Fresno

Fresno lawmakers avert Tower Theatre drama, move on highway clean-up, affordable housing

For the second time in as many weeks, Tower Theatre owner Laurence Abbate avoided having to show up and testify before the Fresno City Council on Thursday over the controversial acquisition of his property by taxpayers.

Councilman Mike Karbassi placed an item on Thursday’s agenda to subpoena Abbate to appear at City Hall after the council, three weeks ago, agreed to purchase the historic theater and indemnify and protect Abbate in court from any potential lawsuits. 

Ahead of the approval of the agenda, Councilman Miguel Arias moved the item off the agenda. 

Karbassi made a motion to keep it on, which received a second by Councilman Garry Bredefeld, forcing a vote. 

“My purpose is strictly about one word, and that’s transparency. Five of the councilmembers were unable to meet with this individual who we’ve indemnified and potentially cost millions of dollars of the taxpayer, and I think it would be beneficial to finally open up this process and allow not only Mr. Abbate to provide his side of the story but also to answer some questions that remain unanswered about this major shift in policy for this city and the financial risks to people,” Karbassi said. 

“Now I understand last time we voted on this, and I respect that my colleagues felt that they wanted to give him a chance to appear rather than just an outright subpoena. I completely understand that. Unfortunately there wasn’t a willingness to hold off on the vote for that. But when we did provide him that opportunity and he came to city hall, he refused to come in because it was a public meeting. 

“Therefore I think that raises a lot of questions and we have to go to this unusual measure of a subpoena. I think we owe it to our taxpayers and the public to conduct that process. It has been kind of a closed process issue, and this is, again, one word – it’s about transparency. And I think how we vote is going to indicate how we feel truly about transparency in this city.” 

Despite Karbassi’s urging, the council shot it down on a 2-4 vote, with Councilman Luis Chavez absent at the time. 

Few good options to remove old Fresno Bee printing press

The Fresno Bee’s old printing press is staying put for the time being. 

Thursday, the council rejected all proposals for removing the printing press at the newspaper’s former headquarters, located at 1626 E. St. 

The city acquired the building in November 2020 for $5.75 million to house divisions of the Department of Public Utilities. 

With a demolition and salvage contractor needed to remove the old printing press, the city posted a request for proposal (RFP) and received five bids. 

During review, the city determined that the RFP should have been prepared as a construction bid instead, leading to the staff recommendation that the council reject all bids. 

With the bids rejected, city staff anticipates that it will go out to bid again within a few weeks. 

City receives acres of land for affordable housing development…

Lance-Kashian & Company, the developer of north Fresno’s River Park shopping center, donated a swath of land in southeast Fresno to the city that will be utilized for affordable housing. 

The city council officially accepted the donation at Thursday’s meeting. 

Lance-Kashian & Company donated 5.53 acres located north of the intersection at Belmont Ave. and DeWitt Ave. 

The donated land is adjacent to 4.17 acres that the city already owns, giving the city 9.7 acres of developable land to use for affordable housing, per the agenda item’s staff report. 

and adds $1 million to housing trust fund

The City of Fresno Local Housing Trust Fund received a big boost Thursday. 

The council approved a $1 million appropriation from the city’s general fund to the local housing trust fund, bringing the fund’s total to $2.5 million. 

Last December, the State Department of Housing and Community Development confirmed that the city would be awarded $2.5 million in matching funds, meaning the fund will have $5 million once completed. 

Freeway cleanup changes to local provider

Fresno-based cleaning company Scrubcan Inc. is taking over the city’s freeway litter abatement. 

Initially, the city had been prepared to move forward with southern California-based Landscape Maintenance of America, who has cleaned up the city’s freeways since 2019. 

But with the contract up for renewal, Scrubcan Inc. came in with a bid of $1.468 million, $64,000 cheaper than Landscape Maintenance of America. 

While city staff and Caltrans recommended that the city move ahead with Landscape Maintenance of America due to the company’s 27-year history of doing this type of work and successful operations in Fresno over the past few years, Councilman Miguel Arias motioned to award the contract to Scrubcan. 

Scrubcan currently provides janitorial services at City Hall but does not have any experience with litter abatement on freeways. 

“I think we have a local company, they submitted the lowest bid, they have good experience with the city of performing well,”Arias said. “So that’s why I’m pursuing this motion.” 

The council voted 5-2 to award the contract to Scrubcan. 

Bredefeld and Karbassi cast votes in opposition – Bredefeld due to the lack of experience that Scrubcan has in this field and Karbassi due to the success that the city has had with Landscape Maintenance of America. 

Scrubcan was awarded a one-year contract with an option for four one-year extensions. 

Berkeley Building declared as surplus

The Berkeley Building, located at 887 Fulton St. in downtown Fresno, has been declared as surplus property by the city council. 

That opens the door for the property to be sold as the future of the property continues to remain in the air. 

Initially in 2014, the city agreed to an exclusive negotiating agreement with Noyan Frazier Capital LLP to redevelop the building for apartment use. 

Previously the council granted Noyan Frazier Capital multiple extensions to the agreement before agreeing to sell the building to the developer in April 2021 for $800,000. 

Noyan Frazier Capital had six months to close escrow or lose the deal. 

Now with the declaration of surplus property, the Berkeley Building is free to be sold to other entities.

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.