Fresno · Politics

Q&A with Fresno City Council candidate Jared Gordon

The special election for Fresno City Council District 2 is scheduled for August 13. Former councilman Steve Brandau vacated the seat after being elected to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.

The Sun’s Daniel Gligich sat down with candidate Jared Gordon to discuss the race. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Daniel Gligich: Why are you running for City Council?

Jared Gordon: I’m running for City Council because I’ve had a lot of benefits, a lot of blessings. Growing up as a native in Fresno, going to some of the best schools in Fresno, becoming a successful attorney here – I felt like it was time for me to give back. I’ve been involved in the community for a long time, almost the entire time that I’ve been a professional in Fresno. But this seemed like the right time to finally get involved in the city council. I’ve done some other things involved with city government. I’ve been on the City of Fresno Charter Review Committee. I did that and felt that was a very worthwhile experience. I was also involved in the Fresno Chamber of Commerce and have been for quite some time – and have been involved in local government that way. But I thought it was time to do more. 

DG: Can you tell me about your background and experience?

JG: I was born and raised in Fresno – literally born in Community Hospital downtown. Grew up in southeast Fresno, and my parents lived in that house basically my entire childhood life. I went to Manchester, Computech and then Edison – graduated class of ‘95 from Edison. Then left Fresno for college, went to Claremont McKenna College, where I graduated magna cum laude with a government and legal studies dual major.

While I was there I worked at a think tank called the Rose Institute of State and Local Government, where we studied local government issues typically on behalf of local governments or local government districts – some Indian tribes. I was the senior survey manager, which was a position they created for me. I ran public opinion surveys for them. So when I graduated I actually took a job in the public opinion research field. And I got bored by it, so I decided to go to law school, which I considered before anyway. I went to UCLA for law school.

Got so incredibly sick of Los Angeles traffic by the end of my first year of law school, that I decided to not look for any jobs in Los Angeles, and came back here. I was a summer clerk at my current law firm, McCormick Barstow. I then took a job there – practiced for a year. I brought in a client, which is unusual for a first year, but I brought in a client that was an online advertising network that promptly decided it would be more efficient for them to hire me at LA rates and have them telecommute. So that’s what I did. I represented them for eight years. They became an Inc. 500 fastest growing company. At one point they were the 12th fastest growing company in America. They had some troubles in the Great Recession, ended up helping sell the company, moved onto a Facebook games company which I was at for a year. Ultimately the video games industry is a very difficult industry. It’s all hit or miss. They had two games in development, and both turned out to be misses. So I had to recommend to the board that the company hire bankruptcy counsel and recommend that they fire me, because I wasn’t bankruptcy counsel. So they had me lead a round of pretty significant layoffs, and at the end of that I fired myself – signed my own severance agreement. That’s what it takes sometimes.

I’ve been involved in two companies where I’ve been involved in senior leadership with more than 100 employees. And I’ve had to fire most of them when the business failed. So I’ve had to make those tough choices, and it was including myself when it was the right thing to do.

After that I ended up with my own practice, just sort of brought in clients from my network of technology company employees that I worked with over the years. I was doing fine, but I was thinking about whether I was going to have to start hiring people to do administrative work.

Around the same time, McCormick Barstow asked if I wanted to bring my practice to them. I thought it was more efficient to work through them then to be on my own and hire someone. And so I took my practice back there.

In the meantime, I’d gotten married and had two kids. 

DG: How would you deal with the issues of homelessness and crime?

JG: My view is that we have to treat the homeless with dignity, but we have to expect that they will respect all of the same conventions that everyone else has to live by. So that means that we need to compassionately work to try to help the homeless out of being homeless where we can. At the same time, we have to enforce the laws against them. That includes the “No camping” ordinance, that Brandau proposed and got passed before.

That includes other kinds of laws against trespassing, theft. We should not live in a society where anyone is permitted to defecate on other people’s property without their permission. I think that should go without saying, but sadly in California that is not the case.

In addition to the No Camping ordinance, I’d certainly support the anti-panhandling sign ordinance that Councilmember Bredefeld proposed. I expect that if I’m elected, that at our first or second meeting that I’m sworn in, we will vote on that and get 4-3. And that will go into effect.

I am also studying the possibility of having additional shelter spaces and transitional services provided to homeless people on a distributive basis throughout the city.

In talking to homeless advocates, one of the problems that they told me about is, and this is particularly an issue in District 2, is that if you’re homeless and you’re not near downtown – almost all the services are downtown, with the exception of some stuff for veterans around the veterans administration building.

If you’re homeless, it’s hard for you to get places typically. Although there are many homeless people who live in their cars, many of them don’t have cars. And for the people who don’t have cars – don’t have easy transportation – getting downtown to get services is tough. So I think we need to meet homeless people where they are. I would much rather have some kind of safe encampment that has social services, that has safe bathrooms, that has potentially some kind of police protection where it’s relatively low barrier.

