For a 7-0 unanimous vote, the Fresno city council decision to approve a two-million square foot project in south Fresno brought out acrimonious debate usually unseen in chambers.
Environmental activists representing neighbors near the proposed Caglia business park chafed at the potential health effects that construction and a 24/7 industrial operation could bring.
Supporters of the project, the entire council included, felt the prospect of thousands of jobs plus the fact the area is already zoned for heavy industrial use, outweighed negative environmental factors.
The location on Central Avenue is across the street from Orange Avenue, where Amazon is completing its distribution facility.
Heated Council Debate
Councilman Steve Brandau is known for his bruising opinions from the dais and on social media. During the Jan. 25 debate, Brandau let loose on those he felt were obstructing progress.
“To Ashley Werner and the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, which really to me, those are poverty pimps. That organization is poverty pimps. They play on people’s fears. They come down here constantly, now, standing in the way of the very thing folks need. And, our community needs more importantly,” Brandau said that evening.
Those comments brought an immediate rebuke from council president Esmeralda Soria and a contentious exchange on the dais.
Werner, a Fresno attorney, and her LCJA group are known around town for their social activism. They represent a neighborhood group that filed a lawsuit against the city over approval of the Caglia project. They contend the city failed to follow proper environmental reviews and city planning guidelines.
According to city documents, in the lead up to the Caglia vote, Werner contacted California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to relay LCJA’s concerns.
Brandau chastised Werner for being disingenuous in her communications with Becerra.
His comments echoed a point made in letter sent by City Attorney Douglas Sloan to Werner: Sloan challenged Werner for failing to mention to the attorney general that the land of the proposed Caglia development has been zoned for industrial use since 1984.
After the council meeting, Brandau defended his comments with a Facebook video:
Poverty Pimps Again
Brandau tweeted out GV Wire’s story on the lawsuit, continuing his familiar message.
“Poverty Pimps” at work! https://t.co/dB3gZRAOBW
— Steve Brandau (@stevebrandau) March 2, 2018
“Poverty Pimps” at work!” wrote Brandau.
Werner did not let Brandau’s comments, from the night of the debate and in subsequent social media posts, go uncontested.
“Councilmember Brandau’s attacks on me and Leadership Counsel reflect a dismaying disregard for and a harmful distraction from the legitimate concerns raised by residents of the impacts of placing an industrial park of this scale next door to homes and an elementary school in one of the state’s most pollution-burdened communities,” Werner told GV Wire.
“No one from Leadership Counsel or the community ever asserted that the City’s action involved a rezone or contested it on that basis, whether at the public hearing or to the Attorney General’s office.”
Brandau remains unapologetic over his “poverty pimps” remarks.
“They’ve really crossed a line in their most recent efforts. I’ve always been on the opposite side of a lot of their views,” Brandau responded about the latest lawsuit. “I can’t think of a better term.”
He feels the strategy utilized by LCJA is “very dangerous to the well-being of our community.”
“If they are agitated, I’m okay with that,” Brandau concluded.