Put measure on November ballot to see how much Fresno voters value their parks

Boaters relax at Roeding Park Sunday afternoon, June 18, 2017 in Fresno, Calif.
Boaters relax at Roeding Park Sunday afternoon, June 18, 2017 in Fresno, Calif. ezamora@fresnoebee.com

Fresno’s parks have been a sore point for a long time. The Trust for Public Land has routinely ranked the city among the worst in the nation for its lack of green space and its rundown parks. This year is no different: Fresno was ranked 94th out of the largest 100 cities in the nation for park quality. Eighty percent of the city’s parks are just in fair or poor condition.

Local leaders frequently talk about wanting Fresno to become a “great city,” but the truth is poor parks will be a barrier to ever achieving such a status. Put another way, having healthy parks — where residents can be outdoors, get exercise, learn sports or other skills and simply take a mental break from the bustle of life — is a key component of any great city.

So a chance to ask voters whether they support a tax measure specifically to improve parks could not come at a better time. On Thursday the City Council will consider putting that tax measure on the November ballot, and it should do so without hesitation. It is time to let the voters decide the value of their parks.

The Fresno Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Initiative is a proposal by a coalition of citizens, community leaders and nonprofits. It seeks to raise the sales tax in Fresno by three-eighths of a cent. In so doing, $37.5 million would be generated annually for 30 years for parks.

The money would be used to update existing parks so they are cleaned up and safe to be in. New parks would be constructed in neighborhoods that don’t have green spaces. Playgrounds and restrooms would be fixed. Access for disabled people would be added where needed. There would be a focus on reducing criminal activities, like vandalism, and removing graffiti. Homeless people would be directed to places for help so camping in parks would be reduced.

Backers of the initiative say it would cost an average of $39 per household each year — or $3.25 a month. A commission of citizens would be formed to make sure the money raised is being spent as promised.

Councilmen Steve Brandau and Clint Olivier have made it clear during their time in office how much they dislike taxes. That point also seemed to resonate with other council members in June, when Mayor Lee Brand wanted to combine a parks measure with one to raise more money for hiring police and firefighters. The resounding lack of council support caused Brand to pull back his attempt.

But the matter before the council Thursday is not to back a tax. Rather, it is to let the people decide. The council should put the measure on the November ballot so the question of how much parks mean to locals can be an answered.

If you go

The parks initiative ballot measure is to be considered by the Fresno City Council at 3 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 9. The meeting is held downtown at City Hall, 2600 Fresno St.