The odd thing is this: I sense Fresno is poised to take a big step forward. Things are pretty good now, and the pieces are there to get even better. We’re a big American city. We can be an influential American city.
I say “odd” because I don’t understand how Fresno got into this mess of dueling sales tax initiatives. I won’t bore you with the backstory; the local media, including CVObserver, have reported on the tale’s opening chapters. Here’s a hint to all you enterprise reporters out there – there’s plenty of depth still to uncover.
Money and infrastructure could help fuel Fresno’s next big step. Yet, it appears City Hall and an alliance of parks activists is playing a game of high-stakes political chicken with these two connected issues.
The result could be two losers and no winner. I don’t get it.
In the meantime, I give you another chapter in the tale. The following is a letter from Damon Kurtz, president of the Fresno Police Officers Association, to Fresno’s seven council members. The letter was written soon after Mayor Lee Brand withdrew (perhaps temporarily) his proposed sales tax initiative because of tepid council support.
Kurtz has written a powerful letter.
“June 27, 2018
“Dear Council Members,
“I am writing to you in regards to the Public Safety/Parks initiative proposed by Mayor Lee Brand. For too long the city of Fresno has eeked along doing the bare minimum when it comes to its core services such as police and fire. For too long we have ended up on lists of cities with high crime and compared to locations synonymous with crime.
“Right now, in the city of Fresno we are working with a failing public safety infrastructure ignored by previous administrations. With 800 officers we are still 50 officers less than the city had in 2009, yet our population has grown. Right now, a dayshift in the police dept, in this city of 112 sq. miles there are only about 40 officers patrolling our streets, available to respond to calls. Is it any wonder why we will commonly have more than 150 calls for service waiting to be answered? Every day in this city our computer system or radio system crashes leaving our officers and citizens at risk. Our call centers are so busy that our residents’ 911 calls are not immediately answered.
“I have often heard the blame belongs to Sacramento and the elected there. ‘It’s their fault the Fresno is struggling.’ We can pass blame if you like, but how many of you have lobbied as our representatives in Sacramento? How many of you have ventured out of your comfort zone of the central valley and your Facebook followers to try and effect change in this state and in Fresno for the better? Unfortunately, no one is willing to put themselves out there to make the tough decisions that may not be popular based on which political ideology you belong to. It seems that everyone in office is more focused on the next political office or consulting job rather than what’s best for Fresno. So, we blame Sacramento and give ourselves a pass. The bottom line is there is not enough revenue in the city budget to provide the essential core services to our residents.
“We can pass the blame or we can take control of our own direction. We have an opportunity to make Fresno better. This initiative is an opportunity to counteract decisions made outside of our city. To truly make a commitment to the city and make it safer by investing in public safety. To increase the quality of life with new and existing parks. This initiative would pay for the parks master plan voted on and approved by this council just over 6 months ago.
“The idea of a tax makes most people wince in disapproval. The issue isn’t the tax itself, it’s that the taxes are taken and then spent in a manner not consistent with the reason it was taken. We can be better than that. This initiative is an opportunity to keep 100% of the money here in Fresno for Fresno. This is an opportunity for our city elected to show it can be done responsibly. In the end we can be the victim and blame Sacramento for the woes of Fresno, or we can take charge. Allowing this initiative to move forward is allowing the voters of Fresno decide their fate. Is that too much to ask or will personal politics prevail?
“You all were elected to take charge and be leaders. To make tough decisions not based on political ideology but on what is best for our community. I hope you will find the courage to be the leaders you were elected to be.
“Damon Kurtz, President, Fresno Police Officers Association”