Oliver Baines reflects on his accomplishments on the Fresno City Council
Two Fresno City Councilmen who brought camaraderie and candor to the governing body served their constituents for the last time earlier this week.
Oliver Baines, who represented Fresno’s southwest District 3, and Clint Olivier, who represented central Fresno in District 7, both completed two terms on the council. They are termed out.
Olivier began his stint on the Fresno City Council in December 2010, filling the seat left empty when Henry T. Perea moved on to the state assembly. Baines began his first term in January 2011.
At the time, Ashely Swearengin was mayor, Lee Brand was a councilman and the city was flirting with bankruptcy as the country grappled with the Great Recession.
At the end of their time on the council, both Baines and Olivier are proud of helping residents with basic services, such as building new sidewalks and parks in their districts. And despite differing political philosophies, they both call one another and their other city hall colleagues friends.
“In the eight years I’ve been here, the panic has gone away,” Olivier said. “When I first came, this city was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Our credit was no good, and it really looked like we were going down the same road as other California cities that went bankrupt.”
Fresno looks different now. During the last budget cycle, the council debated spending priorities, not cuts. Fulton Mall is now Fulton Street, and new living, business and entertainment options pepper downtown. A new rapid transit system is here, and the city is slowly opening its doors to cannabis business.
“A lot of the work I had to do for District 3 was incredibly difficult,” Baines said. “You’re talking about a district that, for the most part, had been neglected for over 40 years, from my standpoint, with land use and policy issues and issues of disinvestment. So one of the things that I needed to do was correct that.”
By far, the toughest issue he tackled was the relocation of the Darling meat rendering plant, he said.
Hours of work, wrangling and negotiating - including a marathon 12-hour closed-session meeting - ended with the council voting unanimously on a deal to relocate the plant.
Baines also led the charge developing the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan, paving the way to bring investment to southwest Fresno while also trying to curb risky industrial development near neighborhoods.
The completion of that plan was necessary for Fresno to receive an “unprecedented” investment in his district — the $70 million Transformative Climate Communities grant from the state Strategic Growth Council, he said.
“While none of this I did on my own, I certainly helped to shepherd it in,” he said.
Rev. D.J. Criner of Saint Rest Baptist Church in southwest Fresno called Baines a change-agent for his district.
“Oliver is a man who doesn’t really want a lot of attention or recognition at all,” Criner said. “It’s weird for him to hear people talking highly about him. He’s more of a person who wants to do the work. …In my opinion, he’ll always be a Hall of Fame member of west Fresno.”
For Olivier, he’s proud of the way he served his constituents in providing basic services, such as providing street lights, fixing potholes and tree trimming.
A highlight of his time on the council was working to tackle the issue of human trafficking. Olivier authored legislation changing the way massage parlors are licensed, operated and advertized. His work brought the issue out of the shadows and helped a citywide effort to tackle the problem.
Olivier also helped boost parks in his district. Before he came into office, Martin Ray Reilly Park was a vacant lot. He helped put the park near Highway 180 and Chestnut Avenue on the drawing board. Now, paid for through grants, there are basketball courts, fields, a giant playground and a splash pad, despite criticism that the park poses health and safety risks due to its location.
Olivier also formed partnerships and secured money to maintain and improve Granny’s Park. During the recession when the city didn’t have money to maintain its parks, Pastor Tom Sims and 4141 Ministries adopted this park and community center. In 2017, Olivier secured money from the nonprofit KaBOOM! and organized volunteers to build a playground there.
At the end of his last term, Olivier became the No. 1 advocate for the cannabis industry in the city of Fresno. Olivier campaigned for Measure A in 2018, a ballot measure to tax cannabis business licenses. In December, the council approved regulations for cannabis business.
Both outgoing councilmen agree on the toughest vote they ever took: privatizing commercial solid waste. In the end, they both voted in favor of it.
“Those votes were so difficult that everything in the years since has paled in comparison,” Olivier said.
Baines said labor groups were upset with him over the vote, but in the end he knew it was the right thing to do.
Out of all his years, Baines said there’s only one vote he regrets. In early 2013, he voted in favor of spending money on the Convention Center instead of using the money for parks.
“That was an awful vote to take,” he said, noting the difficulty of pitting the two issues against one another. “I knew I didn’t like it because it kept me up at night.”
During his time in office, Baines described the relationship with Building Healthy Communities and its CEO, Sandra Celedon, as “strained,” and “antagonistic.” But he said he agreed with the group on many issues.
“While we wholeheartedly disagreed with Baines on specific votes – in particular votes pertaining to new industrial facilities harmful to the health and well-being of the surrounding communities – Baines’ intent to make a positive impact on his constituents was obvious,” Celedon said in an email. “We certainly appreciated his willingness to have open and tough discussions when we disagreed, instead of ignoring our calls or refusing to meet with us.”
Olivier said he doesn’t have any regrets, but he faced his fair share of challenges and controversies.
He occasionally clashed with advocates from the dais or critics over Twitter. Once during a lull in a council meeting he was caught on a hot mic calling a resident “certifiably nuts” and using foul language.
In 2017, he again threw his hat into the ring to fill a vacancy left by Henry T. Perea, this time in the state assembly. After two bitter campaigns, he lost the election to Democrat Joaquin Arambula.
Baines is looking forward to spending more time with his friends and family in his post-city council life.
He also will dedicate himself fully to his Fresno E.O.C. program, Valley Apprenticeship Connections. . Baines says the program fills a gap in workforce development in Fresno.
Olivier doesn’t have a job lined up, but he’s interested in pursuing political consulting or work in government relations.
For the incoming councilmen, Miguel Arias in District 3 and Nelson Esparza in District 7, Olivier imparted a few words of advice.
“Pick two or three major things you’d like to get done and work on them. You cannot be engaged and battling everyone at all times on all issues. If you want to get things done, sometimes you have to let some of the more insignificant issues go.”