People could bring their dogs and their kids, and they can come as they are. As long as they’re not using illegal drugs on the premises, we’ll let them stay there. And if we can have that, that’s better than having people sleep in front of people’s businesses, in people’s backyards, on railroad tracks or where they’re in danger. So that’s the kind of solution I’m thinking about. It’s going to need a lot more studying in particular where those places should be located, and I don’t have a good answer for that. I think it’s going to take some staff time and probably a fair amount of public discussion. 

Crime is really a couple of different issues, because there’s really different kinds of crime that demand different kinds of solutions. So when it comes to things like gang violence – I think police have generally done a pretty good job of addressing it, certainly compared to the 1990s.

At the same time, we’ve seen a recent uptick in gang violence over the last couple of years. I think we need to potentially focus even more resources on that. I certainly don’t support the Advance Peace proposal. I don’t think that paying gang members is going to be effective at reducing crime. But if there are some other innovative solutions that the Advance Peace people want to propose to help people get out of a life of being a gang member, I’d certainly be willing to listen to them, especially if they’ve been tried other places and there’s evidence to support them.

For property crime, I think that is a really under resourced area, and it’s particularly a problem in District 2. There’s so many people who report seeing people steal packages off of their front yards, either when I’m walking precincts I hear about it, or on Nextdoor. That’s something the police really don’t even investigate anymore. People don’t even report it, because they know that nothing will be done about it. So people who appear to be in an organized ring actively following around delivery trucks – no one’s trying to stop them. So I think that we need to actually devote some resources to trying to stop the people who seem to be more than just opportunistically stealing from people in terms of property theft.

It’s tough because with Prop. 47, now you will have to aggregate together a lot of property in order to get jail time for someone. Basically, the legislature all but legalized petty theft. But I think with investigation, if there’s more than one person involved, we can maybe put a stop to some of what’s going on – particularly to the extent that there’s organized people actively doing this as a sort of job, if you will – where that this is sort of their daily way of making money. I think that with some investigative police resources, we can stop that. 

DG: Let’s talk about the Advance Peace program. Why are you opposed to it? 

JG: I’m opposed to giving money to gang members, to be clear.

I’ll tell you why I think that will probably fail. So one of the things that happens in gangs is that money gets distributed up in a gang relationship. There’s been lots of academic research on this. If you give money to low level gang members to try to transition them out of gangs, that money will get stolen and will get distributed to the higher level gang members. You’ve now effectively funded the gang with taxpayer money.

Further, if the idea that we can incentivize people to [deter] them [from] committing violence – it’s highly unlikely because violence is typically an impulse-driven crime. So you’re not going to get reductions in aggravated assault. You’re not going to get reductions in murder from paying people not to commit them, because that incentive is ineffective for an impulse driven crime.

For some kinds of problems, like truancy, for example, there are examples in other cities where those kinds of minor violations are responsive to payments. But we’re not going to see that with murder. We’re not going to see it with aggravated assault and the other serious crimes that gangs are involved in. Money does not make a difference when people are being disrespected. 

DG: What issues in District 2 need to be addressed that may not be present in the other districts? 

JG: There are definitely some things that are more significant in District 2 than perhaps in other parts of the [city], because a lot of the construction in District 2 is relatively new in terms of infrastructure.

We have probably more bottlenecks for traffic, opposed to the rest of the city. In particular we have problems at Herndon and 99, in that general area. And problems especially at Shaw and Polk. Shaw and Polk is a notorious intersection. I’ve heard from people that it can take upwards of an hour at rush hour. I don’t know because I avoid it if it’s close to rush hour. My aunt lives on the other side of Shaw and Polk, south of my district, and she generally will drive all the way south to Ashlan just to get back up to Shaw, because getting through Shaw and Polk is so difficult all the time. If I go and visit her I usually try to avoid that intersection for the same reason. I’ll find some other way to get down there. So that’s a problem that should be solved.

I understand there’s already some money that’s being put towards it, but we probably need to think about whether that’s enough resources for the level of traffic there, because it’s a very heavily trafficked intersection already. With the expected growth and already existent housing west of 99, that intersection’s going to have to support a lot of traffic. And right now it can’t support probably half the traffic it gets. That’s one of the problems.

Then we also have Veterans Boulevard. It’s not exclusive to District 2, but it is maybe the big transportation project in District 2. So we need to figure out a way to fund that. Measure C gets us part of the way there, but not all the way, which is why we haven’t started construction on it. We might be able to fund it if there’s money from Congress in an infrastructure bill, if that ends up getting passed this year.

If that doesn’t happen, we’re going to have to look at some alternative ways to get funding for it. And it might even make sense to do tax increment financing with an infrastructure district. But I’m very hesitant to propose tax increment financing. It did not work really well in the redevelopment era in my opinion, although this would be much more constrained, so probably less likely to end up being abused. That would be my last-ditch resort if we can’t find some other sources to fund it. I think it’s an important project for the long term of the district and the long term of the city of Fresno.

We need that additional crossing of 99 and that diagonal Veterans Boulevard to really tie together traffic on the west side of the city, so somehow we will have to figure out a way to fund it and build it. 

