Mayor Lee Brand has a major problem on his hands.
He kicked off the year with the launch of the City of Fresno’s Rental Housing Registry, positioning himself as the mayor who can bridge two sides. Let’s be frank, he inherited that. The Rental Housing Improvement Act was years in the making and the result of hard work by residents and advocates. Not to mention that as of today, the city is struggling with real implementation of the promise Brand made to address substandard housing within our community. By July, Brand was on vacation with Richard Caglia and John Shehadey. Caglia is one of Brand’s top campaign donors and is also a defendant in a lawsuit regarding a planned industrial park in south Fresno. Meanwhile, Brand intervened on behalf of Shehadey when Tower District residents protested Producers Dairy’s plans to demolish a historic building and use the site to park its trucks.
But this story is about the future, and what Brand plans to do now, after he played the lead role in defeating Measure P, which would have helped provide clean, safe neighborhood parks, trails and other amenities throughout Fresno.
Measure P started years ago thanks to Fresno Boys and Men of Color, a youth leadership program part of Fresno Building Healthy Communities. The young men recognized a need for more and better parks and put the idea in motion for what would ultimately become Measure P.
The measure failed this time, but at final count, 52 percent of voters said they wanted quality parks that would make them proud, improve the health and safety of our city and provide a tremendous boost to the economy. Yes, parks do all these things, but Brand doesn’t seem to understand this. In fact, I’m not sure what he really understands. As The Fresno Bee rightly chronicled, Brand lied to undermine Measure P and then lied that police and fire would suffer if it passed.
His lies go back much further. Remember that during Brand’s mayoral campaign, he stated he wanted to be the mayor for all of Fresno? Remember how he reminded everyone that he grew up poor, living on McKenzie Street in the heart of Fresno?
Someone who wants to be the mayor for all would have rejected the status quo and supported youth in our city. Instead, Brand did what so many have done before and claimed that the police department needs even more than the whopping 52 cents of every general fund dollar it already receives.
The city budget tops a billion dollars. You do the math.
Someone who wants to be the mayor for all would have exalted the young people who are calling for more investment in parks and other opportunities, so many of whom are growing up on McKenzie Street right now.
Young people brought thousands together to get Measure P on the ballot and did what good leaders do: talk to residents, share your story, and ask for their support. They had the guts to take their shot and make a real difference. Brand blocked their path and tried to silence their voices with the might of Police Chief Jerry Dyer, developer Darius Assemi’s money, and the rest of his pals behind him. He sent a clear message to young people who already feel that they don’t matter in their city and left the rest of us to pick up the pieces. How do you explain to young people that their mayor sold them out?
We now know who Brand is and who he truly represents, but frankly, it doesn’t matter. Our city is filled with motivated young leaders. Their power will only grow. Community leaders heard them loud and clear. The majority of voters have spoken. Parks will happen with or without the mayor.
He should apologize for his deception, seek out genuine partnerships with the organizations and community leaders who led the Measure P effort – especially the young people of color – and help heal the divide and bring parks to our city.
What role will Brand play moving forward? He can join the majority of Fresnans or he can stick with his pals and continue to be a small time mayor in a big, diverse city.
Sandra F. Celedon is the President & CEO of Fresno Building Healthy Communities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org