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No Weed In Fresno's District 6? Big Corporations Only Hire From District 3?

Fresno City Council Member Garry Bredefeld recently showed his statesmanship and forbearance.

At issue was whether a council member has a right and a duty to look out for constituent interests in his district.

My story involves two council meetings, two weeks apart. I begin with the second meeting, held Dec. 13.

The council on that date was charged with adopting what in essence is the cannabis regulation bill. This bill has a long pedigree that includes statewide politics. Medicinal marijuana is coming to Fresno in a significant way. All aspects of the retail recreational marijuana industry are just around the corner. City Hall, with local voter approval, is laying the foundation for regulating and taxing legalized weed.

The cannabis regulation bill was successfully introduced on Dec. 6. The bill was successfully adopted on a veto-proof 5-2 vote on Dec. 13. Bredefeld and Steve Brandau voted no.

The backstory to the council’s action was Proposition 64, passed in 2016 by 57% of California voters. Proposition 64 legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

The fireworks on the City of Fresno’s cannabis bill were on Dec. 6. The Dec. 13 adoption action was on the consent calendar. Bredefeld pulled the item for one last bite at the apple.

“I don’t need to rehash what we discussed last week,” Bredefeld said. “I think my position is clear. I’m willing to support the medicinal aspect of this ordinance.”

Bredefeld is concerned about recreational marijuana and legalized distribution system that goes with it.

Said Bredefeld:

“What I would ask the council to consider is there are parts of the city, my district and others, that overwhelmingly opposed Prop. 64, voted against Prop. 64. So, when there’s a motion to approve, I would like to amend it, specifically (subsection) 9-3307, and add the following language to that subsection that would say: ‘No cannabis retail businesses may be located in any council district where a majority of the voters did not approve Prop. 64.’”

Bredefeld used the term “carve-out” to describe what he proposed. I understand a “carve-out” to be a form of sectional veto or sectional privilege.

“Now, we had a carve-out with a council member last week for something that she felt needed to happen, and I’m supportive of that,” Bredefeld said. “I would ask the same consideration for people who did not want these dispensaries or (were) against Prop. 64 – that they not have to be burdened with these dispensaries, as well. I think that’s a fair request. So, that’s what I’m asking the council.”

I’m assuming the “she” in question is President Esmeralda Soria. I’m also assuming (based on council minutes) that the “carve-out” Bredefeld had in mind dealt with Soria’s insistence on a reduction to part of the “buffer zone” where the local marijuana industry will do its cultivation/research/etc.

There followed a brief bit of posturing from Council Member Clint Olivier, one of the bill’s sponsors. Olivier asked if Bredefeld should have first gone to the bill’s sponsors before taking his proposed amendment public. Olivier has been around the block; he knows that individual council member initiative from the dais is sufficient to attempt to amend a bill.

Olivier said District 6 voters may have opposed Proposition 64, but they supported Measure A in November. Bredefeld countered that the former was a vote on the legalization for recreational use of a once-banned drug while the latter was a vote on whether that drug, now fully legalized, should be taxed and regulated by local authorities.

Olivier noted that, should Bredefeld’s amendment be approved, it would materially change the bill, thus requiring it to be reintroduced. The reintroduction couldn’t happen until January 2019 at the earliest (when the termed-out Olivier would be off the council). Bredefeld said yes, that is so.

Brandau seconded the motion.

It was at this point that things got interesting. Bredefeld was in store for a lecture on the immorality of “carve-outs” as legitimate policy. Actually, he got two lectures.

“Council Member Bredefeld, I understand your sentiment in wanting to do that,” Council Member Oliver Baines said. “You and I chatted about this briefly. I repeat part of that conversation out here for the benefit of the listening public.

“This is really not the most constructive way to make policy – to carve out districts that seemingly do not want a particular issue. That’s really not how it works. For that reason, I can’t accept (the motion). I did share that with you offline. That’s not a constructive way to make policy. The cannabis industry is simply going to be a business in the City of Fresno. To treat it demonstratively different than we treat anything else, in my opinion, goes against the idea of policy making.

We don’t make policy per district, per single council district. We make policy for the whole city. For those reasons, I won’t be able to support (the motion) today. I think it really goes against the idea of us being a united city, of us being policy makers for the whole city.” (My emphasis.)

Then it was the turn of Council Member Paul Caprioglio, who agreed with the comments of Olivier and Baines.

