Fresno

Club One Casino move delayed over eleventh-hour demands. Councilman calls it “bullshit.”

It appears that more than an hour of emotional appeals from out-of-work blackjack dealers, cooks, servers and support wasn’t enough to sway the Fresno City Council to approve Club One Casino’s highly-anticipated proposed move to Granite Park on Thursday.

Instead, the cardroom is facing a demand from Councilman Tyler Maxwell for more public input despite no public opposition to their relocation.

Fresno’s lone cardroom, based in the heart of downtown Fresno for 25 years, was shuttered last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic closure led Club One co-owner Kyle Kirkland to reevaluate the business and decide that a move out of the long-time location downtown was best. 

Following an initial hearing before Fresno lawmakers two weeks ago, it seemed as if the council’s approval would be a mere formality on Thursday. 

It couldn’t have proven to be more different.

One after another, five of Fresno’s City Council members voiced their support for Club One to move to Granite Park.

Two exceptions? Esmeralda Soria, whose fiancée – developer and Granite Park operator Terance Frazier – serves as a conflict leading to her recusal from the issue.

The other? A half-supportive statement from Maxwell, whose council district includes Granite Park. However that support was conditioned on Kirkland and Club One officials conducting more community outreach with neighbors in the surrounding area.

“I do want to express to you the one cardinal sin that was committed, and that was the lack of outreach to the community around Granite Park Sports Complex,” Maxwell said.

Once that is completed, Maxwell would remove all reservations from approving the permit he said after being pressed by colleagues repeatedly.

Before making those remarks, the City Council held a lengthy public hearing in which dozens of people spoke during public comment, including many former Club One employees who are hoping to return to work. 

Maxwell’s push for more community outreach drew a question from Councilman Garry Bredefeld to Kirkland: Did Maxwell previously ask him to do community outreach? 

Kirkland said he discussed community outreach with Maxwell and took measures to make it publicly known that Club One intended to move to Granite Park. 

“It is not uncommon knowledge that we are moving there,” Kirkland said. “We’ve welcomed anyone to come in and tour, and media request that we’ve had we’ve welcomed to come in. We follow everything on social media. We’ve shared the information with others and looked to see what kind of feedback would we actually be getting and what do we need to address.” 

Maxwell clarified that the true “cardinal sin” was that Kirkland did not go into the surrounding neighborhoods knocking door-to-door or hold a community meeting to receive feedback in person. 

“Did we go door-to-door, knocking door-to-door? It just didn’t seem practical, and I think we communicated about that, at least generally,” Kirkland said.

“We’re going to try to do whatever we can. We’re not going to hide what we’re doing from anyone. We’re very proud of what we do, and we’re very proud of what we bring to a community. And the feedback was universally positive.”

Bredefeld noted that he previously heard opposition to a proposed funeral home in his district, so he held community meetings in advance of the city council meeting that it was going to be dealt with in order to receive community feedback from the neighboring residents. 

“We didn’t wait for the hearing to say we need to have community meetings,” Bredefeld said. “We had the community meetings before the hearing. This is really unfair to you, to all these people that have come here to now at the 11th hour, the 12th hour, to say, ‘Now we want you to go knocking door-to-door.” 

Bredefeld asked Maxwell why he did not go door-to-door or hold community meetings if he is so concerned about community outreach. 

“This is not right, and just because you have the power to sit up here and do this doesn’t make it OK,” Bredefeld told Maxwell. “It’s not OK. He (Kirkland) came here, he followed all the rules, he did all the noticing, he’s met all the requirements, and just because you have the power to sit up here and say, ‘Eh, ain’t good enough for me,’ is just bullshit and wrong. 

“I’m sorry. This should be passed today. If you want a community meeting, hold your community meeting. It should’ve been done way before this, not at the last minute. These people want to get back to work. You get paid every two weeks, you have during the whole pandemic, and this is an outrage. This is disgusting, and this should be passed today.” 

That spurned a back-and-forth between the two councilmen. 

“I want my colleagues and everyone here to understand I do appreciate the frustration. You folks have been out of jobs for a long period. You folks have been out of jobs for a long time, like tens of thousands of people throughout the city,” Maxwell said. 

“But when I say the outreach hasn’t been good enough for me, Councilmember Bredefeld, I speak on behalf of 75,000 constituents in District 4 who elected me to be here to fight for their best interest.” 

Maxwell turned to call Councilman Mike Karbassi a hypocrite for wanting to see the Club One permit approved Thursday while arguing that he consistently opposes cannabis legislation because of the feedback from his community. 

Maxwell also took aim at Bredefeld for opposing Grizzly Fest at Woodward Park a few years ago. 

“Councilmember Bredefeld, I might not have been on this dais, but I remember very well the Grizzly Fest debacle that took place,” Maxwell said. 

“It wasn’t a debacle,” Bredefeld interjected. 

Maxwell continued, “At your park, which you soundly rejected, for a couple nights.” 

“Yeah, that’s right,” Bredefeld responded. 

“This is a permanent feature in my district,” Maxwell said. 

Bredefeld quipped, “Should’ve had your community meetings before this.” 

“I would hope that you could also appreciate that neighborhood feedback is extremely important. This is not a two-night event. This is a permanent structure,” Maxwell said to finish off the spat. 

Ironically, Maxwell, who offered to help Kirkland with the door-to-door community outreach, is legally prohibited from doing so because the hearing has not concluded. 

“Because this is a quasi-judicial matter, Councilmember Maxwell should not attend the public outreach,” said Katherine Doerr, Chief Assistant City Attorney. “A report should be provided by the city manager to the entire council.”

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.