Inside the Developing War

The Development Code seems boring. It’s not. It’s where Fresno’s titans go to battle.


Pretty soon we were well into the hearing’s second hour. People were talking about noticing requirements back in the 1990s, before anyone knew about email.

Soria made a motion that City Hall should notify residents by email if a big developer project was headed for their neighborhood.

That’s when Baines tried to regain a handle on things.

“We don’t even have a motion yet to adopt the development code,” the Council President said.

With Baines’ gentle encouragement, Soria moved to approve staff’s recommendations. Baines did the second.

Soria wasn’t done.

“I would like to make a motion to make sure that if someone does come in under the flexibility (option) and their standards are approved by the city and the city staff, a project that comes next with similar standards wouldn’t have to go through the ‘flexibility’ track but actually (through) the certainty track,” Soria said.

If I understood correctly, Soria was saying that each successful project under the flexibility option would automatically become a binding precedent that took oversight flexibility out of the hands of city staff and the neighborhoods getting the next project just like it.

Zack must have thoughts along those lines, as well.

“That’s a little bit unconventional,” Zack said. “We feel like we would need maybe a little bit more time to figure how the mechanics of that would work and come back to you and report on a future date. Because (the development code) isn’t really designed to work quite that way.”

But Soria’s motion (with a second) stayed on the table.


That was the signal for Caprioglio to make a motion.

“I want to make an amendment to your motion that we include Exhibit A and B (Assemi’s proposals) into your motion to approve the development code,” Caprioglio said to Soria.

“You want to amend my motion?” Soria said.



There was silence in the Council Chamber.

“Thank you,” Caprioglio said. That got a few laughs.

Caprioglio simply made his own motion saying the same thing. He got a second.

We now had four motions on the floor: 1.) Accept staff recommendations; 2.) Get lots of email notifications to the people; 3.) Turn flexibility option projects into precedents; 4.) Turn Assemi’s proposals into law.


Council Member Brand tackled an issue dear to Assemi’s heart.

“We went through a lot over the last two years, starting with the general plan a couple of years ago and the development code,” Brand said. “We’re trying to finalize everything today to move forward. But one of the big changes was by right development.

“Fresno has been historically known as not business friendly – every project takes too long. I’m not talking about just residential projects and multi-family. I’m talking about commercial and industrial projects.”

City Hall needs to send a message that Fresno is the place to do business, Brand said.

Keep in mind, he said, “that one of the major changes we made in the general plan was the focus on infill development, particularly in Downtown and identified areas and on transit corridors. (But) we’ve had this historical challenge of finding the financial model that makes it work.

“The more things we can do to accelerate the process, to incentivize the process, the better we’re going to be and the faster we’ll reach the really ambitious goals in the general plan. I understand the comments about the ‘by right’ process. But when you move away from that you’re moving in a direction that (will mean) all the things we’ve done in terms of ‘by right’ will be lost.”

Citizen review committees will continue to do good work where applicable, Brand said. But, he added, Fresno must “not fall into the same trap we’ve fallen into for years and years” – which is talking good projects to death.

Hence the value of “by right” development, Brand said.

“I’m OK with the (Assemi) amendments,” Brand said. What’s at stake “isn’t residential development. This is commercial and industrial. It’s the heart of what we’re trying to do to turn this town around and make it business friendly and create jobs and prosperity and wealth for the entire community.”


Brand’s words didn’t sit well with the Mayor.

“Mr. President,” Swearengin said, “may I ask a quick question?”

Swearengin first addressed her questions to Caprioglio.

“So, you’re motion is to accept the changes as submitted in this particular document?” she said, referring to the Assemi exhibits.

“Yes,” Caprioglio said.

“Which substantially undermines what was negotiated with all of our industry partners that staff put forward, with one exception. Every industry member is on board. But that’s your motion, right?” Swearengin said.

Caprioglio has been a lawyer for some 40 years.

“My motion doesn’t include your comments,” Caprioglio said.

“I understand. That’s my comment on your motion,” Swearengin said.

Then the Mayor turned to Brand.

“Council Member Brand, your most recent comment was aimed, however, at Council Member Soria’s motion, correct?” Swearengin said. “So, (it’s) not related to what Council Member Caprioglio just put forward. But you support Council Member Caprioglio’s amendment as submitted by one of the industry partners?”

The Mayor and Brand (who is running to succeed the termed-out Swearengin in January 2017) then argued a bit about the true sentiments of development industry members outside the Assemi orbit.

Brand noted that the Assemi projects in Uptown are of high quality and high standards. He said the projects win big-time awards for excellence.

“Yeah, thank you,” Swearengin said. “And we’ve certainly got all feedback from members of the industry who acknowledge it’s time to turn up the volume on standards and that standards are a good thing.”

“I don’t see this as lowering standards,” Brand said. “I see this as elevating standards.”

“I completely disagree,” Swearengin said.


Did Assemi blindside City Hall with his proposed amendments? Or did some city officials know they were coming, and conveniently forgot to look at their in-box?

“I did not see attachment A (Assemi’s amendments) that you included in your motion until just a few moments ago…. That’s a considerable amount of information to digest just now,” Baines said to Caprioglio late in the hearing.

Assemi, back at the public microphone, didn’t like being called sneaky.

His proposed amendments are merely “fine-tunings,” Assemi said, “that, by the way, were submitted over a week ago to the city of Fresno. These were submitted multiple times – electronically, physically and, again, this morning to the City Clerk. It should be a surprise to nobody.”

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