Fresno · Highlight

Confrontation over Chinatown clean-up leads to rhetorical blows

Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.

An otherwise hum-drum contract to clean up Fresno’s Chinatown district turned into an acrimonious fallout among Fresno City Council members on Thursday morning, with one Fresno City Council member waging accusations of corrupt dealings.

Fresno County Councilman Garry Bredefeld took considerable issue with colleagues over a contract to hire private contractors to clean-up the Chinatown area, which has become a gravitating hub of Fresno’s homeless population amid the pandemic.

Bredefeld’s issue: Council President Miguel Arias brought the contract forward for approval without engaging the bidding process.

Meanwhile, members of the Brand administration contended that city staff could do the work at a far lower cost.

During the meeting on Tuesday, Arias dismissed claims from that City workers could meet the emergency conditions at a drastically lower cost, citing years of slacking past performance under the Brand administration.

“The city manager has had two years to clean up Chinatown, and thus far nothing’s been done,” the Council President said. “The council approved the funding to clean up Chinatown in June, and yet nothing has been done.”

The contract with Olympic Property Services will run $143,000 over a two year period, beginning with a six-month pilot program.

The firm is owned by Jim Verros, a political analyst for KSEE-24 and co-host of “This Town” at The San Joaquin Valley Sun.

Amid debate, Bredefeld unloaded on his colleagues over the procedure.

Referring to the City Council as a “swamp,” Fresno City Council member Mike Karbassi admonished Bredefeld for lack of decorum.

“That is totally inappropriate,” Karbassi said amid cross-talk, later apologizing to the public for the display.

During the heated council discussion, Councilman Paul Caprioglio called on Bredefeld to resign if he feels that the city council is corrupt.

Arias, ultimately, called for a brief recess to regain composure on the dais.

After Brand administration officials attempted to raise the notion of handling clean-up internally or seeking a bid process, Arias rejected the notion given the lack of time and insufficient services being provided.

Karbassi, meanwhile, noted that the black-or-white approach to the deal was unnecessary.

“This whole either/or thing, the comment if you if support this, you’re engaging in corruption. You know, people aren’t stupid,” he said. “They’re not going to fall for that. It’s that kind of politics hurting this country,”

Ultimately, the contract was approved on a 6-1 vote, with Bredefeld dissenting.

Bredefeld moves salvos from the dais to the podium

Hours later, Bredefeld re-litigated his issues with the Chinatown cleanup contract in an afternoon press conference.

“This has nothing to do about Chinatown,” Bredefeld said. “That’s just a mirage. That’s a distraction from Council President Arias. This is about corruption. It’s about a corrupt process that took place. And this is about six council members that knowing they were endorsing a contract that did not go out to bid – that was going to cost the taxpayers more money – frankly was a corrupt process as I called it out there – still endorsed it, still voted for it on a 6-1 vote.” 

It’s not the first contract Olympic won from the Fresno City Council. In 2019, the company won a contract to engage in highway litter abatement, beating Brand administration preferred vendor, Landscape Maintenance of America, Inc.

The Fresno City Council supported Olympic’s bid in an attempt to spend taxpayer funds in support of local companies.

Following contract negotiations with the Brand administration, Olympic declined the contract, citing procedural issues. By mid-January, Landscape of America was awarded the contract.

Prior to winning the highway maintenance contract, Olympic spent four years servicing nearly half of Fresno for illegal dumping.

“We are not a ‘Johnny Come Lately’ company,” Verros said. “We have been a vendor of the city for a number of years doing this type of work. We were approached for ideas on how to keep Chinatown clean because we’ve spent a lot of time keeping the area around Chinatown clean.”

The firm contracted directly with at least four different City Council offices – including Arias’ predecessor, Oliver Baines III – to provide patchwork support and clean-up services not provided by the Department of Public Waste.

As for the current contract fight, Bredefeld pointed to a $103,000 reduction in Olympic’s cost between two different proposals as alleged untoward activity.

“All of this was an effort to circumvent bidding, which is what we do,” Bredefeld said.

However, based on a review of the documents, the savings arrived via a combination of reducing the geographic scope of services and shortened contract length.

Meanwhile, the City of Fresno has, regularly, issued no-bid contracts to vendors and contractors.

Most recently, the Fresno City Council authorized a no-bid contract to Northstar General to construct Fresno’s animal shelter on property next to The Gap distribution center near Fresno-Yosemite International Airport.

Bredefeld voted in favor of issuing the no-bid contract to Northstar, whose contract was largely reassigned to Quiring General when the firm was unable to obtain proper bonding on the project.

As for Caprioglio’s call for Bredefeld to resign, Bredefeld fired back.

“Council member Caprioglio said I should resign,” Bredefeld said. “That’s hysterical. It’s laughable. I can assure you my constituents don’t want me to resign, and this comes from a man who every year has walked up and down these halls saying his vote was for sale – in fact to the point I had to go into his office and say, ‘Paul, you shouldn’t be talking that way.’” 

“Literally said that, and I literally had a talk with him. And he can deny it, that’s fine. He will deny it, but it’s true.” 

When asked if he knows of any specific times where Caprioglio has sold his vote, Bredefeld responded: “I think there’s lots of selling going on in this building.”

As to Bredefeld’s stemwinder, Arias had a simple retort.

“I don’t respond to tantrums from 8-year-olds and I don’t respond to tantrums from 61-year-olds,” he said.

Daniel Gligich and Alex Tavlian contributed to this report.

The San Joaquin Valley Sun
Staff reports from The San Joaquin Valley Sun staff.