Two Fresno leaders went head-to-head Thursday over the best way for the city to improve its business climate. And their months-long war of words continued on the city council dais, each trading insults and accusations.
Councilman Garry Bredefeld and Mayor Lee Brand debated the merits of how to hold the city’s planning department accountable for meeting deadlines. Each accused the other of fear-mongering and questioned their respective strategies.
Bredefeld crafted a plan called Money Back Guarantee. It gives fee credits to developers if their projects aren’t approved on time. He introduced the ordinance to his council colleagues Thursday (March 22). Discussion ensued, but there was no vote scheduled.
“The fact that this item is not up for a vote today speaks volumes for the lack of support,” Brand said.
Bredefeld noted that the politics played a role in the apparent lack of support.
“The mayor initially supported it, then didn’t support it. I met with the Chamber of Commerce…both the president and vice president said they support it. Two months later, they don’t support it. When I spoke to the Chamber, it is because the mayor doesn’t support it,” Bredefeld said.
Both Agree There is a Problem
Brand and Bredefeld agree that Fresno needs to be more business-friendly.
“We’ve had a culture that has been anti-business, anti-user friendly for a long time,” Bredefeld said.
Brand has acknowledged problems. He formed the Business Friendly Fresno 2.0! committee in January. Headed by his chief of staff, Tim Orman, the group consists of business leaders and councilmen Steve Brandau, Luis Chavez and Clint Olivier.
Money Back Guarantee “is fatally flawed, poorly written, and contradictory,” Brand said from the dais. The plan, Brand said, was Bredefeld sounding the alarm based on fear.
“You say if we implement these timelines, there will be staff that will be laid off, that we will make it worse. And, I’m fear-mongering? I don’t think so,” Bredefeld responded.
Supporters Line Up
Supporters for both sides contributed their 2 cents worth at the meeting. Ali Nekumanesh (Colorado Grill, Deli Delicious), John Brelsford (industrial builder Diversified Development Group) and Josh Peterson (homebuilder Wathen Castanos) told the council of their problems dealing with the planning department.
Representatives from the Fresno Chamber of Commerce and California Apartment Association, as well as former planning director Nick Yovino, denounced the Money Back Guarantee plan. Assistant City Manager Bruce Rudd warned that crediting fees would take money out of the General Fund and jeopardize public safety.
Brandau Seeks Compromise
Gauging council support for Bedefeld’s proposal proved elusive. Only two spoke up, each trying to repair the rift between Bredefeld and Brand.
Brandau said that he wanted Bredefeld to present his plan to the Business Friendly Fresno 2.0! committee. Brandau also wants the committee to meet more frequently. The first meeting is scheduled for April.
Councilman Oliver Baines expressed dismay over the public bickering the past few months.
“There is an obligation on the part of council to work with administration,” Baines said. “I was disappointed in both of you with the dialogue today.”
Both councilman, as well as some public speakers, expressed a desire for Bredefeld and Brand to work together.
Next Steps Are Unclear
“It turned out very well. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” Bredefeld told GV Wire after the meeting.
Bredefeld did not have a specific date when he would return his plan to the council for a vote. He also didn’t say if he would take up Brandau’s suggestion to present the Money Back Guarantee idea to Brand’s committee.
Brand Introduces Better Business Fresno 2.0! on Jan. 18