Developer Comfort Zone Ahead

(Published in the February 2020 issue of Community Alliance)

By Kevin Hall

Let’s hope Fresno city council members Miguel Arias and Esmeralda Soria haven’t already cost Andrew Janz the mayor’s race. They’ve certainly taken off the election table a trio of huge issues for hundreds of thousands of voters: affordable housing, sprawl, and climate change.

mapPublic prosecutor Janz is assumed to be running a close second in the race for Fresno mayor against the city’s just-retired police chief, reported rapist Jerry Dyer, a Trump-Republican. Four other candidates, including Rev. Floyd Harris and Nikolas Wildstar, have filed but report no funds raised.

In a big break with fellow Democrats, Janz is refusing campaign contributions from developers. In a city infamous for its sprawl and corrupt political climate, that’s akin to a candidate for state or federal office saying no to oil and methane lucre (ask a Perea).

Local developers really don’t like it when people won’t take their money and implicitly agree to furthering their agenda. Janz is signalling it won’t be business as usual at city hall in his administration. If he wins the office without having sought their support, he certainly won’t feel obligated to them, unlike the current mayor and council members.

From their support for illegal warehouse developments and a developer refund fee to their recent 6-1 decision to reopen the General Plan just five years after a complete update, this council offers no resistance to our local troupe of sprawl developers and warehouse builders. 

Approved in 2014 after years of effort, the plan limits outward growth by emphasizing “infill,” which generously includes miles of bare ground to the south, east and west of town between the city limits and sphere of influence line.

Not good enough. They want to expand their sprawl growth opportunities along the new four-lane, divided highways now reaching out to the sphere’s edge, out to large tracts of prime farmland already purchased or privately optioned by developers.  

Taken in combination with the indescribably bad county general plan update process happening right now, as reported on extensively in Community Alliance by Radley Reep, it’s clear that local politicians are removing modern barriers to growth and seek to return to 1980s levels of graft-induced leapfrog development.

In short, the land rush is on, particularly along 180 East towards Centerville where the former two-lane road will soon open as a full expressway as far as Academy Ave., comparable to 168 East reaching Harlan Ranch north of Clovis or 41 North across the San Joaquin River. Similar opportunities await along 180 West toward Kerman as well as many developers’ favorite: the northern reaches of Friant Road toward Millerton.

Fighting sprawl is one of the most important actions a city council can take in the fight against climate change. From the critically necessary preservation of open land, including ag, to the greater efficiencies of inward, upward growth as a city, the greenhouse gas reductions available — and prevention of increased emissions — are desperately needed.

But developers have been patiently waiting until all but one of the city council members who approved the updated plan in 2014 were gone and now they easily ply their unschooled replacements. Only District 4 rep Paul Caprioglio remains. Mayor Brand was on the council then, too. Absent are Oliver Baines, Blong Xiong, Clint Olivier, Steve Brandau, and Sal Quintero.

Despite having voted against the plan in 2014, Brand now says he would defend it, and council member Nelson Esparza was the sole vote on Dec. 12 against reopening it. The measure was sponsored by Arias, Luis Chavez and Michael Karbassi. Soria, Caprioglio and Garry Bredefeld voted with the trio in mid-December to form a 17-member plan review committee.

So how does this cost Janz the election?

By having voted with the four conservatives on the council to form the new committee, Soria and Arias are not only furthering the sprawl agenda by treating developers’ demands as reasonable, but they’re denying Fresno voters the chance to weigh in via the mayor’s race. Rather than having created a 6-1 majority in favor, there should be the tension of a 4-3 split, really 4-4 with Brand. 

This was an opportunity to highlight to an electorate increasingly worried about affordable housing and the climate crisis — sick of air pollution, sprawl, and city hall corruption — that one major candidate for mayor is standing up to developers. 

A bright line — now dulled — should shine between Janz and Dyer; between the city’s northern, wealthier areas and its southern counterparts; between the forces of status quo Fresno and a progressive movement for social, environmental, and climate justice.

But Arias and Soria sided with developers. Again. They’ll be quick to point out the virtuous people they’ve appointed to the committee. That’s something they would have done anyway after choosing to lose the vote 4-3 on principle and in order to create the necessary tension — and attention — these issues deserve. Cue Janz.

But these Valleycrats’ eyes are on higher prizes. Ironically, Soria is primary-ing Rep. Jim Costa and attempting to convince the outside world of Democratic Party donors that she is an “unapologetic progressive,” as she told The Intercept’s Aída Chávez

The Courage Campaign took the bait, perhaps driven by an apparent desire to create a “California Squad” of progressive women of color running for office, and hey, you’ve got to have four candidates. With the blue tidal wave coming in March, Soria stands a very strong chance of swamping Costa in an AOC-wannabe campaign without sharing AOC’s progressive politics or courage.

The greater national progressive network might claim a victory by taking out the Trump-friendly Costa, but they’ll see little difference in the CD 16 reps’ votes when it comes to tackling the fundamental societal and economic reforms called for by climate scientists. If a person can’t say no to local developers in Fresno, good luck in D.C. against the big guns.

But Andrew Janz is attempting to do just that. He could use some principled company.


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