Marek Warszawski

Be smarter, Fresno. Don’t fall for the untruths & straw-man arguments against Measure P

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.

Don’t fall for it, Fresno. Don’t fall for the mischaracterizations and straw-man arguments against Measure P.

Opponents of the November citywide ballot measure won’t be straightforward, so it’s up to you to be smarter. It’s up to you to see through their smokescreen. There are arguments to be made against Measure P, which would funnel about $37.5 million annually into Fresno’s dilapidated and deficient parks via a three-eighth of a cent sales tax hike.

Opponents could argue they’re against all new taxes in any shape or form. That we already pay high enough taxes to fund our wasteful government. They could argue they’re against parks, don’t see the value of parks, and don’t want any of their tax dollars going to parks.

I’d strenuously disagree with those lines of reasoning, but at least they come from a valid, honest place.

The arguments Measure P opponents are rolling out and rallying behind fall well short of that standard. Instead, they rely on distorted truths, self-interest and fear-mongering.

For example, Fresno will not be the highest-taxed city in California if Measure P passes. Not even close. But the biggest fallacy being made by the No on P side is that parks and public safety are somehow joined at the hip. That if Fresno votes to fund parks, we’re imperiling public safety.

Never mind that 75 percent of Fresno’s general fund already goes to police and fire compared to 4.5 percent for parks. And when you look at what Fresno spends on parks on a per capita basis ($35.33), compared to similar-sized cities like Long Beach ($203.11), Oakland ($140.71), Sacramento ($118.76) and Bakersfield ($73.56), the conclusion is inescapable.

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Measure P is the Safe Neighborhood and Parks initiative on the ballot which seeks 3/8-cent sales tax over 30 years. Funds would be used to improve existing parks and build new ones in parts of Fresno under served. Opponents argue that without additional law enforcement policing new parks would be problematic. Editorial cartoon by SW Parra swparra@gmail.com

Parks, unlike public safety, have never been a priority for Fresno’s elected leaders. Not now, not since the recession, not during the city’s unchecked northward sprawl. Which is why its citizens are stepping up.

Yet in every No on P mailer and ad, a vote for parks is construed as a vote against public safety. As if Fresnans must choose one or the other rather than expect both.

“We oppose Measure P,” Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer says in a TV spot, “because it takes away our ability to hire the additional personnel needed to keep Fresno safe.”

First of all, Measure P would do no such thing. It doesn’t “take away” any resources from public safety, it simply adds them to parks. Second, how many times in recent months has Dyer called a news conference to tell us crime is down? Either Fresno is safer, or it isn’t. Dyer can’t have it both ways.

Another pot for public safety

I’m not saying police, fire and emergency response don’t need a bump. They do. Also on the November ballot is Measure A, the marijuana dispensary tax, which is projected to add another $10 million per year to the city coffers if it passes. (And why shouldn’t it?)

While some of that money ought to go to drug addiction and rehab programs, I wouldn’t object if public safety took the biggest slice. Earlier this week, Dyer and Fresno Fire Chief Kerri Donis went before the City Council to ask for money from the proceeds of a $2 million parking lot recently sold to the owners of the Fresno Grizzlies.

There are other ways and means for public safety to get what it needs, besides knocking down Measure P.

But let’s not make this about Dyer, Donis, or even the police and fire unions. They’re simply protecting their own interests and the interests of their members. It’s misguided but understandable.

Mayor’s role

Mayor Lee Brand, on the other hand, shouldn’t get off so easily. Not for someone who is supposed to represent all of Fresno, even in areas where residents don’t have access to clean, safe parks. (Which, let’s be honest, includes just about everywhere south of Shaw Avenue.)

A month ago, I sat in a City Hall conference room with Brand and two of his staff for nearly an hour in an earnest attempt to understand why the mayor is so against Measure P.

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Fresno Mayor Lee Brand was one of the most vocal opponents of Measure P, the proposed sales tax hike to benefit city parks. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA ezamora@fresnobee.com

Here are my conclusions, drawn from that meeting and subsequent conversations:

● Brand sees the Fresno for Parks movement as an affront to his mayoral powers. (“I didn’t plan for any new taxes when the year started,” he told me.)

Sorry, mayor, but that’s democracy. No one gets to make all the rules.

● Brand does not view parks, or the arts, as essential components to a city. They’re extras. And in his mind, financially strapped Fresno cannot afford extras.

“Arts and culture gets $4.5 million (under Measure P),” Brand lamented. “I don’t think we’ve ever given more than $100,000 in any given year.”

The benefits of arts and culture don’t seem to register, only the expense.

● Brand has been getting terrible advice. He all but admitted he never expected Measure P supporters to come up with 35,000 signatures, which explains why Tim Orman, his chief of staff and political strategist, is so dismissive whenever that fact is raised.

Then there’s the dismal failure of Brand’s half-cent tax proposal that would’ve been split evenly between parks and public safety. Did Orman even bother to check whether any City Council members actually supported the idea before sending his boss to the podium?

Never seen a Fresno mayor look so weak.

We ask the tough questions

Elections bring out a lot of noise. Good and bad. At The Fresno Bee, we hold local elected officials accountable for their words and their actions. We uncover the truth. And as a neighbor, we've got your back. We are The Fresno Bee. Support local journalism: Sign up today for unlimited digital access at fresnobee.com.

Measure P has been described as “transformational” because it would take one of the city’s biggest shortcomings and turn it into a strength. To me, that’s well worth the $3.25 per month it would cost the average household.

But if you’re going to vote “No,” do it because you can’t stomach any more taxes, no matter how noble their purpose, or because you don’t give a fig about parks. Not because you’ve succumbed to fear tactics based on falsehoods and self interests. Be smarter than that, Fresno.

Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee
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