Political Notebook

Clovis mayor responds to Fresno housing commissioner’s controversial comment on diversity

The mayor of Clovis and city officials on Wednesday said recent comments made by Fresno Housing Authority commissioner — some criticized as racist — don’t reflect the city’s values.

Mayor Drew Bessinger’s response was in reference to remarks Commissioner Terra Brusseau made last month about a proposed affordable housing project in Clovis, saying there were “more, better areas” for diversity.

Bessinger in a news release said the city does not oppose the project, adding that the community’s “strongest when there is a diverse choice of housing types and pricing-levels” throughout the city.

“We welcome all those who wish to call Clovis home, to take advantage of our schools, community safety and all things which come with The Clovis Way of Life,” he said in the release.

In an interview with The Bee later Wednesday, Bessinger said that after seeing negative social media comments about Clovis, city officials wanted to make it clear the city had no part in the situation.

The same release sent Wednesday by the city went further to point out Brusseau doesn’t live in Clovis, and the city has no representation on the Housing Authority commission. Brusseau lives in Fresno.

“Commissioner Brusseau does not live in Clovis, does not operate a business in Clovis, and her comments do not reflect our community of diversity and inclusivity,” the release said.

Brusseau’s comments were made at a March 26 meeting discussing a proposed 60-unit housing project on 4.175 acres of land at Willow and Alluvial avenues designated for low- to middle-income families.

During the discussion of the project, which Brusseau opposed, she said: “As I even just look today at Garfield Elementary School, which is what this, um, feeds into, it is a majority white school, that, um, I think there are more, better areas for diversity and our residents to feel like they are in the right place.”

Fresno Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria and Pastor Paul Binion of Westside Church of God both decried those statements as offensive, saying Brusseau should step down.

Eric Payne, the executive director of the Central Valley Urban Institute, attended the March meeting and said Brusseau’s comments were disappointing and hurtful.

“There is so much opportunity in the city of Clovis,” he said. “They have great schools, excellent retail shopping opportunities and a great sense of community. I think that the residents that the housing authority is intended to serve deserve access to those amenities.”

Brusseau, who was appointed by Mayor Lee Brand, on Monday said she was being unfairly targeted and had no plans to resign. She did release a statement saying she sincerely apologized “if my remarks at the Board meeting offended anyone. That was not my intent.”

“My overriding concern has been and will continue to be for the residents I am tasked to represent,” she added.

Brusseau did not comment on the issue Wednesday.

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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.