City Hall wants more than $4 million of Measure C funds to help build a new junior college satellite campus in West Fresno.
All it will take is a big rewrite of Measure C spending rules.
The Fresno Council of Governments’ Policy Advisory Committee on Friday will consider a grant request from the administration of Mayor Lee Brand.
Measure C, of course, is Fresno County’s half-cent sales tax for transportation projects. One of Measure C’s spending niches is the New Technology Program. The program is barely a year old.
In a nutshell, the New Technology Program currently has about $5 million in the kitty. City Hall is teaming with Fresno City College and State Center Community College District to request almost all of it — $4.5 million, to be precise.
The money would help jumpstart a Technical and Academic Satellite campus in West Fresno.
The catch is the popularity of the New Technology Program’s free money. Fresno County is full of cities with ideas that fit the program’s funding rules. In fact, the demand outstrips the supply of money.
That’s why there’s a formal competition for the dough. Fresno City Hall, though, views its idea as so important that it shouldn’t have to grub around with the Sangers and Mendotas of the world in some sort of time-consuming vetting process.
“City officials ask that the funding be directly allocated to the project rather than employing the formal ‘call for projects’ process, which is both Fresno COG’s and the Fresno County Transportation Authority’s mutually adopted policy,” says a report from COG Executive Director Tony Boren. “… A direct Measure C funding allocation would be a major deviation from both Fresno COG’s and FCTA’s boards’ mutual policies for competitive programs within the Measure C Expenditure Plan, and could set a precedent for future funding decisions.”
There’s a lot of ambitious public policy swirling around City Hall’s request.
Let’s begin with the nature of the Measure C New Technology Program. The title says it all: Better science is deemed to create better transportation networks, which produce happier people and a cleaner environment.
Better science almost always requires more money.
“To further its Measure C New Technology Program goals,” says a COG report, “Fresno COG is focusing on technological advances in public systems, safety features, fuel efficiencies and alternatives, intelligent transportation system applications, and information dissemination. These areas help to promote passenger safety and satisfaction, attract customers, improve capital and operating efficiencies, reduce environmental pollution, and ease dependence on fossil fuels.”
That’s just a tiny slice of the program’s expansive mission statement. I’m assuming just about any idea involving humans and motion but avoiding any praise for gas-guzzling 1972 Pontiac Bonnevilles has a shot at funding success.
The first round of New Technology Program funding in 2016 included $1.08 million for a sustainable aviation project in Reedley and Mendota and $1.11 million for an advanced technology school bus project in Sanger.
In total, six proposals were submitted for the first round of funding. Five got money – a total of $8.02 million. Only one of the five – the Reedley/Mendota aviation project – got its full request.
Fresno officials find themselves in a familiar spot. They’ve got big dreams. They’re in a hurry. They need big money.
To be sure, the dreams are of a kind all Fresnans can get behind.
West Fresno has long struggled with economic and social challenges. The new Southwest Fresno Specific Plan is a key step in addressing them. A new junior college satellite campus with a focus on vocational as well as traditional academic disciplines located in the middle of a region designated for major growth is another key step.
At the same time, the very southern tip of Fresno, just a short hop from the historic neighborhoods typically associated with West Fresno, is on the verge of becoming Central California’s premiere 21st century industrial park. Amazon and Ulta Beauty are building huge e-commerce distribution centers there. The bullet train’s heavy maintenance facility might join Amazon and Ulta. And the Caglia family thinks it can turn 110 undeveloped acres in the area into 2 million square feet of leased industrial/distribution warehouse might.
Education, jobs, tax revenues, neighborhood revitalization – sounds good to me.
But there are a lot of moving pieces here.
Interim Assistant City Manager Bruce Rudd in an Oct. 3 letter to COG’s Boren wrote that the state of California recently set aside $70 million of cap and trade money for Fresno revitalization projects.
“As part of this grant process,” Rudd wrote, “the City, with the support of the Central Valley Regional Foundation and other community stakeholders, has engaged in an extensive community outreach effort in which a variety of projects will be considered and recommended by a Community Steering Committee.”
One of the proposed projects is the technical/academic junior college satellite campus in West Fresno. City College and SCCCD are supporting the proposal. A likely site for the campus is near Church Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard, not far from Gaston Middle School.
“The project, once completed, represents an investment of approximately $100 million,” Rudd wrote. “The City is a partner in this project and has committed to funding $11 million in offsite improvements, as well as contributing $4.5 million toward the construction of a new neighborhood park.”
Rudd assured Boren that the new school’s mission is right in the New Technology Program’s wheelhouse.
“Once completed,” Rudd wrote, “this institution of higher learning will provide technical education and training for general automobile and truck maintenance and repair, as well as new advanced technologies including electric, hybrid electric and alternative fuel propulsion systems.”
The city plans to provide public transit services to the new school’s site with the next generation of all-electric heavy-duty buses. City Hall would partner with City College and the bus manufacturer to provide maintenance for the buses, Rudd wrote.
With all those positives, Rudd wrote, City Hall along with City College and SCCCD is asking for $4.5 million in New Technology Program funds “which would be used to help defray the capital costs associated with either the construction of the campus and/or specialized equipment that will be needed to support the advanced curriculum and training. In addition, and given that the training will be available to students living throughout the county, we would also respectfully request that the County of Fresno Council of Governments Policy Board grant the requested funding to FCC/SCCCD rather than initiate a formal request for projects as was done previously.”
According to a COG document, only COG and its member agencies (Fresno County’s 15 incorporated cities and the county itself) are eligible to receive New Technology funding. COG must approve a resolution for any other jurisdiction to get the money.
COG’s policy board is composed of mayors and a county supervisor. COG’s policy advisory committee is composed of chief administrative officers/city managers.
Boren in his report to the advisory committee noted that the Measure C New Technology money would “supplement the City’s existing $15.5 million commitment to the West Fresno Satellite Campus project, which will also receive $16.9 million in Transformative Climate Communities funding through the Strategic Growth Council.”
The latter pot is cap and trade money.
The way I see it, that’s $32.4 million already earmarked for the new campus. On top of that, voters in June 2016 approved a $485 million capital improvement bond for SCCCD – you know, money for things like school construction.
Fresno City Hall now wants 90% of the money in the New Technology till for the West Fresno campus.
Maybe Fresno County’s small towns really are that generous.