Valley Voices

Con Measure P: Top need of every city is public safety, not parks

A homeless man gets his shoes on as Fresno police officer Noel Perez tells the man he needs to leave his camp, nearly shrouded by a tree, and take what he can carry, Wednesday morning, Aug. 14, 2018.
A homeless man gets his shoes on as Fresno police officer Noel Perez tells the man he needs to leave his camp, nearly shrouded by a tree, and take what he can carry, Wednesday morning, Aug. 14, 2018. Fresno Bee file

The proponents of Measure P are friends of mine. They’re smart, community minded and generous — and I agree with them: The city of Fresno lacks an adequate number of parks.

Each of these friends also agree that an eight-minute wait to connect with 9-1-1 is completely unreasonable and dangerous to every citizen.

Among the many problems with Measure P is its failure to recognize this connection between a $2 billion sales tax increase and the No. 1 role of government: public safety.

Fresno businessman John Ostlund Fresno Bee file

Many Yes advocates claim Measure P provides “public safety” in the form of lights, cameras and park rangers. What it does not provide are the funds and flexibility for our police chief to hire trained and sworn officers for our entire city, rather than just in and around parks. Measure P also does not provide money for police dispatchers, cars, firetrucks or equipment.

And why would Yes on P ask for a 30-year commitment when our most successful tax measures have been those with five-to-10-year life spans.

For example, Measure Z, the zoo tax, is 25 percent the size and 1/3 the length of Measure P. It generates $10 million per year, which the Chaffee Zoo has used to create multiple world-class attractions.

Yes on P should have done what the zoo did: Demonstrate that you’re capable and worthy of the investment and be assured that our community will support a renewal, just like we did with Measure Z.

Measure P is a Hail Mary pass. It’s hundreds of millions of dollars to be controlled by a “citizens commission.” Think of it as a second City Council, except you didn’t vote for them, you can’t vote to remove them and they aren’t required to have any type of financial expertise. It’s three decades and over $2 billion, whether you like the results or not.

And it’s not just parks — Measure P will funnel $200 million into the promotion of art in Fresno. I love art and have hosted a public party every month for the past 10 years to celebrate it, but $200 million in tax revenue going to a nonprofit staff of four people to spend pretty much any way they want is an honorably bad idea. Especially considering our current public safety crisis.

Police Chief Jerry Dyer is one of the most respected in the country. He’s done everything but beg the public to understand the danger of having thousands of gang members roaming our streets, but Measure P does nothing to help solve this problem. These are core services that currently operate at lower levels than they did 10 years ago.

In the case of our fire department, they have the same number of firefighters today as in 1980. Let that sink in: The same staffing levels we had 38 years ago when Fresno was half the size that it is today, with none of the $2 billion of Measure P finding its way to this pending disaster.

Opposition to Measure P is about balance. It does not address what happens when our community slips into its next economic slowdown. During our last recession when tax revenues plummeted, City Hall was forced to cut critical services. Can you imagine cutting public budgets even further, while spending millions to promote art?

To my friends who stand behind Measure P, you are correct. We are short on parks and need more art — but what we need more than anything else is a reasonable approach that addresses a broader list of community priorities and the ability to modify for changing conditions.

Some have suggested that we should pass Measure P and introduce yet another sales tax increase in 2020 for public safety, making our sales tax in one of the poorest regions in the state the highest in California. This idea is not likely to gain voter support and could have a chilling impact on neighborhood safety. It also does not account for the size, length and narrow focus of Measure P.

I’m with Mayor Lee Brand, Police Chief Dyer, Fire Chief Kerri Donis, the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, the Fresno County Lincoln Club and many generous citizens in voting no on Measure P.

John Ostlund is the owner of One Putt Broadcasting in Fresno.