Council Rushes to Approve COVID Aid Ahead of Blackout Threat
Trying to beat a potential blackout of the downtown area, the Fresno City Council held a lightning-fast meeting to approve a nearly $13 million spending plan for pandemic relief on Monday afternoon.
The city will contract with several community-based organizations to help with food distribution, contact tracing, and testing. The money will come from the federal CARES Act stimulus dollars.
Shortening public comment to 30 seconds per person and limiting debate on the virtual dais, the council voted unanimously for a general outline and procedures on spending, $7 million for food distribution to seven different organizations, and adding $2 million for small business relief grants to be administered by the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation.
The council met via Zoom teleconferencing.
Related Story: City’s $10.2M Plan Addresses Hunger, COVID Spread, Small Businesses
However, the council ran out of time and will discuss the final contract on Thursday.
Also in Politics 101:
- Part of CARES Act spending delayed to Thursday.
- Fresno BHC’s Measure P lawsuit part of the problem.
- Fresno County to vote on relief package.
- County denies violations of open meeting act.
- Interesting tidbits from school board races.
Time Runs Out on Vote for Fresno BHC Contract
Facing a 5 p.m. deadline because of possible rolling blackouts, City Council President Miguel Arias tabled a vote on spending $3.8 million for COVID-19 testing and tracing programs to three recipients.
The debate will resume Thursday at the council’s regularly scheduled meeting. One councilman will air his objections then.
Fresno Building Healthy Communities is scheduled to receive $2 million to provide contact tracing and quarantine assistance.
“I will not support giving $2 million of taxpayer money to Sandra Celedon and her organization for many reasons. They know nothing about contact tracing or quarantine support and are only being given this contract because of friends she has on the council,” councilman Garry Bredefeld told Politics 101 prior to the meeting.
Bredefeld objected to a tweet Celedon posted in the wake of civil unrest in Minneapolis after the death of George Floyd. Celedon tweeted “burn it down” in reference to a police building being torched by protesters.
Celedon, Fresno BHC’s president and CEO, was asked publicly for an explanation. She refused to address the situation.
“She obviously supports burning healthy communities not building them,” Bredefeld said. “Awarding $2 million to this organization and Sandra Celedon would be outrageous and a complete misuse of taxpayer money.”
Politics 101 asked Celedon for a response, but she did not reply before the publication of this story.
Related Story: PD Commission’s Celedon Declines to Explain ‘Burn it Down’ ...
Bredefeld Objects to Doing Business with Litigant
The nonprofit is involved in a lawsuit against the city over another matter, the legality of 2018’s Measure P vote. The case revolves around whether two-thirds was needed to pass. Fresno voters supported it with 52% of the vote, so it was deemed not to pass.
The case is currently at the state appellate court. It is expected to be decided by the state Supreme Court.
Bredefeld called Fresno BHC’s lawsuit over Measure P “frivolous.”
Arias separated the issue of BHC’s lawsuit and awarding the group a contract
“We do businesses with people who sue us all the time,” Arias said prior to the meeting. He cited several developers as examples, including Granville Homes.
Darius Assemi, CEO and president of Granville Homes, is the publisher of GV Wire.
“We don’t retaliate on people,” Arias said. “(Fresno BHC’s) proposal was considered on its own merits.”
The resolution to distribute the money needs five votes. Bredefeld is a definite no. Councilman Luis Chavez has to recuse himself because part of the spending will go to Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission. Chavez’s wife, Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas, works for Fresno EOC.
If one other councilmember declines to vote yes, the resolution would fail.
County Help on the Way
Fresno County Supervisor Brian Pacheco is following through on his proposal for business and housing help for those hurt financially by the COVID-19 pandemic.
At Tuesday’s supervisors meeting, Pacheco will formally introduce a program for $250,000 in housing assistance through Centro La Familia, and another $250,000 for small businesses through the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation.
These are on top of similar programs offered by the city of Fresno.
Some qualifications for the housing grant program include income restrictions (80% of the area median income), not receive benefits from another government program, and evidence the grant will help prevent eviction or support housing-related payments.
The program’s emphasis is on essential agricultural workers, but open to all who qualify. The exact amount for each family is to be determined.
The small business grant program would provide $5,000 payments for operations with less than 10 full-time employees. The program will prioritize “underserved, minority businesses that have not been able to access any federal funding … and are in desperate need of capital” according to the staff report.
County Denies It Violates Open Meeting Laws
Fresno County responded to accusations that it violated the state’s open meeting laws, known as the Brown Act.
Earlier this month, the Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability accused the county of making impermissible decisions behind closed doors, not providing teleconferencing services for those who can’t attend in person, and not providing adequate translation services.
In a letter from county counsel Daniel Cederborg, the county says it’s in compliance.
“While you are free to speculate as to all kinds of things that may have gone on in a closes session. … I can assure you, however, that no deliberations or actions on any item were taken by the Board of Supervisors under the threat to public services items on the closed session agenda,” Cederborg wrote.
The county argued that it was allowed to discuss pandemic response with health leaders in closed session. Additionally, it responded that the county was not violating the Brown Act because it is holding in-person meetings and letting the public comment from there. The county also said it is not required to conduct meetings — or provide online translations — in a language other than English.
Cederborg wrote that other jurisdictions have had problems with allowing tele-video access to their meetings.
School Board Election Tidbits
— State Sen. Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno) is backing Richard Caglia for State Center Community College District. Borgeas contributed $2,500 to Caglia’s reelection campaign for the Area 7 (central Fresno area) seat.
— Others getting a jump on fundraising include Sevag Tateosian. He collected a $5,000 check from the Associated Builders and Contractors Northern, CA Chapter PAC. Tateosian is running for the SCCCD Area 2 seat, representing parts of north and west Fresno as well as the city of Kerman.
— Jeremy Mehling contributed $5,000 from his own farming business for his run for Central Unified school board.
— Fresno Police Deputy Chief Michael Reid is also a Caruthers Unified school board member. He’s been there for many years.