Miguel Arias inspects a 1930s era breaker box at the Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium. Photo by Frank Lopez
Written by Gabriel Dillard
A trio of Fresno City Council members announced plans to introduce a sales tax initiative to support Central Valley veterans.
Fresno Council President Nelson Esparza, along with Councilmembers Miguel Arias and Luis Chavez, held a press conference at the Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Downtown Fresno on Wednesday afternoon to announce a ballot measure for the city’s veterans and veterans’ facilities.
The Fresno Veterans Support Ballot Initiative, or Measure V, aims to improve services for veterans and fund improvements to the Fresno Memorial Auditorium and other veteran facilities. It was scheduled to be introduced to the Fresno City Council Thursday and will be subject to input from local veteran leaders and organizations, the councilmembers said.
The goal is to include Measure V on the November ballot.
Measure V is anticipated generate approximately $9.8 million dollars a year through a 1/8th of a cent increment for city residents.
Esparza said there are nearly 40,000 veterans living in Fresno County, with more than 19,300 of them residing in the City of Fresno.
“Many veterans, especially homeless veterans who have been relegated to our streets, struggle to find a way back to a productive life,” Esparza said. “These men and women have sacrificed for us. It’s time to develop solutions to ensure that they have services and resources to live a peaceful and thriving life as civilians.”
Arias said as District 3 representative, he has received numerous inquiries about the condition of the 40,000 square-foot Fresno Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium, which was built in 1935.
The most recent assessment, conducted around five years ago, estimates the costs to modernize the building at more than $11 million.
Arias said that the Veterans of Foreign Wars buildings on Parkway Drive in Fresno, and the one on Blythe Avenue, will also need renovation.
Arias estimates the cost of redoing the auditorium’s electrical work alone stands around $5 million. Of its four stories, only one floor is usable.
It also needs a modern HVAC system. Arias pointed out that the air vents in the veteran’s library are barely a couple of feet above someone’s head.
There will also need to be work done on the flooring, stage, auditorium and exterior façade.
“Today is a moment for us to transition from celebrating our veterans in parades and memorials towards restoring and rebuilding our facilities and adding support services that our veterans deserve,” Arias said.
In regard to using funds from Measure P, a tax to improve Fresno’s parks, trails and facilities, Arias said it would put the council in a bind to decide whether to use the money to serve children with after-school programs or veterans with housing support services.
“We shouldn’t have to be forced to make that choice every single year,” Arias said.
Support services for veterans at the auditorium would include psychological and substance abuse counseling and homeless relocation — eliminating the need for veterans to travel from Fresno to the Clovis Veterans Memorial District to receive services, Arias said.
The bill will be introduced at the Fresno City Council’s meeting on Thursday, Chavez said, to give fellow councilmembers a chance to weigh in, as well as receive feedback from local veterans.
“We want to include our veterans in this conversation,” Chavez said. “At the end of the day, what we envision with this initiative is for them to have oversight, but more importantly input as to what kind of programs and services they would like to see.”