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Members of the Fresno City Council listened to impassioned pleas from the business community Thursday before voting to pass a resolution asking Governor Gavin Newsom to allow restaurants to reopen indoors “as soon as possible.”

The resolution, which takes effect immediately (Garry Bredefeld & Nelson Esparza voted no), contained three elements:

  • A request that Governor Newsom update the state’s tiered re-opening process to provide restaurants “a more realistic pathway to return to indoor dining as soon and as safely as possible;”
  • An affirmation that the city would facilitate safe indoor dining in consultation with the state and public health officials;
  • Supporting a request from the California Restaurant Association to allow restaurants to continue outdoor dining under current rules once indoor dining is allowed to resume.

During the meeting, Mayor Lee Brand said he had received a text message from the governor’s office stating they were looking forward to receiving the city’s resolution. By mid-afternoon, Brand announced he’d sent the formal resolution to the governor’s office and was hoping to hear back no later than next week.

Councilmembers Debate Resolutions

“I think the better route is to work with our county public health department, our business association, and work with representatives that actually want to find solutions to this problem.”Fresno City Council Member Luis Chavez

“The reality is, we’re doing nothing!” Bredefeld said. He pointed to four separate resolutions he sought to pass that would call for opening up restaurants for indoor operations immediately, and filing a lawsuit against the governor. “I want to be very clear. This is nothing but a mirage, a smokescreen, a head shake to our constituents that your representatives are doing something.”

Councilmember Luis Chavez countered that if the council allowed restaurants to immediately reopen they’d be putting owners in jeopardy of losing their alcohol licenses.

“I think the better route is to work with our county public health department, our business association, and work with representatives that actually want to find solutions to this problem.”

Councilmember Nelson Esparza said he does not want to see a repeat of what happened in May when businesses reopened and COVID-19 cases spiked.

“We really hadn’t made any progress that warranted that direction,” said Esparza. “I think we’ve been our own worst enemy and I think the fact that we’re even having this debate today is a reflection of that. I’d like to see us be smarter about it this time around.”

Ccouncilmember Mike Karbassi said he understands the frustrations of the business community because he’s a business owner himself.

“What we have at the table here are the Chamber of Commerce, restaurants, small businesses and the California Restaurant Association,” said Karbassi. “It’s not just a bunch of policy makers saying this is the policy. It is the business community telling us what they need and we’re crafting a policy that was done in cooperation with them.”

Strength in Numbers

“I believe there is strength in numbers. By us coming together with a united front we will move in the right direction.”Fresno Mayor Lee Brand

“We have had some success with the governor,” said Brand. “Even as recently as a couple of weeks ago, opening the salons and barbershops. I was part of a process that accelerated that.”

Brand said he’s trying to find a constructive way to get the attention of the governor in advocating for local restaurants. He said code enforcement will be important moving forward to ensure restaurants are operating under the same rules.

“Most people do follow the guidelines and standards in Clovis and in Fresno,” said Brand. “All it takes is a couple rogue operators to ruin it for everybody else.”

Brand said Fresno County supports the approach. “Chairman Buddy Mendes will sign this deal,” said Brand.

Brand is planning to seek the consensus of the county and the city of Clovis as early as next week.

“I don’t believe the current data now supports the closing of indoor dining,” Brand said. He said he’ll seek to work with the county on data collection and analysis so it can be shown to the state with precision where COVID-19 infections are coming from.

“I believe there is strength in numbers,” said Brand. “By us coming together with a united front we will move in the right direction.”

Restaurant and Business Community

“I’ve worked with several people on this resolution and it is a way for us to get open safely.” – Chuck Van Fleet, owner of Vino Grille & Spirits and president of the Fresno chapter of the California Restaurant Association

Chuck Van Fleet, owner of Vino Grille & Spirits and president of the Fresno chapter of the California Restaurant Association told the council, “I’ve worked with several people on this resolution and it is a way for us to get open safely.”

Fresno Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Nathan Ahle said, “We all know the significance of the local restaurant industry and its impact on our local economy.” Ahle said restaurants in Fresno produced $977 million dollars in revenue last year and generate 27,000 jobs.

Passionate Callers

During public comment, a speaker identifying herself as Regina advocated for stronger action. “The thing that frustrates me the most is I still have a job. You guys still have a job. These business owners and their employees are literally hanging on a by a thread. At what point do we say this is not legal?”

She also referenced a planned rally on Monday organized by local business owners who are vowing to reopen on October 1, regardless of state restrictions.

“How many of you gave up your income during the 6 months I was closed?,” said a speaker identified as Candace to council members. “How many of you weren’t able to feed your families?”

She says economic impacts extend beyond the restaurant industry to the nail industry and other personal care services that are not currently allowed to reopen.

Bredefeld’s Agenda Items Pulled From Consideration

Councilmembers voted to pull Bredefeld’s four resolutions from the agenda. He wanted the council to take actions to reopen City Hall to the public, end a reporting hotline for violators which he described as a “snitch line,” initiate a lawsuit against Newsom to repeal and terminate the state’s emergency order; and repeal any city emergency orders” that limit or restrict the authority of businesses to be open to the public and be fully operational.”
Though Bredefeld’s resolution referenced a hotline, the council decided in June against establishing a separate reporting phone number, and chose to publicize the an existing number for the city’s code enforcement department.

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