It’s only his first week in office, but new Fresno Mayor Lee Brand is signaling that he won’t be shy about using one of the Valley’s highest-profile positions to push not only the city’s interests, but those of the entire region.
In remarks after he was sworn in Tuesday, Brand discussed the potential for greater collaboration between the city and the Fresno County Board of Supervisors – where former City Council colleagues Andreas Borgeas and Sal Quintero occupy two of the five seats – on matters such as water, land use, jobs and the economy, issues that pay little heed to boundary lines on maps.
“In my time (on the council), we never had a joint meeting” with the county board, Brand said of his eight-year tenure representing northeast Fresno’s City Council District 6. “There are crucial issues like land-use planning, the (county) jail and water that we need to get together as two bodies. I think everybody in Fresno County and the city of Fresno will benefit from a better relationship.”
Now Brand leads the Valley’s largest city – and the fifth-largest in California – and that’s leverage he plans to wield.
We’re all in this together. It’s not just Fresno and Fresno County; it’s Kings, Tulare, this whole region, and my job is to push that agenda.
Fresno Mayor Lee Brand
Brand noted that four of the five supervisors endorsed his mayoral candidacy – leaving unspoken that the four did not endorse Brand’s opponent, fellow supervisor Henry R. Perea.
“We’re acting together,” he said. “I’m very optimistic that our new board (of supervisors), we’re going to have one of the best relationships between the city and county in probably 50 years.”
He described Supervisor Buddy Mendes,a Riverdale farmer whose district encompasses southern and western Fresno County, as “my resident expert” on the Valley’s agricultural water situation.
“I’ll look to people like Buddy, his advice, and try to make this better for everybody,” the new mayor said.
“We’re all in this together. It’s not just Fresno and Fresno County; it’s Kings, Tulare, this whole region, and my job is to push that agenda,” Brand added. “Agriculture is still the No. 1 industry in this county and water is absolutely essential, so I’ll use the bully pulpit of this position to advocate for that.”
One area where the city, county and neighboring cities may still encounter some turbulence is land use, which has been something of a sore spot. At some points in recent years, Brand and other council members have chafed over the county’s effort to explore the potential for development of the Friant Corridor north of Fresno, even as the city adopted a new general plan that sought to limit outward residential sprawl and instead focus development in established areas.
City Manager Bruce Rudd addressed the potentially thorny coupling between water for urban development and land use, particularly in the wake of the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
“Those go hand in hand, and that needs to be a regional discussion because it’s going to dictate how Fresno County and the cities in the county and in the entire county are going to be able to grow,” he said. Water “is a limited resource, and there is a recognition that the cost of water that used to be considered almost an unbridled benefit (for development) is now very limited, and there is cost associated with providing that infrastructure.”
“As we’ve all learned, (water) is a commodity that is not free, and it’s going to get more expensive as time goes on,” Rudd added. “It’s going to be one of those things that Mayor Brand and the Board of Supervisors and everyone else are going to have to get collectively on the same page.”