponents will attempt to qualify their own transportation tax initiative for either 2024 ballot.

If the next renewal effort is delayed until 2026, that means the initiative will only have one chance to gain voter approval before the half-cent sales tax expires June 30, 2027.

Good thing the best work, in both government and general life, is often done under pressure.