Today, the city council will vote yet again on approving funding. Not city funding, but federal funding, free money that has fallen from the sky and is intended to help the city fix a portion of its terrible transit system.
The money didn't come by chance. Two different mayoral administrations have supported seeking the grants (one democrat, one republican). A variety of city staffers have worked hard to submit applications for grant after grant, and have gotten the money secured - a giant coup as transit funding is limited and every city in the country is hungry for it. For example, the city grabbed onto $17 million in 2011, and a final $10 million earlier this year.
And tonight, thanks to some tea party logic, the city might just throw away a decade of hard work.
Earlier this week, Council President Steve Brandau had an editorial published in the Bee making his vote clear. Also clear was his inability to understand land use or transportation funding, his obvious lack of experience on FAX, and a magical way in which he can pretend large swaths of his constituents don't exist.
The feds and the state will pay for this bus with your tax dollars, but is that a good use of your money if we don't need the bus?
Most of the people I talk to are not planning to leave their beloved neighborhoods for residences on Blackstone.
This guy apparently believes that nobody rides the bus, and that people don't already live and work along the two busiest corridors in the city - even though 60,000 people do.
Naturally, the bus route will simply replace what are today the two busiest bus lines in the system.
However, I won't write more about his bad editorial, as other have. The Bee, for example, has devoted not one, but two editorials this week to the issue.
The first actually looks past Steve's argument and straight into his pocket books. His ridiculous excuses don't hold any water, but he says them anyway because there are players behind the scenes.
But now some council members are expressing grave concern about a system that would speed up bus passenger travel along the Blackstone Avenue and Kings Canyon Boulevard corridors. They say they are concerned about BRT being a boondoggle that eventually will cost the city millions of dollars in annual operating losses.
Our sense is that their objections are fueled by something else: a wish to undo the 2035 General Plan Update that the council passed in spring 2012. Powerful developer interests have pushed to tear up the update, which calls for 45% of new growth to be infill.
The reality is that if the BRT project is shot down during the evening session of Thursday's council meeting, city leaders will have to draw up a new general plan update.
Based on what the city has spent on the approved update and the BRT project, such a decision would send $7.7 million down the drain. That's not to mention the $2 million more it would cost to author a replacement update.
A tea party politician crying about costs and then turning around to send money down the drain? Par for the course. Housing developers working behind the scenes to ensure the city only offers single-family tract housing? Business as usual.
The whole editorial is worth a read, by the way.
Streetsblog picked up the story shortly after, with their own summary of the events. Angie Schmitt also made a few calls:
Christine Baker is a coordinator with a group called FLARE Together — Fresno Leaders Advocating Regionally for Equity. She said city government could go either way. In their opposition campaign, local real estate developers have teamed up with the Tea Party and the Amalgamated Transit Union, whose local leader is allied with Tea Party groups, Baker said. ”We have a local PAC that has been running fear mongering ads on local conservative talk radio: ‘If BRT is approved crime will increase in Riverpark,’” a shopping center.
Fresno Reborn was next to put together an article about this folly. His lengthy rebuttal to the critics is well worth a read as well - it addresses almost every single point, including the ridiculous crime one.
He also goes into the economical need for BRT, which the other editorials missed:
Jobs: Having reliable transportation is essential to keeping or landing a job. Each day, residents in Fresno miss work, lose a job or cannot look for work because they do have reliable transportation. Many do not entertain the bus system due to the time consumption and that the local busses are completely at the mercy of multiple stops, traffic and unsynchronized signal lights. BRT would be able to control the lights, get ahead of traffic and have fewer stops. Those that cannot afford a car, choose not to have a car, or have automobile problems would have a reliable way of getting to work or looking for work on time. This in turn creates more employment, a stronger workforce and a more available citizenry. A reliable transit system also makes Fresno appear more attractive to business.Unemployment is still over 10%, and we're still arguing about helping people get to work?
The Fresno Bee published one last editorial tonight, and they actually beat me to the punch about what I was planning on writing this evening"
But, after these victories, there's a real possibility that a majority of City Council members are prepared to end the BRT quest and reject the $50 million with their votes this evening.One does not simply take $50 million, return it, and expect to remain in good graces.
If this happens, it will send a message across the state and the nation — to government officials and private investors — that Fresno's political leadership can't be trusted.
The money was hard fought for, with reports, more reports, analysis, debates, and comparisons between peer cities.
The city was competing with not dozens, but hundreds of projects around the country. Light rail, bus, heavy rail.... every major city has been scrambling for federal help.
Fresno was one of the few that got it.
If Fresno says NO, the money rushes away - perhaps to Tuscon, or Ft. Lauderdale, or Honolulu....
And it won't come back.
Opponents of BRT say that they would prefer to see federal and state dollars go to beef up Fresno Area Express bus routes. That's fine, but what do you think the odds are of winning more grants after Fresno has stamped "return to sender" on $50 million?
Zero. Forget the fact that the GOP house isn't sending out checks - if they do, why would anyone send cash to Fresno over a shovel-ready project elsewhere that will actually break ground?
I am very glad the Bee published this final editorial, as I presume they get a tad more readers than I do. Hopefully, it acts as a slap in the face to the council members thinking of voting no.
If they vote no tonight, they're voting no on federal assistance for a long time.
Oh, and by the way...
As the BRT debate has heated up, things have turned ugly. Political consultant Tal Cloud is airing radio commercials intended to stoke irrational concerns about public safety. In addition, the Central Valley Tea Party has circulated an email predicting a crime spike at River Park if BRT is approved.Tal Cloud? His Facebook profile indicates he lives no where near Fresno. In fact, he lives in a rural area being served by this massive highway project. He's complaining about $3 million annual costs (paid for by the feds)....odds that he also complained about the $100 million + dropped on the freeway serving his ranch?
Yeah, I thought so.
Please excuse any typos, this is just too much.