Fresno Council Candidates Divided on Tower Purchase, Housing Plans
The four candidates running for Fresno City Council District 1 have differing views on how government should operate, especially when it comes to purchasing the Tower Theatre.
Annalisa Perea, Cary Catalano, Mike Briggs and Jeremy Pries are running for the seat being vacated by termed-out councilwoman Esmeralda Soria. Ballots are now out and due back by June 7. If no candidate achieves 50% plus 1 of the vote, the top two will advance to the November general election.
GV Wire held an online debate on Tuesday to gauge where the candidates stood on important issues.
Watch the Debate
Candidates Differ on Tower Purchase
The Tower Theatre sits in District 1 and is the source of much controversy. Last month, the city council agreed to purchase the icon for $6.5 million and to absorb all legal costs. Adventure Church, which had rented the theater, is suing — arguing that it had a contract to make the purchase.
Catalano, a 48-year old public relations professional, said the city should have purchased the theater a long time ago.
“I believe we could have avoided significant conflict and division within the community. I do not agree with the indemnification. I think it puts the taxpayers at risk,” Catalano said.
Perea, a 34-year old urban planner and State Center Community College District trustee board, supports the move.
“It’s not the ideal scenario, but it is the best-case scenario for moving forward,” Perea said.
Both Preis and Briggs say the city should not have made the purchase.
“The city, in my opinion, shouldn’t have got involved, but rather got involved to find a buyer,” said Preis, a 49-year-old former Fresno police officer who is now an insurance agent. “I don’t really think that the city buying it is going to make or break the city, but I do think they got in a little too deep.”
Briggs, a 63-year-old real estate broker, lives blocks away.
“It’s none of the city’s business who buys and who controls the Tower Theatre as long as they follow the rules, the zoning rules, and the historical preservation rules,” Briggs said.
Related Story: City Votes to Buy Tower Theatre, Thwarting Purchase by Church
The Future of Fresno Housing
The candidates also differed on the future of housing in Fresno.
Perea called for a diverse plan to increase housing stock. That includes limiting the number of vacant homes which she said are safety hazards.
“I’m looking forward to seeing a combination of more infill development, more vertical building, because we can only go horizontal so much before we start running into more and more of our agricultural lands. And we do have to build more homes at every income level,” Perea said.
Briggs said the city needs to encourage more apartments and affordable housing. He advocates for down-payment assistance.
“The city could take monies, their investment funds and turn it into down payment assistance, which they would get back when the house sells eventually in the future. It’s a very safe way to invest funds and get funds back. It’s way safer than just building and giving homes away, which I do not believe in,” Briggs said.
Catalano, chairman of the Fresno County Housing Authority, called for a “blended portfolio.”
“Fifty percent of new housing construction would be an infill, 50% would be new growth areas. Priority growth area number one was west of (Highway) 99,” Catalano said.
He also advocated for inclusionary zoning, which would mandate that a portion of new residential tracts — typically 10% to 20% — be sold at below-market rates.
Preis wants to incentivize developers to build affordable housing.
“We need to look at places maybe where these homes are dilapidated and vacant in certain areas of town where we can rebuild on the properties, incentivize the owners, giving them tax incentives or even more incentives on income on the vacant land,” Preis said.
Perea and Catalano endorsed the creation of a community land trust. A trust would buy, rehabilitate and sell homes at affordable prices. It would also guarantee that the re-sale of those homes would be at affordable prices.
Perea: Ready to Be a First
The election of either Perea or Catalano would result in the first openly gay city councilmember in Fresno history.
“We would be shattering glass ceilings and hopefully get to a point where we no longer have to ask candidates about their sexual orientation during a debate. But until then, I have no problem being the first. I’ve been the first in many cases and different scenarios. You know, it’s a special thing because we’re trailblazers,” Perea said.
Perea hopes that more members of the LGBTQ community run for elected office.
Catalano talked about the “drastic shift in people’s attitudes” regarding gay candidates.
“It showcases just how far we’ve come as a country in terms of sexual orientation and preference,” Catalano said.
He told a brief story about his views being dismissed in City Hall discussions. Now, it is not an issue.
“I’ve always been very open about who I am, and it’s just nice to be comfortable living in a community where people really do embrace exactly who you are and love you for what you do and don’t judge you for who you love,” Catalano said.
During the one hour debate, the four candidates discussed:
— What they are looking for in a new city attorney. Current city attorney Douglas Sloan has accepted a new job in Santa Monica.
— Should the city purchase Trails End mobile home park and other troubled assets?
— How to make neighborhoods west of Highway 99 better.
— The state of bike lanes in District 1.
— Being transparent and responsive to constituent needs.
— Favorite District 1 restaurant.
— Giants or Dodgers?