Business · Fresno

Karbassi calls for slow rollback of shelter-in-place beginning May 7

Fresno City Councilman Mike Karbassi called on Fresno Mayor Lee Brand and his Fresno Recovery Committee to begin a phased-in rollback of the City’s shelter-in-place order to allow for small businesses to begin reopening.

In a Monday morning press conference in front of Fresno City Hall, Karbassi pushed for the Brand administration to establish guidelines by May 1 for currently-deemed non-essential businesses to re-open on May 7.

“We have to get really honest with ourselves, residents, and our businesses,” Karbassi said. “Many are complying with these orders, unfortunately there is a significant portion of our city not complying.”

Karbassi pointed to his own colleagues as a reason why noncompliance is on-the-rise.

Despite holding City Council meetings via Zoom, Fresno City Council President Miguel Arias and Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria held an in-person press conference on Friday to tout the disbursement of no-interest small business loans via Karbassi’s Save Our Small Business Act.

“If our politicians are willing to violate shelter in place to pat themselves on the back, maybe it’s time we allow our small businesses to open, too,” he said.

Fresno’s current shelter-in-place order is set to expire May 6. Mayor Lee Brand is scheduled to meet with the Fresno Recovery Committee, comprised of local business leaders, public health officials, and representatives from the City and County of Fresno, Monday afternoon.

Karbassi said small businesses reopening under a blueprint developed by the Recovery Committee should be guided by Fresno County Department of Public Health orders.

“Think of it as a dimmer switch, a gradual reopening,” Karbassi said of a May 7 reopening.

Karbassi pointed out that Fresno residents’ compliance with the city’s order is beginning to fade as more cars are driving around town.

“There’s a growing frustration and if we don’t get in front of this it’s going to get out of control.”

He argued that the reopening guidelines can easily incorporate social distancing practices currently utilized by essential, public-facing businesses.

“My colleagues support big corporate businesses like Walmart being open. When you can go into Walmart and customers don’t wear a face mask and they’re OK with them, yet a mom and pop shop can’t open,” Karbassi said.

“There’s no reason why, in my family business I can’t sell someone an area rug standing six feet away, disinfecting, and wearing a face mask.”

Underlying Karbassi’s reopening push was what he described as his top concern: citywide layoffs caused by a collapse in tax revenue.

“If we face layoffs in the City of Fresno that’s going to hurt the residents,” he said. “Because when you call 911 it takes longer to talk to someone and it takes longer for an officer to get there.”

Writing Checks That Can’t be Cashed

Karbassi trained much of his ire at two City Council colleagues – Arias and Soria – over dissatisfaction with a proposal he crafted, the Save Our Small Businesses Act, a no-interest loan program for Fresno small businesses.

The proposal, which began with $750,000 in City funding was sold as being matched with an additional $750,000 from the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission.

“Certain Council members just haven’t learned to play nice with others, and they think we can just snap our fingers and demand money from local community-based organizations,” he said. “They want to begin writing checks that we just can’t cash right now.”

Karbassi added that Fresno’s current emergency declaration has allowed colleagues, namely Soria, circumvent California’s open meeting laws and propose ordinances within 24 hours of a City Council meeting.

“I don’t respect being suckerpunched that way,” he said, comparing the last-minute legislative tactics to those in the California State Legislature.

Alex Tavlian
Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.