Fresno Mayor Lee Brand’s plan to fix city roads ‘dead on arrival.’ What’s next?

Related story: Fresno Mayor Lee Brand pulls gas tax spending plan due to ‘partisan disagreement’

Fresno leaders will have to come up with a new spending plan for the city’s share of state gas tax money since a majority of the City Council already voiced opposition to Mayor Lee Brand’s plan.

Three City Council members — Esmeralda Soria, Miguel Arias and Luis Chavez — held a news conference Monday morning in southeast Fresno criticizing the mayor’s spending plan, citing a greater need for money in older parts of the city. Councilmember Nelson Esparza also spoke out against the mayor’s spending plan in a news release Monday morning.

“The roads and infrastructure in my district are among the worst shape in the city, so it’s a slap in the face to my constituents for the administration to suggest that we ought to get the same amount of funding as new neighborhoods that are in far better shape,” Nelson said in a statement.

During the news conference at Baja’s Auto Sales on Orange Avenue, the council members discussed equality versus equity and called for a shift in the way the city approaches spending. The bulk of the money, they said, should be spent on safe routes to school for children, through projects such as sidewalks and bike lanes.

“It starts with investments. We know that areas that have high concentrations of poverty require a high concentration of investment,” Chavez, who represents District 5 in southeast Fresno.” That’s what the goal is today.”

Brand responded in a statement later Monday, saying he looked forward to a “healthy debate” on city spending priorities. He highlighted Fresno’s $600 million in deferred maintenance for street and sidewalk repairs, saying it’s not easy to decide which projects to choose.

Brand also mentioned the process the city uses to prioritize projects, a pavement management system that rates and prioritizes projects for the city’s 1,700 miles of road based on conditions.

“I believe the methods and process we go through to select SB1 projects provides the people of Fresno with the biggest bang for the buck,” he said. “Changing the proven industry standard we currently use to a single criteria may sound good from a political perspective, but it doesn’t serve the needs of the entire community and it doesn’t maximize our investment in safer streets and sidewalks throughout our city, which is my one and only priority on this issue. Crumbing roads and sidewalk cracks don’t have political affiliations or agendas.”

District 2 Councilmember Steve Brandau — whose last council meeting will be Thursday before he’s sworn in as a county supervisor — showed up to the news conference. He said he doesn’t believe north Fresno residents paying the gas tax should be punished for “sins of the past.”

“I think it’s a little unfair to the taxpayers in north Fresno to discover … that their tax dollars have been taken all away from them and shifted entirely to south Fresno,” he said. “There’s a lot of types of funding that can come only to disadvantaged neighborhoods.”

Brandau said the Transformative Climate Communities money and Community Development Block Grant funding is marked specifically for disadvantaged neighborhoods such as the ones in south Fresno, and north Fresno won’t see any of that funding.

Chavez said for decades residents in south Fresno for years subsidized spending for north Fresno infrastructure, such as new highways, and services such as police and fire. Everyone should agree that a neighborhood built in 1913 requires more investment than one built in the 1990s, he said.

Spending proposal

The plan from Brand’s administration currently is scheduled for a vote at Thursday’s City Council meeting. In the 2020 fiscal year, the city expects to receive $8.9 million in funding from Senate Bill 1, formally called the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017. An additional $3.2 million in carryover from 2019 brings the total of the proposal up to $12.1 million. The city must submit a project list to the State Controller by May.

Currently, Chavez’s District 5 in southeast Fresno is slated to receive the most, at $2.1 million; Soria’s west-central District 1 will receive $1.9 million and Arias’ District 3 in southwest Fresno will receive $1.9 million. Esparza’s central-east District 7 will receive about $1.6 million, only slightly more than District 4, which encompasses Fresno State and the airport. District 6 in northeast Fresno will receive about $1.5 million and District 2 in northwest Fresno will receive about $1.2 million.

The most expensive project on the proposed list calls for about $800,000 of repairs on Nees Avenue from First to Millbrook avenues in northeast Fresno. Several other larger projects, ranging from $500,000 to $600,000 are in south Fresno neighborhoods on roads such as Marks Avenue between Ashlan and Dakota and a traffic signal at California and Walnut near Edison High School.

The council members said at the news conference they plan to propose their own spending plan for a vote later this month.

“Every year we divide it seven ways,” Soria said, “The time is now. We’re saying, you know what? We can’t afford to do the same and expect different results. We’re serious about making sure the investments that are happening in our area are really going to uplift our neighborhoods that have been long neglected.”

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.