Why Did City Council Say No to Affordable Housing in Northwest Fresno?
For a Fresno City Council that has embraced building affordable housing all over the city, last week’s decision to reject a project in the northwest part of the city was a head-scratcher.
“It was a surprise for me,” said Fresno City Councilman Mike Karbassi — who championed the rejected project in his district.
The city council decided whether to apply for state Homekey funds for three projects. The window to apply starts Monday. City Manager Georgeanne White said the Homekey awards are first come, first served, so timing is of the essence.
The city council said yes to applying for funds to convert a central Fresno Travelodge and a north Fresno Quality Inn to permanent housing for the homeless.
But a plan to build an affordable housing project slated for any empty lot on Polk Avenue, between Herndon and Bullard avenues, met resistance. The vote to apply for $2.8 million in Homekey funds failed, 4-2.
Only Karbassi and Tyler Maxwell voted yes. Luis Chavez was absent from the dais during the vote.
Half of the 96 units would focus on adults formerly in foster care. It would be run by the ACTS Foundation, affiliated with LifeBridge Community Church. The project would cost $24 million to build.
Karbassi said the project would be built at $250,000 a unit — half of what other affordable units cost — and constructed within a year.
“In this game, you have to have a thick skin. But this one hurts. It hurts because this organization did everything it was supposed to do,” Karbassi said.
Why? Some Councilmembers Gave Public Reasons
Annalisa Perea felt uncomfortable about an alleged anti-LGBT bias of the nonprofit behind the project.
“If you can tell me otherwise and say that they are an affirming organization with a record of supporting the LGBTQ community, I’d be willing to listen to that. Otherwise, from what I’m seeing, it’s pretty disheartening to see their strong stance against my community,” Perea, who is openly gay, said on the dais.
After the vote, Perea explained to Politics 101 that the church’s pastor, Kevin Foster “stood in solidarity with other local bigots,” against last year’s Gay Pride flag raising at City Hall, and the Fresno Chaffee Zoo hosting a drag queen event.
She added, “It would not be fiscally responsible to hand over $2.8 million of taxpayer money to an organization that has a reputation of preying on vulnerable communities. On top of that, they have no experience doing the very task in which we’d be asking them to oversee. Our community deserves better than that.”
Karbassi said he understood Perea’s reasoning.
“I completely respect her vote. She voted her conscience. I can’t ask anyone to do anything different,” Karbassi said.
Foster did not respond to Politics 101’s request for comment.
Miguel Arias said the ACTS Foundation’s lack of experience, especially when it comes to foster care services, gave him pause. He said they are not accredited, nor registered to perform such services.
“I’m not willing to put the trust and the faith of public tax dollars in Fresno at risk with a partner who I don’t know,” Arias said. “Why do we need them when we have significant concerns about the process and their ability and experience and the allegations?”
The allegations mentioned by Arias were made in an email to the council the previous day by a former church employee, accusing the church of sexual discrimination and financial impropriety. The allegations have not been vetted by Politics 101 or the city.
Karbassi said the city attorney told him those allegations should not be considered when making a vote. Doing so could leave the city open to litigation.
Nelson Esparza has been one of the greatest advocates of affordable housing in Fresno. But, he was silent from the dais as to why he voted against the project.
Politics 101 asked Esparza at a recent Downtown Fresno Partnership event about his vote. But, he did not elaborate much.
“There will be other projects,” he said.
What About Bredefeld?
Then, there is Garry Bredefeld, the council’s Mr. Conservative. He voted no.
“He’s the one that pushes ‘In God We Trust’ right behind us on the dais. But he won’t trust a godly man and organization to put together a project that went through all the process,” Karbassi said.
Karbassi wonders if Bredefeld’s vote was a retaliation. Earlier in the meeting, Karbassi balked at a Bredefeld-sponsored ordinance that would crack down on street racing. Although Karbassi supports getting tough on street racers, he did not agree with the specifics of Bredefeld’s plan.
“It’s been suggested to me” that it was about opposing his bill, Karbassi said. “Nothing would surprise me. If that was the case, that would be really unfortunate. We don’t want this to be a circus anymore. That’s a circus move.”
Bredefeld is running for Fresno County Supervisor against incumbent Steve Brandau. Karbassi endorsed Brandau, and wonders if that is another reason for Bredefeld’s vote.
“Karbassi is a chronic crybaby who throws a tantrum by storming off the dais when his project gets turned down by (city) council. When he isn’t doing that, he avoids tough votes by not showing when the vote is being taken,” Bredefeld responded.
“He should be more concerned about his terrible votes where he approved the renaming of major historical streets to Cesar Chavez Boulevard, supporting the sexualization of young children by giving $100,000 for ‘gender-affirming counseling,’ and giving $1 million to Planned Parenthood to kill unborn babies. He votes against his constituents every week which is disgraceful. He needs to supports his constituents, not work against them,” Bredefeld said.[Update, 4/24/2023: This story has been updated with new responses from Annalisa Perea and Garry Bredefeld.]