COVID-19 · Fresno · Highlight · Sports

Fresno lawmakers tackle COVID-19 clampdown, Grizzlies deal

After a contentious discussion, the Fresno City Council voted Thursday to reserve the right to enforce penalties against people who violate local and state COVID-19 orders. 

The resolution is a vastly watered-down version of the proposal that was tabled Tuesday, which would have given the city the power to fine people for gatherings of 15 or more people in a single household. The penalties would have been $1,000 for the first offense, $5,000 for the second offense and $10,000 for each subsequent violation. 

With that resolution tabled, the Council held a special emergency meeting amid Thursday’s regularly scheduled meeting to discuss enforcement of COVID-19 orders. 

The resolution reads: “The City reserves the right to pursue enforcement against those in violation of state and local emergency orders including mass gatherings and illegal concerts/events if COVID-19 numbers in the City intensify.” 

It was approved by 4-3 margin, with Council members Garry Bredefeld, Paul Caprioglio and Mike Karbassi standing in opposition. 

For Council President Miguel Arias, the debate revolved around the fact that the county does not have any ICU capacity remaining. 

“ICU beds are gone,” Arias said. “I’m losing sleep over the fact that if my son gets sick today, he’s not going to the hospital. If my daughter, who has severe asthma, gets sick, she’s not going to the hospital. I have to explain to a 14-year-old that she’ll probably have to stay home and die there.”

But this resolution ultimately does not give the city any new authority that it does not already have to enforce the rules, Mayor Lee Brand noted. 

“We already have the authority through code enforcement to do the enforcement,” Brand said. 

Instead of going through with this resolution, Karbassi posed another path forward. 

“You know what would make a difference guys, is a bill where we come together and demand the county give us the freaking data so when I go to people and I say, ‘I have to shut you down. Hey guys, this is how I’m doing it,’” Karbassi said. 

Originally the ordinance was grouped with another proposal to request that California Gov. Gavin Newsom provide immediate relief to the city because the ICU capacity in Fresno County has been maxed out as coronavirus cases have risen. 

Those two ordinances were separated so the Council could send an unanimous message to Newsom asking for help. The council approved the request for help 7-0, which specifically calls on Newsom to which calls on Newsom to provide increased medical staffing and increase the COVID-19 vaccine allocation to the Central Valley. 

Fresno County is set to receive 7,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine from the state in the initial rollout in mid December. 

Fresno Grizzlies deal approved, Selland Arena put on the block

Following Wednesday’s announcement that the city agreed to a deal with Major League Baseball to keep the Fresno Grizzlies affiliated with Minor League Baseball, the City Council approved the agreement 7-0 Thursday. 

In addition to the contract revealed Wednesday, the City Council also added that Chukchansi Park can be used by the city and public on non-baseball days, and the Grizzlies will undergo financial auditing annually by a third party. 

When the city announced the deal Wednesday, Arias voiced his criticism of the then-City Council in 2000 for building the stadium. 

“As we entered negotiations with MLB and the Grizzlies owners, our goal was not only to solely save baseball, but to protect taxpayers from an even more severe loss due to the city’s most expensive impulse buy that we engaged in more than 20 years ago,” Arias said. “It’s always easy to get excited about a ribbon cutting or a photo-op, but today the City of Fresno had to take a long look in the mirror and embrace the reality of this too big to fail project that was launched 20 years ago.” 

Arias went on to say that the then-City Council “mortgaged Fresno’s future for a baseball stadium.” 

Bredefeld was on that City Council, and he fired back at Arias Thursday defending the city’s decision to build Chukchansi Park. 

“Twenty years ago that stadium where it is was dirt,” Bredefeld said. “The entire area was blighted, mass-blight. We had a terrible self-image in Fresno 20 years ago. There was a lack of community pride. There was no economic development taking place in our downtown.”

The city’s decision to build the stadium was focused on the revitalization efforts of downtown, Bredefeld said. 

“We needed to do something to stimulate the economic development downtown,” Bredefeld said. “We needed to do something for development, housing, to improve the civic pride. Let me be very clear: Building that stadium was never about ticket sales, never. It was about revitalizing, bringing back civic pride, stimulating development.” 

Bredefeld took a few minutes to name dozens of projects that have been completed downtown since the stadium was built that have been worth hundreds of millions of dollars in total, including various building and housing projects. 

Council to block Bredefeld from becoming VP? 

With Bredefeld in line to become the Council Vice President next year, per the rotational nature of the offices, the City Council gave itself the power Thursday to keep the northeast Fresno Council member from holding office next year. 

Bredefeld has had a contentious relationship with the council this year over differing approaches to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, and Bredefeld accused the rest of the Council of being corrupt over a dispute about a contract to clean up Chinatown

The council amended the rules for office selection, adding the following two points: Council members will not be eligible for two consecutive terms as Council president, and the Council, by majority vote, may vary from the rotation. 

From here on out, four Council members will now have the power to keep one of their colleagues from the President or Vice President positions. 

Notably, the resolution was voted on as part of the consent agenda, and Bredefeld uncharacteristically did not speak out against it. The resolution was passed 4-3, with Bredefeld, Luis Chavez – who is set to be the new President – and Karbassi voting against it.

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.