Make “C” Stand for Climate, Community

This column first appeared in the March 2021 issue of Community Alliance.

By Kevin Hall

Twenty years ago, local business and political leaders learned an important lesson at the ballot box: People really want clean air. That’s why in 2002 voters rejected the first renewal attempt for Measure C, our half-cent countywide transportation sales tax, and why they’ll be called on to do so again in 2022.

Because this time around it’s about the climate, and our leaders just don’t get it. 

Just as the freeway-backers of the tax’s first iterations in the 1980s and 2000s sought to avoid discussion of vehicle exhaust’s harmful impacts, today they reject the evidence of destabilizing weather patterns caused by global warming.

They’d also like to again ignore the increasing number of people living in frontline rural and inner-city communities where climate change and Measure C–funded pollution hit families hardest. Their neighborhoods receive the lowest transportation investments, yet residents must pay a disproportionate share of their income toward the tax, another added cost of poverty.

After “C” was first passed in 1986 to last 20 years, elected leaders immediately altered the ballot’s voter-approved priorities. They moved Highway 168—it had polled badly before the election—to the top of the list, ahead of inner-city and rural needs.

Voters remembered that half-billion-dollar deception 15 years later. They rejected the program’s deadly synergy of freeway construction, sprawl and air pollution that had

  • Robbed neighborhoods of street and sidewalk repairs
  • Ignored the transit needs of workers, students and seniors
  • Isolated people living in car-less households
  • Denied children healthy lives and everybody full ones

Only 25% of the first Measure C went to local roads and little or none to transit. For 15 years, most of the money went to gouge the “Sierra Freeway” through the heart of Fresno. Better termed the “White Flight Path,” its wide runway now roars with commuter traffic from distant Clovis suburbs and foothill exurbs.

The Measure C ½-cent transportation sales tax renewal is taking shape behind closed doors for priorities and a spending plan through the year 2047. The 180 East four-lane, now to Centerville, is slated to continue further into the mountains.

Meanwhile, semi-trucks continued to choke West Fresno neighborhoods with diesel toxins for decades while relief in the form of 180 West was delayed in favor of the northward exodus.

Voters rejected the continuation of such injustices. A coalition of community groups successfully campaigned in opposition with a simple slogan, “Got Smog? Got Asthma? No on C.”

Two years and many hours of facilitated negotiations later, a compromise was reached. Voters approved of its revised spending plan that split the fund into equal thirds of freeway expansion, local roads and alternative modes.

It was a significant shift.

Two decades later, our inordinately expensive, overbuilt freeway network is complete. It’s time to “enhance capacity” with large-scale investments in regional transit and road maintenance. Let’s expand the agency’s mandate to include solar energy production and storage, and prepare to capture the matching federal and state funds now shifting to green transportation systems.

We live in a world racing to end carbon and methane combustion in order to survive. Steep cuts must be made before 2030, mostly in transportation. The secretly assembled committee now claiming to be in charge of Measure C has no sense of the urgency of our time.

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