Mayoral radio show previews brawl ahead

George Hostetter’s inside look at H. Spees, Henry Perea, and Lee Brand’s radio interview with Brooke Ashjian.


“You talk to anybody in a survey at any point in time, today or 10 years ago, and public safety comes out on top,” Brand said. “People have talked about (an ideal force of) a thousand police officers. I think right now we need at least 800 police officers. Our staffing appropriation is for 760; we’re at about 725 or 730. We’ll probably be close by June 30. To get a thousand, you’ll have to incrementally plan it, because it’s very expensive. Everybody can talk about their wish list. But if you add 250 more police officers, that’s at least $25 million a year. And we’re having trouble as it is now just paying for what we have. And we have other costs coming up.


“I’ve heard talk of the compensation. Yes, we’re in a competitive market. We need to evaluate, side by side, what Fresno County (deputy) sheriffs make, what Clovis makes, what neighboring communities make. I know one thing that we really benefit from in any comparison on public safety – we pay about 20 cents on the dollar for our pension costs. By contrast, Fresno County is roughly 50 cents on the dollar. And we’re a fully funded pension system. Fresno County is over a billion dollars underfunded. So that’s one big advantage we have.

“There are a lot of things that would solve the problem. Adding officers is one of them. Organizational changes, putting people out in the street, making other changes that are non-monetary – that can make a difference. One of the related problems out there, particularly for people in my district (District 6, northeast Fresno) and all over the city, is vagrancy and homelessness. It’s a major problem.”

“I do believe there are some serious issues within the department. There are serious issues in all police departments. I think Chief Dyer has recognized there are some issues here. We’ve talked about community policing. I think everybody seems to want to do that. This year I would like to see some really substantive changes in the staffing. It’s not really going to cost money because you’re just redeploying people from one area to the other. But I think, from talking to Jackie Parks and Damon Kurtz of the FPOA and talking to the Chief, I’m hoping we can move in that direction.”

Will your business background help you if you’re elected mayor?

“I’ve been in Fresno almost all my life,” Brand said. “I went to school here – Roosevelt High School, City College, Fresno State. I finished my master’s degree at USC. I started the business about 38 years ago with my partner, Ken Warkentin. We’re still partners today. Westco has grown from a two or three person office to, at the height of the construction boom, almost 200 employees. We did operations up and down the state. Really, our construction division generates more revenue than our property management division. So, it’s well diversified.

“What I learned during that experience on leases, on financing – we did up to $20 million projects that I would be overseeing – all of that was so valuable when I came on the council. Particularly in 2009 when the city was teetering financially and moving in the wrong direction. I’ll take my 37 years over 30 years of somebody in government because in government you never see the entire truth, not even in the nonprofit world.

“When you fail in the nonprofit world, you lose your job. When you fail in your business, you lose your house, your livelihood and a lot of other things. So, it means a lot. I think of what I’ve done in seven years on the council. I’ve done 18 legislative acts. I’ve done major fiscal reforms for a city that came through a period of time where there was a lot of spending and it needed some discipline.”


“Over the last seven and a half years I’ve been doing two fulltime jobs,” Brand said. “If I’m successful (in the election), which I believe I will be successful by the end of the year, my plan is to sell my interest in the business to my partner, Ken Warkentin. I will be fulltime as the mayor. All of my investment properties will be managed by Westco. I need that much time and that much attention to really do this job justice.”


“I know (property management) intimately – I’ve been doing this for 35-plus years,” Brand said. “There have been slumlords in Fresno for a long time. People are now saying, we need to get tough. (Slumlords) were around 10 years ago and 15 years ago when the problem was probably worse. The worst time was probably the real estate boom, the biggest boom probably in our lifetime, 2001 to about 2007. A lot of people brought property. They came from the Bay Area and Southern California. I saw it. I managed these properties. I knew they were going to be failures.

“It’s improved quite a bit since then. I’m estimating 10% to 20% of the property owners are slumlords. I’ve been involved for many years in the California Apartment Association, the Greater Fresno Apartment Association – responsible owners who take care of their properties. You’ve got to have a very nuanced approach to (code enforcement). You need to focus on the offenders. It’s very easy to find out. You can look at their records. The city needs to improve – it has not done the job it should have done. I think the city is making progress now.”


“There needs to be a balance,” Brand said. “What we did in the general plan is to try to address 50-plus years of what I thought was failed policy by the city. The city is going to grow and people need choices. People want to live downtown. They want to live on the Blackstone Corridor. They want to live in the Northeast or Northwest. They want choices.

“But there’s a financial element, too. As we kept going north, and we built subdivision after subdivision: Does growth pay for itself? That’s the question. Back then, before community facility districts were formed that basically self-financed most of the improvements, a builder would build a subdivision and he would pay an impact fee for public safety and he’d pay some street fees and some sewer hookups and so on. But over time, those streets needed repaving. There was no money. In my opinion, (new subdivisions) didn’t pay for themselves. And over time, as the city moved north, older neighborhoods deteriorated. That’s a losing formula for the general plan.”


“When you make a mistake on a bond, you make a 30 year mistake,” Brand said. “He was part of the decision to refinance a pension obligation bond that would have been paid off in 2014. They (the City Council of some 15 years ago) extended it by refinancing. They went on a pension holiday, in other words they didn’t make any payments. They saved about $30 million upfront. But by doing that, they extended (the bond) to 2031, about 17 years, at $16.2 million a year (annual debt service). Had that not been done, after 2015 we would have $16 million more to spend. That’s 160 police officers. That’s what I inherited when I came in.”

Brand was talking about Perea.

I’m guessing Perea won’t hesitate to get personal next time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts