For the second meeting in a row, the Fresno City Council will discuss in closed session whether to initiate a formal investigation into the fundraising practices of a council hopeful.

Nelson Esparza is an elected member of the Fresno County Board of Education. He is running for the Fresno City Council District 7 seat held by to-be-termed-out Clint Olivier. The primary will be held in June 2018.

The accusations of impropriety came from Marcelino Valdez Jr., the former Central Valley Vice Chair of the California Republican Party. Valdez alleges that Esparza has started raising money for his campaign, well in advance of what city laws allow.

Specifically, Valdez writes that Esparza held a fundraiser April 27, 2017, to help pay the debts from his school board run. On May 17, Esparza then transferred $4,950 from his trustee committee to his city council campaign.

GV Wire examined the publicly available campaign financial documents. Esparza raised $14,695 from January-June 2017 for his trustee election account. In his city fundraising documentation, it lists the dates the initial donation was made to the prior account, as well as the transfer date (May 17, 2017). None of the listed donors was from the April 27 event.

In Valdez’s letter, he says it is a bit of a money shell game: “Mr. Esparza’s fundraising for his FCOE committee … enabled Mr. Esparza to raise funds to offset those being transferred to his City Council committee.”

Esparza defended what he did, saying, ““We have reported everything fully and transparently, as required by law. There is nothing to hide.  There is no tie between the two campaigns.

“The city upon receipt of these complaints is obligated to do their due diligence. I’m going to respect that process.”

The council released no decision after discussing the issue in closed session Oct. 12.

(Note of disclosure: Granville Homes, Inc. and GV Holdings, parent companies to GV Wire, donated $1,000 apiece to Esparza’s trustee campaign account.)

Darling Move Goes to Planning Commission

The Planning Commission on Wednesday (Oct. 18) will hear a city plan to move the much-maligned Darling meat rendering facility. It is now located at Belgravia and Church avenues in southwest Fresno. The plant opened in 1956 as a slaughterhouse and has since seen neighborhoods grow around it. Complaints about the facility have been frequent.

The city wants Darling to move to 20 acres of property near Jensen and Polk avenues, by the wastewater treatment plant on city-owned land (but not within city limits). The city would pay for the land and specified improvements (sewer, etc.). Darling could increase its meat processing from 850,000 pounds per day to an average of 1.4 million pounds a day.

Darling will also have the option to purchase an adjacent 20-acre plot for $22,000 an acre. More importantly, Darling agrees to close its current facility and move into the new one, out of town and out of the way of residents.

To Buy a Drink, or Not Buy a Drink

The Fresno city government will hear two items about alcohol licensing this week. Sarkis Mkrtchyan owns the Uptown Market at a shopping center at the southeast corner of Shaw and Marks avenues. He wants to be able to sell beer and wine in addition to beef jerky and super-sized soda.

City staff is recommending that the Planning Commission reject his request. According to city documents, the police department objects because the store is in a high-crime area. The district, called Police Zone 1750, has had 1,293 offenses this year, city staff said.

Fresno Unified is objecting to the liquor license, as it often does with alcohol license applications. The market is 1,650 feet from the nearest school. That is three times more than the distance required by law (500 feet).

The Planning Commission has approved licenses before despite objections from neighbors or police. In other recent instances, there were too many sellers of alcohol in a given census tract. This time, the census tract is actually underserved (only two licensed sellers when there could be six).

Alcohol License Appeal

One of the Planning Commission rejections is headed to the council for appeal. George Beal is fighting to sell beer and wine at his proposed Johnny Quick store at Jensen Avenue and Highway 99. On Aug. 16, the Planning Commission denied his alcohol license application.

The council recently approved a similar alcohol license for an ampm in northwest Fresno despite objections from city staff and area residents.

Drink on a pedicab

And, if buying beer at a convenience store isn’t enough, Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria will introduce an ordinance regulating pedicabs serving alcohol. While you can’t buy a drink from your pedicab operator, the ordinance would allow you to drink while riding.

Veterans Boulevard

Councilmembers will vote on whether to apply for a federal grant of $44 million to fund the Veterans Boulevard project. The proposed interchange, more than three decades in the making, would offer cars another path to negotiate the frequent bottlenecks at Herndon Avenue and Highway 99.

(Note of disclosure: Granville Homes, the corporate owner of GV Wire, has been an advocate of the project.)

The council will also vote to submit its wish list to the Fresno Council of Governments to apply for grants, with more than $32 million at stake. The projects include street widening and new pavement (Bullard Avenue between First Street and Cedar Avenue is just one of the streets on the list). The city would also like FAX expansion and electric buses in southwest Fresno.

Firefighter Dern Files Lawsuits

In closed session, the council will talk about two legal cases involving Fire Capt. Peter Dern. He is the firefighter injured when he fell through the roof of a burning home in 2015. While neither the city nor Dern’s representatives can comment publicly, the first case is Peter Dern v. City of Fresno, PSI, administered by Risico Claims Management. That is the worker’s compensation company the city contracts with.

The second case is Peter Dern and Kimberly Dern (his wife) v. Julia Beth Ann Harper. The latter is the woman who pleaded guilty to an arson charge at the house where Dern was injured.

Runner Dinged by FPPC

Board of Equalization member George Runner, whose district covers Fresno, will be fined $606 by the state campaign finance watchdog. The Fair Political Practices Commission accuses Runner of failing to report contributions during his 2013 statements.

The FPPC board will vote to accept the fine at Thursday’s (Oct. 19) meeting in Sacramento. State documents show Runner failed to report $20,835 in donations.

Micah Grant, Runner’s spokesman, said, “This was a technical filing error that has been corrected.”

 

About The Author

David Taub has spent most of his career in journalism behind the scenes working as a TV assignment editor and radio producer. For more than a decade, he has worked in the Fresno market with such stops at KSEE-24, KMJ and Power Talk 96.7. Taub also worked the production and support side of some of TV sports biggest events including the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and NASCAR to name a few. Taub graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science.

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