Councilman Mike Karbassi took to the plaza in front of City Hall on Monday to criticize his colleagues for holding a news conference last week and making false promises about a second round of Save Our Small Businesses funding.

“Certain council members just haven’t learned to play nice with others and they think we can just snap our fingers and demand money from local community-based organizations. They want to begin writing checks that we just can’t cash right now,” Karbassi said.

Without directly mentioning names, Karbassi took aim at councilmembers Miguel Arias and Esmeralda Soria. And he said the council is promising money the city might not have to small businesses.

Karbassi Says Colleagues Violated Shelter-in-Place

“Some of my colleagues who are urging the continued shelter-in-place — closing businesses and costing families their jobs — are willing to disobey the shelter-in-place order for the sole purpose of congratulating themselves.” Councilman Mike Karbassi

Last Friday, Arias and Soria announced their districts’ recipients of the city’s loan-to-grant program to keep small businesses afloat. They did so at a news conference in front of the India’s Oven in the Tower District — not via teleconferencing.

Karbassi said that is an example of why some businesses aren’t complying with shelter-in-place orders from Fresno and the state.

“One reason (businesses) may not comply (with shelter-in-place orders) is they see these same politicians ignoring that order to tout their own achievements while small businesses are being obliterated,” Karbassi said.

Karbassi said he wanted to hold this meeting on Zoom, but Arias and Soria set a precedent.

“Some of my colleagues who are urging the continued shelter-in-place — closing businesses and costing families their jobs — are willing to disobey the shelter-in-place order for the sole purpose of congratulating themselves,” Karbassi said.

The city’s most recent shelter-in-place order allows for “essential governmental functions.”

That term is defined as “all services needed to ensure the continuing operation of the government agencies and provide for the health, safety and welfare of the public. All Essential Governmental Functions shall be performed in compliance with Social Distancing Requirements as defined in this Section to the maximum extent possible.”

Councilmembers Miguel Arias and Esmeralda Soria announce the recipients from their districts. (GV Wire/David Taub)

Arias, Soria Respond

Arias and Soria told GV Wire they are unsure why Karbassi is complaining.

“I’m a bit confused by his criticism, since we had communicated on Thursday and he had given us the green light to highlight the businesses in our districts that had been selected. I’m unsure what happened in the last few days and wish he would have communicated directly if he had an issue,” Soria said.

Arias and Soria said the April 6 news conference to announce details of the loan-to-grant program was attended by Karbassi, Soria, Arias, and Mayor Lee Brand.

Today, (Karbassi) just had a physical press conference to announce his criticism of us having a physical press conference on Friday. I’m not following what his criticism is,” Arias said.

Program Aids 116 Small Businesses

“He just had a physical press conference to announce his criticism of us having a physical press conference on Friday. I’m not following what his criticism is.”Councilman Miguel Arias

The city announced last Friday the 116 businesses that received funding from the city-approved program. As long as the recipients stay in business for one year, the zero-percent loan will be forgiven.

The program drew more than 2,600 applicants. A lottery was held to determine the winners.

Karbassi said the initial round of funding was supposed to have had a matching component from private groups. It never materialized.

“I don’t like local government not delivering on promises made, but it seems as if some of my colleagues don’t feel the same way,” Karbassi said.

Last week, the council approved, 4-3, $1 million in additional funding in a resolution authored by Soria, but without a specific source of money. Karbassi voted no.

The idea was set on the agenda with only 24 hours notice, as required when it is conducted as a special meeting. Karbassi said doing so didn’t allow for proper vetting. Arias brushed off that charge.

I only had 24 hours to consider the initial proposal that was brought forward by him and Councilwoman Soria. I supported it because it didn’t take me longer than 24 hours to understand the need,” Arias said. “So I see the 24 hours not as too fast, but not fast enough.”

Council voted 7-0 on March 25 to establish the Save Our Small Businesses Act. The meeting was technically called 1 hour, 45 minutes before it started.

“People in our city need help today before they start losing their homes and/or businesses,” Soria said.

The Tower District’s India’s Oven, which is owned by Sunny Sehgal’s family, received a 0% loan from the city of Fresno to help with COVID-19 impacts. (GV Wire/David Taub)

Advisory Committee Meeting

Mayor Lee Brand’s Fresno Recovery Advisory Committee holds its first meeting this afternoon. Karbassi sits on the committee, along with dozens of other community business leaders, elected officials, and city staff. It is expected to be conducted via Zoom and closed to the public.

Karbassi said he wants reopening guidelines in place by Friday. The city’s shelter-in-place order expires at the end of the day on May 6.

“Think of it as a dimmer switch, a gradual reopening,” Karbassi said.

That includes Karbassi’s family-owned rug-selling business.

“There is no reason … I can’t sell someone an area rug, standing six feet away, disinfecting, and wearing a facemask. Why are we punishing small businesses while helping corporate America make more money?” Karbassi said, referring to Walmart being allowed to remain open.

Karbassi said he would comply with state and local orders.

2 Responses

  1. Joe Barron

    Maybe mr. K could have done it from that vacant lot at shaw and west? No wait, there’s construction going on there now.
    From in front of the old, “Fresh & Easy? ” There’s more important things to get worked up about.
    Lots small businesses could use some options and approaches on how to stay viable. This infighting yields no solutions and no prize.

    • Eduardo Perez

      We need our businesses open.
      Neither Arias nor Soria have a clue the blood sweat and equity small family businesses have put into Fresno 20 , 30 , 40, 50, 60 years. We don’t need nor do we seek approval from either one. They always bark about ” income inequality ” their inept logic has caused more financial hardships for the people in their district. These two think that if they bankrupt fresno businesses their buddy Newsom will bail them out with government funds
      After all they hate Fresno and have sick plans to destroy it and replace with low-income housing at the expense of hard-working Americans.
      They should be economically developing jobs so people have income not government handouts. Plenty of us people of color have thriving businesses. I don’t need 2 corrupt individuals to tell me what I know.
      Their plans are shortsighted and lack support except for nonprofits who stand to gain more government handouts and their developer friends/ boyfriends. Corruption all around these 2.


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