The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY MAREK WARSZAWSKI marekw@fres­nobee.com Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee

Many Fres­nans want to know what Mayor Brand will do to fix the city’s parks – and the rifts in the com­mu­nity opened by Mea­sure P’s de­feat.

What now, Mayor Brand?

What are you go­ing to do to make Fresno a bet­ter, more liv­able city by ad­dress­ing its un­der­funded, ram­shackle parks?

How are you go­ing to re­pair the rift in our com­mu­nity that you helped widen?

A lot of us want to know. And we’re not go­ing to let go of the stick.

It was one thing for Lee Brand and his cronies, us­ing a strat­egy of fear-mon­ger­ing and mis­in­for­ma­tion, to op­pose a cit­i­zen-driven tax ini­tia­tive de­signed to over­haul decades of ne­glect by politi­cians just like him. Mea­sure P barely scraped 49 per­cent in Tues­day’s elec­tion, well short of the two-thirds ma­jor­ity it re­quired to pass.

Brand did what he set out to do, so mis­sion ac­com­plished. But if I were him, I wouldn’t spend too much time pat­ting my­self on the back. Be­cause now the onus of re­spon­si­bil­ity falls at his feet.

In­stead of tear­ing down a grand idea — flaws and all — it’s time to lead.

The Mea­sure P cam­paign tore open, or per­haps re­vealed, a deep di­vide in Cal­i­for­nia’s fifth-largest city. Friends op­posed friends. Neigh­bors op­posed neigh­bors. Po­lit­i­cal al­lies op­posed po­lit­i­cal al­lies. The Cham­ber of Com­merce op­posed busi­ness own­ers. The po­lice and fire chiefs, as well as their unions, op­posed or­di­nary ci­ti­zens and ac­tivists.

What’s your plan to fix the dam­age, Mr. Mayor? Sure hope you have one. Slash and burn may help sway votes, but it doesn’t win over hearts and minds.

I’d like to re­mind Brand and his ad­vis­ers of two num­bers per­ti­nent to this con­ver­sa­tion. The first, 71,776, is the num­ber of votes he re­ceived in the 2016 mayoral elec­tion. The sec­ond, 34,085 (and count­ing), is the num­ber of “Yes” votes on Mea­sure P.

Brand didn’t ex­actly be­come mayor by land­slide. His mar­gin of vic­tory over Henry Perea came by 3,723 votes.

In two years, when Brand is up for re-elec­tion, I’m bet­ting some of those 34,000-plus vot­ers will re­mem­ber how he lied to them about Mea­sure P.

Yes, lied.

When I met with Brand about Mea­sure P in midSeptem­ber, he talked about how $38 mil­lion per year was too much money for parks, arts, trails and free­way beau­ti­fi­ca­tion. He felt the 30-year time frame was too long. He had is­sues with the ini­tia­tive’s rigid­ness, how it didn’t give him the lee­way to shift money around in times of need. He bris­tled at the clause that didn’t al­low him (or fu­ture may­ors) to trim the park’s gen­eral plan bud­get in case of a re­ces­sion.

“You can make the ar­gu­ment that if you’re be­ing overly pre­scrip­tive, how are things go­ing to change in five or 10 years?” Brand asked me. “You don’t know, which is why you need some flex­i­bil­ity. That’s why you elect peo­ple who are ac­count­able to the vot­ers.”

These are all rea­son­able ar­gu­ments, wor­thy of dis­sec­tion and dis­cus­sion. Ex­cept Brand didn’t use them in his No on P ra­dio ads. In­stead he told us that a “Yes” vote would take away money from po­lice and fire. Which isn’t true. And he told us all the tax money would be con­trolled by a ci­ti­zens com­mit­tee with zero ac­count­abil­ity. Which is a flat-out lie.

Did Brand even read the mea­sure? Makes me won­der. It’s ei­ther that or he pur­pose­fully lied to the ci­ti­zens of Fresno.

A lot of peo­ple read­ing this are prob­a­bly think­ing, “Wise up, Marek. All politi­cians lie, and the closer they get to an elec­tion the more fre­quent their lies be­come.”

(See Trump, Don­ald.) Fair enough. But Brand isn’t a ca­reer politi­cian. He’s some­one who came from a work­ing class back­ground, made him­self a suc­cess in busi­ness and en­tered pol­i­tics later in life. I re­spect him for that. Which is also why I hold him to a higher stan­dard. Or at least I used to.

In a post-elec­tion state­ment about Mea­sure P, Brand tried to strike con­cil­ia­tory tone. He told us the re­sults were “bit­ter­sweet for me.” He told us he agreed Fresno’s parks needed to be “im­proved and ex­panded” and that he re­spects the “hard work and pas­sion of ev­ery­one in­volved with the Yes on P cam­paign.”

“Start­ing to­day, I will call on my friends on both sides of this is­sue to join me in de­vel­op­ing sen­si­ble so­lu­tions for Fresno’s big­gest prob­lems with the first of many meet­ings start­ing in Jan­uary,” Brand said.

“This means parks and pub­lic safety, but could also in­clude home­less­ness, blight, job cre­ation and in­fra­struc­ture. We need a broad-based ap­proach to ad­dress all of our city’s pri­or­i­ties rea­son­ably and fairly.”

Look, I get it. Fresno’s prob­lems and inad­e­qua­cies run deeper than parks. And although Mea­sure P failed, there’s a good chance the “Yes” votes will out­num­ber “No” by the time ev­ery mail-in and pro­vi­sional bal­lot is counted.

Which means half the city’s vot­ers were will­ing to tax them­selves, for 30 years, to ad­dress a decades-old prob­lem our politi­cians and bu­reau­crats have long ig­nored. That’s a siz­able chunk of the elec­torate. There’s no get­ting around that.

Mea­sure P sup­port­ers will now re­assess what to do next. How­ever, for­mer Mayor Ash­ley Swearen­gin told me that Fresno’s parks are “too dis­tressed” to sim­ply walk away.

“The com­mit­ment is to keep go­ing,” Swearen­gin said. “It might take a cou­ple bites from the ap­ple to get this thing passed.”

I’m bet­ting Brand never imag­ined parks would be­come such a hot-but­ton is­sue when he de­cided to run for mayor. But here we are. The prob­lem is his now.

We’ve seen how Brand can dis­tort the truth to help bring down an ini­tia­tive he and his cronies don’t like. Now we’ll see if he can ac­tu­ally lead.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA ezamora@fres­nobee.com

Mea­sure P pro­po­nents stand up in sup­port of the parks tax as the Fresno City Coun­cil voted to place the cit­i­zen-driven ini­tia­tive on the No­vem­ber bal­lot dur­ing an Au­gust 2018 coun­cil meet­ing.

CRAIG KOHLRUSS ck­ohlruss@fres­nobee.com

A drone photo shows ne­glected fields at Fink-White Park in west Fresno on Oct. 19. Mea­sure P, the sales tax to ben­e­fit Fresno parks, was de­feated at the bal­lot box.


Mayor Lee Brand was a op­po­nent of Mea­sure P.

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