Tulare council supports Black Lives Matter mural

Reggie Ellis

City Council does not approve public funding for street mural in front of city hall but does pledge to write checks and help raise funds

TULARE – A Tulare councilmember’s request to use public funds to paint “Black Lives Matter” on the street in front of city hall turned into a heated disagreement between the councilmembers on what supporting the project should look like.

At its July 21 meeting, councilmember Carlton Jones requested the council allow him to use up to $2,500 of his travel budget for the project. The mural was proposed by Fernando Gonzalez about a month ago as part of a petition he started on Change.org, the nation’s leading petition site. The petition, titled “Black Lives Matter Street Mural In Front Of Tulare City Hall,” had been signed by about 1,800 people as of press time. Similar to the project proposed in Visalia, Gonzalez said the “City of Tulare hasn’t really been taking a position in this movement. However, with the ongoing rest of many citizens, it is time for Tulare to come together and recognize that Black Lives Matter,” Gonzalez stated in his online petition. “It is not a suggestion that only black lives matter, it is proclamation that we stand up against racial injustice when it comes to the African American Community. We have historically benefited from several African American citizens as they’ve contributed to our city.”

Tulare’s population is about 4% African American, the highest of any city in Tulare County. Jones, the city’s only African American councilmember, said he wanted to use his discretionary funding to buy paint and supplies for the project through a purchase order at Lowe’s in Tulare.

Vice mayor Dennis Mederos said he didn’t want to use city funds for the project but had already reached out to Gonzalez and offered to write a check to help pay for the project and help the group of young people coordinate a fundraising effort for any other funds that were needed. Councilmember Terry Sayre offered to do the same.

“I want to do all I can to make their dreams some true,” Mederos said.

Jones said he didn’t understand why they couldn’t just give the group city funding for a project, something they have done time and again for other projects such as trash cans for the Tulare County Fair. He alluded to the phrasing in Gonzalez’s petition which called for “Major Jose Sigala and the Tulare City Council to recognize the Black Lives Matter Movement and allow the citizens of Tulare to contribute to the ongoing call of racial equality.”

“It’s not like you trying to make their dream come true, you are changing their dream to fit your personal idea,” Jones said.

Mederos took offense to Jones’ claims that he was trying to alter the project in any way.

“Don’t tell me what I’m trying to do!,” Mederos shot back.

Mederos defended his position by saying that any new project for the current fiscal year, which began on July 1, would have to be funded out of the city’s reserves at a time when the city is still facing a potential $5 million budget deficit by the end of the year. Most of the travel expenses that Jones was requesting to use had already been cut as part of a package measures to balance the 2020-21 budget. Those cuts also included reducing the senior center budget by $100,000, eliminating the city’s aviation fund of $70,000; reducing its catastrophic fund subsidy by $100,000; reducing the downtown parking fund by $12,000; cut $25,000 from the Social Services fund.

“We would have to dip into reserves for this,” Mederos said.

Mayor Jose Sigala said the city notified Gonzalez that there is a process in place to apply for a mural and that no one had submitted an application as of last Tuesday. Sigala also pointed out that setting aside money for a project that does not have any cost estimates would be irresponsible.

“Why are we making them go through a process to paint a wall when we know that’s not what they are trying to do?,” Jones said of the street mural, consisting of just letters spelling out the words “Black Lives Matter.”

“It seems to me you are kicking the can down the road,” Jones said. “I’m not there to change their dream and goal, I’m there to support it. Either you support their dream, or don’t, it’s that simple.

Jones moved forward with a motion to use his travel funding anyway, which died for lack of a second.

“You’re silence shows that you are not here to support their dream. You are here to support your own,” Jones said.

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