Throughout his successful campaign, Lee Brand told voters that he would be a mayor for all of Fresno and that he was not tied to orthodoxy or even a conservative agenda.
For example, in debates, television ads and interviews, Brand emphasized growing up on McKenzie Avenue in a small, two-bedroom southeast home near Roosevelt High School.
Brand’s message: Yes, I have been a highly successful businessman and have represented northeast Fresno for eight years on the City Council, but I’ve never forgotten my blue-collar roots.
And, as mayor-elect, Brand has said that he wants to be a “mayor of change” and to tackle significant problems all across the city.
Though he won’t succeed Mayor Ashley Swearengin until next month, Brand has an early opportunity to make good on his word and his promises Thursday.
After two years of input from renters, property owners, national housing experts and community activists, the Swearengin administration takes its residential rental inspection program to the City Council.
The mayor’s proposed ordinance has been long in the making, too long perhaps. But it is desperately needed in a city in which unscrupulous property owners have been allowed to prey on the poor, the disabled and the elderly with virtually no interference from City Hall.
The magnitude of Fresno’s large inventory of substandard – a euphemism for dangerous and unhealthy – housing was brought into the spotlight by the Summerset Village crisis last year and then documented in detail by The Bee’s four-month-long “Living in Misery” investigation.
Swearengin vowed during her first mayoral campaign to rein in Fresno slumlords, and this proposed ordinance is the foundation of that effort.
It relies on an interior inspection program to ensure that rentals meet the minimum health and safety standards required by California law and are safe to occupy. The ordinance also requires that all rentals register with the city. Subsidized residential rentals – commonly known as “Section 8 housing”– that are inspected by other government agencies would be exempt.
The devil is in the details, of course, and there have long and sometimes rancorous debates among the stakeholders – chiefly about the frequency of inspections and the costs to property owners. Something that everyone has agreed upon: Newly built rentals should be exempt from inspection; the mayor has proposed a period of 10 years.
The mayor’s proposal also provides a provision for property owners to self-certify their units. And it calls for the city to randomly inspect varying percentages of apartments (10 percent to 50 percent) based on the size of the complex.
So, how does Brand fit into this? One, he is well-versed in the subject as he owns both rentals and a property-management company. Two, there is his campaign promise to stick up for all of the people, not just the powerful who have the ear of City Hall. And, three, the California Apartment Association provided at least $42,000 in independent expenditures in support of Brand’s mayoral campaign.
Representatives of low-income tenants would like a more-robust inspection program, one similar to that recommended by housing expert Alan Mallach, a senior fellow at the Center for Community Progress, a national organization that studies how vacant and substandard housing affects cities.
There are perhaps council members who believe that Swearengin’s proposal is too onerous for property owners and would result in higher rents.
On which side will Brand stand Thursday? Maybe no side at all. There’s always the possibility that he or someone else will say the issue requires further study and the council ends up punting the ordinance to January when Brand becomes the most powerful person at City Hall.
In the least, Brand needs to back Swearengin’s proposal. It would be better if he were to propose changes that strengthen it further – even if that means upsetting his friends at the California Apartment Association.