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Fresno parks tax, needing two-thirds to pass, doesn’t get majority

Fresno voters will decide on a sales tax hike to benefit local parks on Nov. 6

Measure P is a local sales tax hike initiative that, if approved by voters, will help improve parks in Fresno.
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Measure P is a local sales tax hike initiative that, if approved by voters, will help improve parks in Fresno.

Measure P, the sales tax effort to help fund parks and arts programs in the city of Fresno, failed Tuesday night.

With all precincts reporting, fewer than half voted in favor of Measure P at 49 percent. About 51 percent voted against it. The measure needs two-thirds support to pass.

Despite the early returns, Measure P supporters remained hopeful Tuesday evening. Supporters gathered at Me-n-Ed’s Victory Grill in Granite Park for pizza and arcade games. People of all ages sported green “Yes on P” gear.

The crowd of Measure P supporters dwindles in size at Victory Grill late Tuesday night, Nov. 6, 2018 in Fresno. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

Elliott Balch, with the Central Valley Community Foundation, said the campaign focused on making contact with low-propensity voters, whose votes likely aren’t reflected in early return numbers.

Major Fresno political powerhouses, such as Ashley Swearengin, Alan Autry, David McDonald and Larry Powell shared a table. “Never put all your eggs in early returns,” Powell said. “We’re going to wait until the last dog is dead, and we’re going to run it in the park.”

If the ballot measure ends up on the plus side, even with the organized opposition, that’s positive, he said.

Measure P is a 3/8-percent sales tax that would raise about $38 million annually over 30 years. The measure divvies up 46 percent of the money for park maintenance; 21 percent for new parks and recreational facilities; about 8 percent on youth and senior recreation, after-school programs, and job training; about 11 percent on trails and the San Joaquin River Parkway; and 12 percent for arts and culture programs.

Supporters span political ideologies and Fresno geography. Former Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Larry Powell and former Assemblymember Juan Arambula lead the charge, along with major backing and support from the Central Valley Community Foundation.

Former Mayor Swearengin has been instrumental in the campaign, though she tried to stay out of the spotlight. Support also came from the San Joaquin River Parkway, Tree Fresno, Valley Children’s Hospital, local Realtors, farmers and the arts community.

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Formidable foes campaigned against Measure P, including Mayor Lee Brand, Police Chief Jerry Dyer and the police officer’s union, Fire Chief Kerri Donis and the firefighter union and the Fresno Chamber of Commerce.

The No on P campaign argued the tax would take valued dollars from public safety — and while parks are important, they preferred a more balanced approach.

Brand said he takes no pleasure in seeing the ballot measure falter. “I think it says the voters of Fresno have a lot of good common sense,” he said about early returns, noting it’s nearly statistically impossible for the measure to reach the two-thirds mark by now.

After all the votes are counted, if the measure fails, Brand plans to “extend a hand of friendship and cooperation” to begin work on a 2020 ballot measure that will include parks and public safety.

Yes on P faced some complicated hiccups in October.

The language that appeared on Fresno ballots didn’t match the language approved by the Fresno City Council in August, due to a technical mistake made by the city clerk’s office. The council in a special meeting voted to send out post cards to voting households with the correct language, and the Yes on P campaign asked Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth to provide correct language at precincts on Election Day.

But Orth said ballots were valid, her office followed procedure and nothing was amiss for Election Day, despite fears from the Yes on P campaign that the ballot language could affect the outcome of the election.