//Rightfully Represented

Rightfully Represented

By I. smiley G. Calderón | smileygcalderon@gmail.com

The year was 1992, and voters in Fresno had just successfully voted to change how city government was conducted. In addition to switching to a mayor-council form of government, provisions were put into place to ensure proper and equitable city council representation for the future.

Back in the 90s, when Fresno was a smaller yet rapidly growing place, the city’s population was just at about 385,000 residents. Yet the smart voters of the day knew that, as the population increased, so should representation. They understood that Fresno’s government would need to evolve and grow alongside its population increase. In fact, this Expansion of Council Membership guaranty is what was included in the original text of City Charter Section 1504: “(a) At such time as the population of the City of Fresno reaches 540,000, the Council shall add two Council offices to the Council…” How straightforward and clear!

Yet, sadly, in 2010, an initiative called Measure A, was passed with about 34,200 votes, that changed Section 1504 in some critical ways. First, it increased the population threshold from 540,000 to 650,000. So now, before additional councilmembers can even be considered, Fresno has to be spilling over with new residents. Secondly, Measure A changed the text of Section 1504 to include a “public review process to consider adding two Council offices to the Council…” which, after completed, would result in a Council “vote on whether to submit to the voters a ballot measure adding two Council offices…” This critical change effectively emasculated the impact that this important section had in automatically maintaining proper, if not merely adequate, city council representation for Fresnans. Now, because of Measure A, some type of “public review process” would have to be implemented before a Council vote could be cast. All of this just to see if a ballot measure for adding new councilmembers could be presented to voters. Aargh. Why is this so convoluted and complicated?

Frankly speaking, because power doesn’t like to be shared.

If two new council districts were created here in Fresno, that would mean that existing council district boundaries would have to be redrawn. True, more people would gain more representation – a necessity. But, with new and different district boundaries come less consolidation of city control – a threat. That is, the necessity of better city representation for Fresnans is perceived as a threat by certain individuals who don’t want to relinquish their control, or who don’t want to share citywide influence and power more equitably. Clearly, this kind of politics is in stark contrast to voters’ original 1992 intention of permanently ensuring equitable representation by including Section 1504 in the City Charter.

In 1992, Fresno’s population was less than 400,000. Now, compare that with today’s 536,600 – we are the 5th largest city in California – with about a 40% population increase over the past 30 years. Yet, over these past 30 years, we’ve had no more than 7 councilmembers. And, perhaps that was fine then when each councilmember represented an average of 55,000 Fresnans. But today, with still only 7 councilmembers to represent us, each councilmember now has about 76,600 constituents to serve. What a substantial increase!

How does this stack up against our nearby sister cities? Well, take Oakland and Bakersfield, for example. With considerably fewer people, 432,900 and 389,200, respectively, both cities have 7 councilmembers. Now, contrast this with Sacramento and Long Beach, still with less people than Fresno, 508,200 and 475,000, respectively: they each have 9 councilmembers. Clearly, Fresno is behind the times and needs to catch up with its representation.

Today, we are a thriving city that is making moves to become another one of California’s favorite destination cities, a vibrant community in the Central Valley with attainable aspirations. But, our voices can’t be adequately heard if we are not correctly represented at City Hall. And, as our collective population increases, if our voices aren’t heard there, then our city vision will become clouded and skewed, and our Fresno future unclear.

It’s been nearly 30 years since Fresnans spoke up to make sure they were properly represented in their town – and despite the Measure A setback, Fresno voters are still poised for citywide growth and modernization. So, isn’t it about time for Fresno to get its representation back on track and get with the program so that we can all collectively move forward in the growth of our city? 

Isn’t it about time that we were rightfully represented in our city?

This article is open for discussion – Please chime in – Let us know what you think!