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Inside the Developing War

21.) THEY’RE ALL TALK

Assemi at one point got tired of his opponents on the dais going on and on about the thoughts of other downtown residential/mixed-use developers.

When it’s comes to actually putting your money where your mouth is, Assemi said, Granville is the only game in town.

“From Granville’s perspective, we’ve built many infill projects,” Assemi said. “Some of the other developers who have spoken this evening, they have built one or two residential infill projects – mixed-use and multi-family – while we have built nine over the last several years. Again, these are award-winning projects. Several developers who have spoken have referred to experts. We believe we are those experts.”

22.) HIDDEN MOTIVES?

I couldn’t help wondering if the real conflict was between the Assemi family and a bunch of envious competitors.

Certainly it was no secret at City Hall or in the development industry that Granville is both the biggest downtown residential developer and has the biggest beefs with the new development code.

A comment from Baines implied that Assemi’s enemies know how to place a phone call to City Hall. The context was Assemi’s claim that his award-winning projects in Uptown couldn’t be built under the development code.

“The reason I am very interested in this topic is because I had some of the downtown developers call me and offer some pretty strong words that are contrary to what you’re mentioning, Darius,” Baines said. “They were really calling me out as a council member, and making sure that we keep our standards intact. Again, very strong words.”

Staff members at the hearing said Assemi’s Uptown projects could be built under the new development code.

Fair point, Assemi said. But, he added, “the idea is, if you want to fast-track projects, especially in the urban core, we need these amendments. The flexibility option could add months. If you want the city of Fresno to be business-friendly, we need these amendments.”

23.) THE OUTCASTS

Planning Director Clark, perhaps inadvertently, then confirmed Assemi’s greatest fear.

Clark said the biggest consumer of time in her department is a developer request for a conditional use permit.

The department’s goal, whether under the flexible option or the certainty option, is to get the site plan review completed within 30 days.

“We’re hitting that 80% to 90% of the time,” Clark said.

Who gets stuck in that 10% to 20% group of long-delayed projects? And why?

Clark didn’t say.

Might that group be full of developers who didn’t play ball with the administration?

24.) DO SOMETHING!

Baines, sensing a slight pause in the incessant chatter, noted that there were actually several pending motions before the council.

But he had forgotten that the mayor was sitting on the dais. That gave her access to the council microphone equal to the access enjoyed by other council members. She wouldn’t have had that privilege if she’d been sitting in the audience.

“Mr. President?” Swearengin said. “I don’t know how to punch in. I’m sorry. I would just like to make one last comment, and ultimately yield to the council’s will. I choke on those words, but I realize that is the way democracy works.”

She added a courtesy laugh.

“I just want to remind the council and the audience that we convened an exhaustive industry group,” Swearengin said. “We had 35 to 40 people in the room on two different occasions.”

She then named about 10 developers, most of then well known to many Fresnans. Granville or Assemi wasn’t among the names.

“All of them have said to me they support staff recommendations, and that they don’t want to comprise on quality,” Swearengin said. “They think the staff’s recommendations strike the right balance between flexibility and certainty. So, what’s troubling to me – and I do appreciate that Granville submitted their comments, that is true – but these comments were never vetted in these committee meetings. What was vetted in the committee meetings – we went off of the staff’s recommendations. And all of the comments and feedback came in specific to that.

“I think it’s terribly unfair to other members of the industry community, who have signed on to what staff is recommending today, (for Assemi) to come in with changes that actually are quite exhaustive. They are not minor. In some cases they are, but not in all cases. (It’s not fair) to have the voice of industry trumped by this last-minute lengthy recommendation.

“So, I would be willing to go back to the table, because I love to be at the table, and take these specific red line comments with everybody in the room and go through them. It was painful to get where we got with staff’s recommendations. But I’m willing to sit there and do it again and again and again until we don’t just have 90%, 95% of the industry saying yes, but that we have 100% of the industry saying, ‘OK, fine, this is what we can all agree to.’”

Baines came to the mayor’s rescue.

“You’re asking us to continue the item?”

“Yes,” said Swearengin.

“I’ll make a motion that we continue it,” the council president said.

25.) IMPECCABLE LOGIC

We were finally getting close to a vote on something. Then Caprioglio spoke up.

“I would be opposed to continuing this,” Caprioglio said. “We’ve spent so much time on this. I don’t think we want to go through this again.”

Replied Baines: “I actually think that this is probably a much better approach because of all the time we’ve spent on it.”

The council on a 5-2 vote (Caprioglio and Steve Brandau in the minority) continued the item until Jan. 7.

Brand, Soria and Swearengin are part of a City Hall/developer group slated to meet on Wednesday (Jan. 6) to try to hammer out a compromise. A third council member – perhaps Baines or Brandau – is supposed to take part.

Among the big questions for Thursday’s council meeting: If the code is passed with the Assemi changes on a 4-3 vote, will Swearengin pull out her veto pen?

It takes five to override a veto.

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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