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Fresno ranks 94th out of 100 cities for its parks. Voters denied more funding

Fresno ranks 94th out of 100 cities for its parks. Voters denied more funding
Billboard backing Fresno's Measure P. (Fresno Building Healthy Communities)

Advocates in Fresno have long urged city leaders to spend more on its neglected parks.

The Trust for Public Land consistently scores Fresno at or near last out of the largest 100 cities nationwide. The city scored 94th this year.

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That won’t change soon. Nearly half of Fresno voters cast ballots for Measure P, a sales tax of less than half of 1% that would have been used to create parks in neighborhoods that lack park access, clean and update existing parks, improve recreational and cultural programs, and provide job training for veterans and at-risk youth. The measure required two-thirds of the vote to pass.

The measure would have raised $37.5 million each year for 30 years, with almost half going toward maintaining existing parks and nearly a quarter facilitating the creation of others.

Opponents — including Mayor Lee Brand — said the measure was well intentioned but would take money away from public safety services such as police and fire. Brand worried that voters in the city — where one in three residents live below the poverty level — wouldn’t tolerate additional taxes for those services. Instead, he plans to work on a 2020 ballot measure that includes both.

“I’ll be the first to say we need help with our parks,” he said at a news conference last month. “Nobody here is against parks, but we need a balanced approach because it totally neglects public safety.”

Advocates, including former Mayor Ashley Swearengin, said better parks would make Fresno more desirable by improving property values and decreasing crime rates. They said leaders had failed for decades to care for the city’s green spaces.

The stats are hard to ignore.

Roughly half of Fresno’s population doesn’t live within walking distance of a park, according to a parks plan from 2016.

Last year, Fresno — the fifth largest city in California — spent $35 per capita on parks, according to the Fresno Bee. By comparison, Bakersfield spent $74 and Sacramento spent $119.

Using city data, Fresno Building Healthy Communities, which led a campaign advocating for better parks, found a significant disparity in where parks are located throughout the city. South of Shaw Avenue, known locally as the dividing line between wealth and concentrated poverty, there was 1 acre of green space per 1,000 residents. North of Shaw, that number increased to 4.6 acres.

Starting in 2015, advocates plastered billboards with that information around the city. “Your ZIP Code shouldn’t predict how long you’ll live — but it does,” the advertisements read.

Sandra Celedon-Castro, who heads Fresno BHC, said the close results show that Fresno residents want clean and safe neighborhood parks.

"Just policing our communities is not the answer to crime and poverty,” she said. “Quality parks are part of the real answer. Parks provide young people with safe spaces to grow and thrive.”

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