Could it be that Lee Brand, the rock-ribbed conservative who has spent the past two terms on the City Council touting free market principles and working to right Fresno’s financial ship, is further to the left on some issues than mayoral opponent Henry R. Perea?
Conversely, does that mean Perea is to Brand’s political right on those issues?
Some people think so. The candidates aren’t so sure.
Brand, a Republican, scoffs at the suggestion. Perea, a Democrat, is skeptical of some of the reasoning.
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The primary issues are the city’s new General Plan, which prioritizes infill development, the police auditor’s role and whether Fresno needs a citizen advisory board to be a community liaison with the police department.
In short, Brand is committed to the updated General Plan, which was pushed by outgoing Mayor Ashley Swearengin and supported by Brand on the City Council. Perea is skeptical of the plan, but seemingly has softened some of his comments about letting the market decide on sprawl.
As for the police auditor’s role and a citizens advisory board, the two candidates have nuanced stances, even as Fresno Police Officers’ Association President Jacky Parks – a Perea supporter – goes after Brand, suggesting he wants more oversight of the department.
From a law enforcement perspective, Lee (Brand) is not sounding like a conservative Republican.
Fresno Police Officers’ President Jacky Parks
“From a law enforcement perspective, Lee is not sounding like a conservative Republican,” Parks says. “He is touting a police advisory board, accountability for law enforcement, as if we’re not accountable. He’s sounding a lot more like a liberal.”
Brand says his positions are reasonable and don’t conflict with his core conservative principles. He also says Parks doesn’t know what he is talking about.
“Jacky has a totally wrong perception of what I’m trying to do here,” he says. Parks “is reading way too much into this.”
Auditing the police
The city’s first police auditor, Eddie J. Aubrey, was hired in 2009. It was a policy victory for Swearengin, who made the office a cornerstone of her 2008 mayoral campaign. Alan Autry, Swearengin’s predecessor, had tried and failed multiple times to create the position. All along, Parks spoke out against an auditor, at one point saying they were ineffective, costly and popular only because of “political correctness.”
The city is now on its second auditor after Rick Rasmussen replaced Aubrey in September 2012, filling a job that had been vacant for more than a year. The position always has been part-time, and Rasmussen lives in Utah.
Both Brand and Perea agree on one thing: the auditor should be local. On a second key point, they diverge: Brand wants to make the post full-time, and Perea says it is fine as part-time.
But Brand says that’s the end for him, and that if Parks believes he wants to give the position more powers, such as subpoena authority or more participation in investigations early on instead of as a check and balance at the end, he is wrong.
“He needs to be engaged in the community,” Brand says of the auditor.
Perea agrees that the auditor should be local, for many of those same reasons as Brand. And Perea also questions the need, in the long run, for the position.
Police Chief Jerry Dyer plans to retire about three years into the next mayor’s first term, so one of the coming jobs for the next mayor will be to find a replacement. Both Brand and Perea talk about the need for a chief who is committed to community policing.
There’s no question that Lee (Brand) is way more conservative than Henry (Perea). Henry is not a conservative.
Fresno businessman Michael Der Manouel Jr.
But Perea takes it one step further.
If the next chief is vetted by the community, is committed to community policing and accountable to the mayor and council, that eliminates many of the reasons the auditor post was created, he says.
“The ultimate authority in my mind is the mayor and the City Council,” Perea says. “Their job is to hold the police chief and every department head accountable. If you have a mayor paying attention, then maybe it is a different discussion” about the auditor.
As for the current auditor position, Brand says Parks should be thanking him that it is part-time and with limited investigative ability. Brand says he worked to ensure the position had just the right amount of authority.
Brand also wants a police advisory board, but not one with investigatory powers that would have enforcement authority. Brand sees it as more of an liaison group between police and the community.
“Any board would be fully vetted and explored with all the major players,” Brand says. “I respect the police and what they go through. What I’m doing is improving their jobs.”
Fresno businessman Michael Der Manouel Jr., a Brand supporter, says rank-and-file officers shouldn’t fear any of Brand’s proposals.
“If being for more transparency and accountability is liberal, then we have a problem,” he says. “I think our police department is excellent, but we still need to be building bridges to all communities in our city, period. So police opposition to this is not defensible in a time where the nation is demanding the relationship between the police and the community to be strengthened.”
Perea, however, says the community is already there on this point.
He points to a citizens’ oversight board Dyer already has and that has been in place for 15 years. It has representatives from the NAACP, Islamic Cultural Center, Fresno Unified School District, Hispanic and Sikh communities, among others. Each policing district in the city has one, as well.
Perea says he would advise Dyer’s replacement to continue the chief’s advisory board. He also says as mayor he would have an advisory board on a myriad of community issues, which would include public safety.
Future city growth
How the city grows has been another issue where Brand and Perea have differing visions. Brand is strongly behind a revamped city General Plan that focuses on infill – the practice of first developing open lots in town before growing beyond city limits. The plan was a cornerstone of Swearengin’s second term, and as a City Council ally, Brand helped push the plan.
Perea, on the other hand, is refusing the shut the door on growth at the city’s fringes.
These stances would seem to place Brand in the more liberal position of limiting growth at the city’s edges, while Perea’s stance to let the free market decide is more in line with a Republican point of view.
Perea has questioned the wisdom of pushing infill to the exclusion of fringe growth, thinking builders may simply go to Madera County, Sanger or Clovis if they are limited in efforts to build new subdivisions at Fresno’s outer reaches.
Brand, however, says that “sprawl creates deterioration of older neighborhoods. They over-consume services. It’s a losing business model.”
In north Fresno, Brand says as an example, a house may generate $4,000 in property taxes, while a similarly sized house in southeast Fresno may generate only $2,000.
By focusing on infill, neighborhoods can be revitalized and will increase property values and taxes. Brand also says it would give Fresno residents a varied housing choice, from condominiums and apartments to single-family homes.
Perea, by contrast, sounds different than Brand, but his opinion has morphed since he first announced in January that he would run for mayor.
Back then, Perea said he would complement the General Plan and its infill focus with single-family developments on the city’s edges. If that meant building farther north of the Copper River development toward Friant, Perea said at the time, so be it. His point was that if Fresno didn’t offer this option, builders would likely go to Madera County, Fowler or Clovis.
Now Perea says Fresno shouldn’t limit growth on its fringes, but should also stay within its approved sphere of influence, its boundary for growth.
Given that sphere of influence, there certainly is room for Fresno to grow, but not to the north, where it already is bumping up against the boundary. There is room, however, west of Highway 99 and especially southeast of the city, though there is the possibility that the Southeast Growth Area, known as SEGA, could be cut back.
As for the ever-popular north, Perea says property along the Friant Road corridor is in Fresno County, and it must be master-planned now.
“As city mayor, I’d have no say in that,” Perea says. “As mayor, I would stay in the (sphere of influence) boundaries.”
But Perea also remains concerned about builders going to Clovis or Madera County. He says the city must make the land in its sphere of influence attractive to developers and help them move their plans through the approval process at City Hall as quickly and painlessly as possible.
All combined between growth and public safety, Parks – the FPOA president and Perea supporter – says he likes the way Perea is campaigning.
“What Henry’s got to do is continue sounding like he’s not a Democrat,” he says.
Der Manouel, the Republican businessman and Brand supporter, scoffs at any suggestion that Perea is conservative, or more conservative than Brand on the growth and public safety issues.
“There’s no question that Lee is way more conservative than Henry,” he says. “Henry is not a conservative.”