DG: Are there any issues that you think you’ll make an immediate impact on if elected?

JG: One of the things that I know I can make an immediate impact on, because I’ve already counted to four on it, is the no panhandling sign ordinance. Having talked to Council Bredefeld – and I know he’s talked to the other candidates as well. We’ve all talked about it together. Whoever gets elected is going to support that, and that’s going to get passed. I’m sure that that impact will happen very quickly after I’m elected.

I think that there are some changes to the development code that could happen pretty fast, because all they take are text changes. I’m an attorney. I can write changes myself and then have the city attorney vet them. So if that’s what it takes, we may do that.

In particular I’ve long seen problems with what’s called “a legal nonconforming use,” which is a fancy lawyer way of saying an existing business that just doesn’t match the vision of the City of Fresno. The planners in the last administration came up with ideas about how they wanted to be. Their ideas don’t always match what’s on the ground. So we’ve seen in my district, but also even more so in Councilmember Chavez’s district, large swaths of businesses that couldn’t operate the same business if they changed hands.

If you have a new tenant, they couldn’t operate the same business because that business is no longer allowed in what it’s been zoned for. My belief is that the City of Fresno should never be in the business of shutting down businesses. We need to be as business friendly as possible. We need to encourage every business small and large that exists in the City of Fresno, new or old. I don’t think that it’s right for planners in the City of Fresno to tell businesses that have been operating one way for 50 plus years on Belmont or Kings Canyon that they aren’t allowed to operate anymore. This was a problem that I identified back before the development code was adopted.

I sat in on those meetings, and I mentioned to the planners – they ignored it. They didn’t like the answers. I wasn’t the only one who complained about this. I then complained about it to the City Council before they adopted it. City Council adopted the development code anyway, and that problem then happened. And the very first amendment that they made to the development code was to fix that problem for Belmont and Kings Canyon, but it needs to get fixed for the rest of the city. So that’s one thing that can happen right away.

I think it can happen right away because Chavez, who is sensitive to development issues, has already seen the impact of that in his district. So I’m hopeful that he would join with some of the other members of the council that are relatively business-friendly, and I think even maybe [Councilmembers] Nelson Esparza and Esmeralda Soria might even consider supporting it because their districts will have much of the same problems. 

DG: Given that the special election leaves the winner with a short term, do you have any concerns that you won’t have enough time to become acclimated with City Council and will have to face reelection almost immediately? 

JG: I’ve been studying city government for much of my adult life, and have followed Fresno city politics for most of my adult life. I’ll be ready to go the very first day. I hope to make a quick impact on the City Council. But I’m realistic that there’s a good chance that I’ll be running all the way through November 2020.

I think if I were in a regular City Council race, like District 4 – they’re already actively running for 2020. So it’s not really that different, just [that] there’s four intervening elections instead of just one primary. So it makes it a little more difficult to have some of the long-term efforts that I would otherwise do. It’s compressed things.

It’s more work in a short amount of time, but it’s work that I’m happy to do for the people of Fresno.

DG: Is there one issue that is a priority for you? 

JG: People in the district have told me that homelessness is the most important thing to them. And it’s certainly a problem that I see all the time. I think it has to be a high priority.

I will add that I think the first priority in terms of new spending for me – which I’ve been pretty clear on this publicly – is that I think we have to fix our emergency dispatch system before we do anything else new. I have heard from various sources that the City of Fresno’s 911 system has gone down sometimes for more than an hour. I think that is unacceptable.

In the internet and ecommerce background that I work in, with the businesses that I work with, downtime of two hours a month is typically a breach of contract. So we should not be at two hours down a month on something that’s mission-critical as 911. It should be minutes a month at most. Maybe zero. It could be up 100 percent of [the] time. That would be ideal.

We have hours of downtime unpredictably and individual machines frozen because we’re running 20-year-old software. I’ve heard now that we are considering adopting unproven software from an unproven vendor to replace our 20-year-old software instead of adopting the software that every other law enforcement agency in the county uses.

We won’t have interoperability with the rest of the county. I haven’t fully researched both of those, but I think that’s likely a mistake. I work in software contracts quite a bit, and typically if you are the test subject for software, you are the test subject for a year worth of bugs – 911 is not a system that can have bugs. 

DG: Is there anything else you would like to say? 

JG: One of the other things that I think needs to be a priority for the next City Council is that we need to find a way to fully fund a senior center. We’ve set aside about a million dollars in the last two budgets each time. It’s not enough to get us there. We’re one of the largest cities in the entire country without a dedicated senior center.

Clovis has a dedicated senior center. Clovis is much smaller. We can find a way to afford it. I have not identified what budget changes I want to make to make that happen yet, or if there might be available grants to fund the capital outlay.

But that’s one of the things I’m going to work hard on in my first year – is to try to figure out how we’re going to finish funding the senior center that the seniors in Fresno desperately need. I’m looking forward to working with the rest of the council on that, because I know that’s a priority for a lot of other people.

That’s just something that we need to get done – we should’ve gotten done a long time ago for the people of Fresno.

Daniel Gligich
Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.