UPDATE, 9:42 a.m., Thursday, Aug. 22
Without debate, the Fresno City Council approved new security measures for City Hall on a 6-1 vote, with Miguel Arias voting no.
Sam Frank, president of the Fresno City Employees Association, supported council passing the measure. His union represents many city workers.
“Our folks here in City Hall have always wanted better security. They will be very happy to know people are screened now so that nobody can walk in with a gun unchallenged and start doing harm to the employees here at City Hall,” Frank said after the vote.
A sweeping new security plan at City Hall would install metal detectors and limit public entry to the first floor.
The Fresno City Council will vote on awarding a $345,000 contract to a Los Angeles security firm to implement the plan at its Thursday (Aug. 22) meeting.
Soria, Bredefeld Support
Councilman Garry Bredefeld said he supports this measure to keep City Hall safe.
“This is a public building. People in these facilities have been targets. We’ve seen that in federal buildings that have been bombed,” Bredefeld said. “It is prudent in this day and age that everyone who comes in this building is safe, that there is security.”
Colleague Esmeralda Soria agreed.
“I believe in this day and age, it does warrant additional security. If you go into any public building … you have to go through security,” she said. “We owe it to the people that work in the building to make sure that every day they step in City Hall, they are safe. We owe it to the public who visit there. We cannot afford to lose anyone.”
Bredefeld once proposed that city workers be allowed to carry concealed weapons to work. The idea didn’t gain traction with his colleagues.
Arias Is Skeptical
The enhanced security recommendation came from a report by Elert & Associates. However, the report has not been publicly released. A city staff report did not cite any specific threats to City Hall or the employees who work there.
The council has discussed security in closed session four times since the start of 2018.
Councilman Miguel Arias said this push stems from a controversial experiment with adjusting water rates. In 2018, the council — on a trial basis — created different tiers of water usage and associated fines. Overwatering notices increased 25 times, leading to many complaints. Sometimes, according to Arias, the complaints became heated when customers paid fines in person to city clerks.
The council scrapped the water-rate plan last November.
“That doesn’t justify installing more security at a public facility. City Hall is already the most highly secured facility in the city,” Arias said.
He noted that in the last year, City Hall installed new sliding doors at the second floor entrance, increased the presence of armed security guards, and utilized a keycard system for employees to enter certain offices not open to the public.
Arias also pointed out that City Hall is only a block away from police headquarters.
Few public buildings in the area require passage through metal detectors to enter, most notably the Fresno County and federal courthouses, and the Fresno County Plaza that houses the district attorney’s office.
Other facilities that house government such as the Fresno County Hall of Records, Fresno Unified School District, Clovis City Hall, and Clovis Unified School District, do not have such security features.
The city staff report explaining the need for security does not detail whether staff will have to enter through metal detectors, or how security will be handled on busy days such as council meetings.
Bredefeld is OK with potentially long lines — as there are in the mornings at the criminal courthouse — in the name of safety.
“I do not think it’s a barrier. We want people to do business. We want everyone to be safe,” Bredefeld said. “People who want to do harm will seek out soft targets. City Hall is a soft target.”
Arias countered that extra security would be a deterrent to civic participation.
“I would rather spend a half-million dollars improving sidewalks than going through a metal detector,” Arias said. “This is going to make City Hall not welcoming nor friendly to the residents who pay for it.”
Councilman Nelson Esparza did not want to comment on the issue before the vote. Councilman-elect Mike Karbassi, who will take his seat on Thursday, said he is studying the plan. Councilmen Luis Chavez and Paul Caprioglio did not respond to GV Wire’s inquiries.
The Security Bidding Process
Four firms bid on the project, three from the Fresno area, and one from Los Angeles.
A panel of four public works employees recommended American Guard Services from Los Angeles. According to a staff report, the panel “was very impressed” with the firm’s experience with magnetometers and baggage scanners. Even though American Guard offered the highest bid, “the committee feels that it is well within the expected cost for the scope of work,” the report said.
The contract breaks down in two parts — $327,584 for services and another $17,760 annually to lease one baggage scanner, two walk-through metal detectors, and four hand-held scanners.
The staff report indicated that two other firms, Tuner Security and Alltech Industries, thought the bid proposal was for patrol services.
The fourth firm, Fresno Advanced Security and Transport (FAST), was deemed not to have the required experience. The company has held two city contracts for patrols at other facilities.
FAST’s owner, Brandon Waters, disagreed with the report’s assessment.
“I don’t know why that is. We were there for two years with an armed guard,” Waters said. “I put out a quality product.”
But, it is a moot point. Earlier this month, Waters closed down his business, citing financial reasons. He didn’t specifically say if winning the city contract would have kept him in business.
“There were a lot of things in play. That was a large contract,” Waters said.