Said Caprioglio to Bredefeld: “It struck me just now: So, does that mean you’d be willing to carve out the financial benefits of marijuana from your district with that amendment? I don’t know how we could do that. But if you don’t want to participate with the ability to produce revenue for the city, then I’m not sure how we would handle it with the distribution of the revenue within the city of those that are willing to put that forward and go with it. I would suggest that if you want to make that amendment I would urge you to include that, as well, and make it a complete picture for your proposal.”

Bredefeld’s amendment failed 2-5, with Bredefeld and Brandau voting yes. The adoption of the cannabis regulation bill passed 5-2, with Bredefeld and Brandau voting no.

Bredefeld is supposed to be the council’s hothead. But he said nothing in response to these two lectures. (He certainly had plenty of ammunition for a reply to Caprioglio. I’d like to see what Fresno’s general fund looks like if Bredefeld’s District 6 and Brandau’s District 2 could somehow be annexed to the City of Clovis. Now there is a carve-out!)

Bredefeld might also have taken note from the dais on Dec. 13 of the Nov. 29 meeting during which the council gave DARM Director Jennifer Clark the green light to pursue the crafting of a South Industrial Priority Specific Plan with an environmental impact report.

I’ve already written about this plan. It might very well spur a massive industrial/social reorganization of our city. The idea is to turn an immense area south of Fresno, stretching almost to Easton and Fowler, into a jobs-producing engine that justifies our claim to being the primary economic engine of the entire San Joaquin Valley.

The area, which includes the Reverse Triangle, already is home to the Amazon and Ulta distribution centers. It could be home to the Bullet Train’s heavy maintenance facility.

The area also is close to West Fresno, which has long had its problems with social stability.

Baines, who represents West Fresno, wants a carve-out when it comes to who gets to work at facilities that will surely be built by well-heeled multi-national corporations in the South Industrial area. He wants City Hall to pressure those firms to hire Fresnans, and in particular South Fresno residents.

Said Baines on Nov. 29: “I will hone in on the very issue that is near and dear to me, because it’s something I don’t think we’ve done a good job on, and it is ensuring that our local residents living in those communities are ensured of getting those jobs.

Baines added: “As we develop this area out, as we bring multi-national corporations in, those multi-national corporations also have corporate responsibilities to our communities. So, as a part of this EIR, I would like to make sure that we have some recommendations for local-hire provisions in there for these major companies that we’re bringing.”

Baines said he knows that Amazon and Ulta have hired locally, “particularly a number of people from South Fresno.” But, he added,  “it was almost incidental. And I want us to be intentional about the assurances – for our residents.”

Mayor Lee Brand went to the public microphone to agree with Baines.

“My objective is to get local people hired, more specifically people that live in Southeast and Southwest, people that normally would not qualify for jobs,” Brand said. “We know that you can have a high school GED and start out at at least $15 an hour. That’s where I want to put our efforts.”

Baines said he wanted certain hiring mandates built into the negotiation process with big companies looking to locate in Fresno.

“I don’t want us to do it on the fly,” Baines said. “I want it built in from the beginning and not at the end.”

Everyone turned to City Attorney Doug Sloan. Can such carve-out/mandatory hire practices be imposed on companies?

“I think we might have to get a little creative,” Sloan said. “I think at minimum we could encourage local hire. It may mitigate traffic concerns if it’s local hire. And certainly if the city is participating in subsidies we can look at more local hire requirements.”

(I listened to Sloan and thought to myself that such a closed-door negotiation might go like this: BIG COMPANY: “We will come to Fresno with your subsidy package.” CITY HALL: “Great. But you must hire a quota of Fresnans from certain disadvantaged neighborhoods.” BIG COMPANY: “Great. Triple our subsidies.” CITY HALL: “No.” BIG COMPANY: “Excuse us while we call Bakersfield, Visalia, Stockton, Sacramento and Reno. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”)

Council President Soria had the last word.

Said Soria: “I want to stress the importance of figuring out, within the legal limits that the EIR affords us or this plan affords us, that we do include this local hire (provision). Like my colleague, Council Member Baines, said, that is very critical – in particular to the residents that live in that area. And, as the City Attorney mentioned earlier, it also helps in terms of the environmental impacts. If people are going to work closer (to where they live) there’s less vehicle miles traveled. It’s a positive thing for the environment. I would really stress that we do it.”

The South Industrial Priority Specific Plan debate was both a carve-out and a shakedown. This happens all the time at City Hall. Council Members Baines and Caprioglio knew this as they lectured Council Member Bredefeld on Dec. 13. Council Member Bredefeld knew that they knew as he patiently and diplomatically took their patronizing talk.

Garry Bredefeld was making City Hall policy (1997-2001 as a council member) when Oliver Baines and Paul Caprioglio were only dreaming of political careers.

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

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