Class warfare at City Hall? South Fresno city leaders back down in road repair fight

Fresno city council representatives hold opposing press conferences over gas tax

Monday's south Fresno city council staff press conference followed by opposing north Fresno council Tuesday morning over the gas tax.
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Monday's south Fresno city council staff press conference followed by opposing north Fresno council Tuesday morning over the gas tax.

Earlier this month, Fresno City Council members held dueling news conferences sparking a battle over the city’s gas tax funding. The fight caused Mayor Lee Brand to pull his proposed spending plan.

On Thursday, the council voted unanimously to pass a plan nearly identical to the one originally proposed. Minor changes included three projects to build sidewalks near schools with no estimated price tag. And city staff made clear the projects likely won’t be complete within a year.

“Even though we had a battle a month ago, we’re in the same place today,” said Garry Bredefeld, who represents northeast Fresno. “Not one project has changed. …I encourage us all to move forward together without pitting anybody against one another.”

Those words are a marked change from the ones Bredefeld said about his colleagues just weeks ago when he and Steve Brandau accused the council majority of waging “class warfare.”

Council members Miguel Arias, Luis Chavez, Nelson Esparza and Esmeralda Soria wanted more money for their south Fresno districts. While the share of money did tilt slightly in their favor, they argued the southern part of the city was historically neglected and deserved a bigger share.

In an interview with The Bee on Thursday, Chavez explained why the four council members backed down, saying the council will use the additional time until August to come up with a five-year plan prioritizing road repairs and looking broadly at all pots of money, including council infrastructure budgets, Measure C dollars and more.

He said he thought the rhetoric leading up to the vote “got a little out of hand.”

“It was in the spirit of every council member fighting for their district, which is what our job is,” he said.

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 in 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.

Increases to California's gas tax were approved in 2017 and will continue for years.

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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.