Fresno mayor axes funding for these controversial items in city budget

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand announced Monday he’s vetoing funding for the controversial Advance Peace program and an immigrant affairs committee, among other items, in an effort to ensure the city budget is balanced.

In a news release, Brand said he issued seven line-item vetoes.

Other vetoes include: one fire inspector position; five community service officer positions in the police department; two paralegal positions; funding for the Fresno Historical Society; and funding in the City Attorney’s Office.

“Just like any family does when they are faced with difficult decisions on where to spend their limited budget, the city of Fresno has to do the same,” Brand said in a news release. “In the end, we funded as many priorities as we had available money to fund. We will continue these discussions and reevaluate if and when we have additional money available to spend.”

Balancing the budget

The mayor warned the Fresno City Council before the final budget vote that he’d issue vetoes to cut $1.16 million in spending. The budget passed 5-1, with Councilmember Garry Bredefeld casting the lone “no” vote.

The council debated at length during June budget hearings whether to fund Advance Peace, a mentorship program for the people most likely to commit gun crimes, and a newly formed immigrant affairs committee.

Bredefeld, who strongly opposed funding Advance Peace and the immigrant affairs committee, said he’s glad the mayor vetoed those items. But, Bredefeld added, vetoing the community safety officers and fire inspector position will make the city more unsafe.

“I voted against the budget because of the funding for Advance Peace and the immigrant affairs committee, but also because there’s no serious funding for law enforcement,” Bredefeld said Monday. “And there still isn’t.”

Councilmember Nelson Esparza called the mayor’s proposed budget “business as usual,” and noted the city council budget analyst projected the budget would be balanced with the council’s proposals included.

“We need a budget that has a real plan to make headway on the most chronic issues we face as residents of Fresno,” he said. “I think these vetoes begin to take away from that vision.”

Councilmember Miguel Arias said the budget reflects the council’s priorities, and the items that were vetoed will remain a priority.

Arias and Councilmember Esmeralda Soria said they were glad to support a budget that will improve housing and infrastructure in older neighborhoods as well as specific projects in their districts, such as relocating the Darling meat rendering plant that’s in west Fresno and completing a quiet zone near the railroad tracks.

The council needs five votes within 30 days to override the vetoes.

Advance Peace

Aaron Foster, the driving force behind bringing Advance Peace to Fresno, said the vetoes show the mayor and city government are playing politics with people.

“This just confirms what we have always known: that communities of color aren’t valued in our city, but merely seen as people to be quantified and protected against,” he said.

“The mayor is cutting one of the smallest items in order to balance an over $1 billion budget, but now they are paying overtime and deploying 50 more officers as their ‘response’ to the violence,” said Foster, referring the the police department’s response to a string of violence and shootings in the past few weeks.

Andy Levine, with Faith in the Valley - Fresno, said he called Brand urging him to support Advance Peace while Levine’s father, a renowned Fresno State professor who recently died, was in the ICU. Brand never returned his call, he said.

“While my family appreciates the City Council closing a recent meeting in my dad’s memory, if the mayor and city council really wanted to honor my dad, they would actually invest in programs like Advance Peace that provide real opportunities for people in our city who have not been invested in before,” he said. “This decision to veto a $200,000 investment in saving people’s lives only dishonors him and everything he stood for.”

Immigrant affairs committee

Last week, Mi Familia Vota penned a letter to Brand asking him to maintain the $300,000 for the immigrant affairs committee. The group had planned to meet with Brand on Monday morning at 9 a.m., but the meeting was rescheduled to Thursday, said Samuel Molina, Mi Famila Vota’s state director for California.

Brand announced his vetoes at 11:45 a.m. Monday.

Molina said the veto decision was disappointing, and he hopes the council will overturn it.

“I believe the committee can still remain effective, however, at some point in time, there will need to be funding available to address the needs of the immigrant community.”

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.