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Brand heads to US Mayors conference as Washington prepares for Trump

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Lee Brand this week makes his first official out-of-town journey representing Fresno as its chief executive.

The winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C. is his destination.

But Brand most likely will wait until his second trip to the nation’s capital to begin personally building a business relationship with new President Donald Trump. That figures to happen in early 2017.

The three-day Mayors Conference begins Tuesday, Jan. 17. Headquarters is the Capital Hilton Hotel.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Brand told me by phone on Saturday. “It will be a good learning experience.”

Brand said he doesn’t have a firm game plan for the conference. He and an estimated 300-plus other mayors will register on Tuesday morning. From there, a policy-packed array of meetings, conferences, speeches and meals beckons.

Selected mayors on Tuesday morning will hold a press conference to identify what they hope will be urban priorities for the Trump Administration.

Bill Ford on Wednesday will speak at the morning plenary session on “The Human Impact of Smart Mobility and Autonomous Vehicles.” (Ford Motor Company is the Winter Meeting’s title sponsor.)

Also on Wednesday there will be a discussion of federal immigration policy and how it almost certainly will change with Trump in the White House. The discussion is hosted by the conference’s Latino Alliance, Immigration Reform Task Force and Mayors/Police Chiefs Task Force.

I’m betting on a lively exchange of views.

Brand served eight years on the City Council, so he’s no stranger to the variety and complexity of municipal policy. But he’s been mayor for only two weeks.

The Mayors Conference is an opportunity “to get the feel for what’s going on” when national and urban ambitions collide, Brand said.

The conference’s agenda runs to more than 30 pages. I hadn’t seen the agenda when Brand and I chatted. My thought after our chat: Which five topics should be Brand’s priority at the conference?

I came up with:

1.) Housing: The Obama Administration was keen on enforcing HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule. No one of good will in our democracy disputes the value of good housing and equal opportunity for all. But as was made clear during a City Hall workshop a year ago, the AFFH Rule empowers the feds to coercively engineer housing and demographic patterns down to the level of neighborhood streets. Will the Trump Administration go a different direction?

2.) Water: Many in the Valley understand the need for more water storage. They understand the connection between environmental extremism and the destruction of our agriculture-based civilization. Trump will get an earful from Valley leaders in the coming months on this issue. My water focus is different. What will the Environmental Protection Agency do concerning standards for safe drinking water? Obviously, safe drinking water for all is imperative. At the same time, unreasonable standards can be a regulatory smokescreen to punish cities and regions deemed by the feds to be deplorable and, hence, disposable.

3.) Infrastructure: Trump got elected in large part on his promise to put American blue-collar workers back to work in good paying jobs. Construction of Gov. Jerry Brown’s high-speed rail project is going to need lots of federal money to really take off. Fresno by any definition will benefit from a successful bullet train. Will Trump and Brown make a deal? The shape of Fresno’s future rides on the answer.

4.) Education: Public education at the K-12 level became a prime City Hall interest once Fresno went to a strong mayor government. Failing schools mean a failed city. If the latter happens, regardless of the reason, the mayor is blamed. Betsy DeVos is Trump’s pick to be Education Secretary. She is a strong supporter of school choice and vouchers. In other words, she most likely will try to revolutionize a 20th century education system ill-suited for the 21st century. Fresno Unified appears to be in the beginning stages of its own revolutionary reform. Yet, Fresno Unified is located in a state full of powerful political interests intent on maintaining the status quo. Brand, with no formal authority within Fresno Unified, will need all the statecraft he can muster to guide City Hall through the looming war.

5.) Police: I use “war” above as a metaphor for partisan but nonviolent conflict (although the collapse of classroom discipline and parental involvement in many urban schools suggest the word isn’t always symbolic). But “war” as literally defined describes what some critics charge to be the Obama Administration policy toward local law enforcement agencies generally, and municipal police departments specifically, for the past eight years. The result almost certainly has been the systematic neutralizing of sworn domestic peacekeepers in many urban neighborhoods. No one can dispute that come cities have suffered levels of lethal bloodletting unseen for decades. This tragedy has bypassed Fresno for the most part. At the same time, the sovereign people have every right (not to mention responsibility) to keep a close eye on those authorized by society to use deadly force in the maintenance of legal order. What will Trump’s Department of Justice think about all this? Brand would be wise to find out before he launches his Citizens Police Advisory Board.

Then I read the agenda that will greet Brand on Tuesday. I’ll be darned – the issues that challenge Fresno are the issues that challenge just about all of urban America.

The Conference’s Community Development and Housing Standing Committee will discuss the future of home ownership.

The Mayor’s Water Council will chew on the cost of environmental regulation.

The Transportation and Communications Standing Committee will debate the connection between economic growth and the swift movement of people.

The Jobs, Education and Workforce Standing Committee will review City Hall’s influence on innovation in K-12 education.

And the Criminal and Social Justice Standing Committee will hear from experts on the future of police-community relations.

Trump is sworn in as the nation’s 45th president on Friday, Jan. 20. Brand said he won’t stick around for the inauguration. He will return to Fresno on Thursday. (Brand told me a few weeks ago that he expects to return to Washington in early 2017, most likely accompanied by Chief of Staff Tim Orman and Governmental Affairs Manager John Ellis. That’s when the Brand Administration will make a more formal effort to connect with the Trump Administration.)

There is one important event at the Mayors Conference not on the posted agenda. Brand said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wants all of the California mayors in attendance to gather for frank talk about their collective interests.

The theme, Brand said, “is how we can stick together and have a stronger voice in Sacramento.”

Trump. Washington, D.C. Jerry Brown. Sacramento. Coastal megalopolises. San Joaquin Valley.

Mayor Lee Brand’s education in geopolitics begins this week.

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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