Battle over street repair funding brews between Fresno City Council members

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The city of Fresno estimates it needs about $600 million in street repairs to cover nearly 2,000 miles of streets.

The passage of the state gas tax is giving the city a boost of about $9 million in 2019, and more than $12 million a year, in each following year.

Mayor Lee Brand figured the best way to spend the money is to spread it roughly evenly through the city, but City Councilmember Luis Chavez thinks it's unfair.

"We don't support that approach that divides up the money seven ways in the city council districts, we actually are asking for equity in our part of town," Chavez said.

He and council members Esmerelda Soria and Miguel Arias think the funds should go to streets in the worst conditions first. They believe the worst is in their districts, which include the oldest parts of town.

"We are serious about making sure the investments that are happening in our area are really going to uplift neighborhoods that have been long neglected," Soria said.

Arias says one simple way to prioritize spending would be to see where sidewalks are most needed.

"Make sure the schools have sidewalks, where kids can walk to school," he said. "In south Fresno, a lot of the schools do not have sidewalks across the street or leading up to the school. That doesn't exist in north Fresno."

The Mayor's plan calls for distributing between $1.5 and $2 million to each of the council districts from this first round of gas tax funding. He says every corner of the city needs road and street repairs, but he is open to council suggestions.

"We are trying to be fair about it; there is going to be a hearing at council to debate it," Brand said. "If they can come up with a good idea and ways to justify it, we will certainly look at it, so it's not etched in stone.

One who is not so sure is Councilmember Steve Brandau, who acknowledges the southern part of the city is the neediest but says it's not the fault of the current residents of the north.

He compared it to the government paying reparations to African Americans for slavery.

"Is it right for us to make the citizens of north Fresno pay for the sins of the past, you know it kind of reminds me of the whole reparations argument," Brandau said.

The matter comes before the council on Thursday. It will be Brandau's last meeting; he is resigning to become a county supervisor.

Mayor Brand says if the council members have another plan they need to present it quickly. The city has only until May first to submit its funding request to the state.
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