Candidates to represent northwest Fresno on the city council sparred over opinions about police protection, the homeless, and the previous seat holder during a candidate forum Wednesday.
The four candidates also addressed questions about Fresno business-friendliness, affordable housing, and the balancing act of standing up for northwest Fresno while supporting the needs of the entire city.
Northwest Fresno, known on the council as District 2, has been without a representative since Steve Brandau was sworn to a Fresno County Board of Supervisors seat in April.
A special election is scheduled for Aug. 13.
Differences Over Police Staffing
Business owner Mike Karbassi’s proposal to add 200 sworn officers to the police department came under fire from fellow candidates Jared Gordon and Oscar Sandoval.
Karbassi had said federal studies indicate Fresno needs that boost of officers on patrol to meet safe officer-to-resident ratios. The cost of the 200 officers would be about $24 million, he has said.
Gordon, a business attorney, said that figure is closer to $125 million over five years when staff turnover is factored in. “We’re taxed enough already,” said Gordon, who described Karbassi’s proposal as a “pipe dream.”
Karbassi responded that he would not allow a dime of tax money to be spent on the new officers. Instead, he would aggressively pursue federal grants and smart cuts in city spending. “It won’t happen overnight,” he said.
Does NW Fresno Need a Shelter?
Sandoval, a special needs therapist, said the existing police force needed to work harder to build connections and trust in the community. He said too many people don’t trust police, which hampers crime investigations when witnesses don’t come forward.
“When you say ‘more cops, more cops, you’re just adding to the problem,” Sandoval said.
Sandoval and Gordon agreed that some form of homeless shelter should be built in northwest Fresno, though they didn’t give specifics on where the shelter would be located or what it might look like.
Karbassi said he has spoken to numerous agencies and advocates who work with the homeless, and none told him that a shelter is needed in northwest Fresno. Karbassi said he supports lobbying state authorities to provide more money to Fresno County for mental health and addiction services that can help people break the cycle of homelessness.
What About Brandau?
Garcia, a business owner, agreed that access to services is crucial. “It’s more important where to help them than where to house them,” he said. Garcia also said it was important to separate “vagrants,” whom he described as people who don’t want to be helped, with homeless who can accept and benefit from assistance.
When asked to compare themselves with Brandau, whose in-your-face style sometimes puts people on edge, two candidates described themselves as friends of the former councilman. Gordon, however, said he differed from Brandau in “rhetoric and emphasis,” while Garcia said he shared Brandau’s conservative views “and will bring that to the council.”
Karbassi deflected the Brandau question: “I don’t want to focus on the past. I want to focus on the future.” And Sandoval, referring to his differences with Brandau, smiled and said, “How much time do we have?”