Fresno · Highlight

Sparks fly over Fresno City Council’s redistricting panel

Discussions during Fresno City Council on Thursday got a little heated. 

The City Council voted on various committee assignments for each of the council members, although there was a rather large disparity in the number of committees each member was slated to sit on. 

Councilman Garry Bredefeld pointed out that he was only assigned to one committee and Councilman Mike Karbassi only had five, including serving as an alternate on some.

On the other hand, Councilman Miguel Arias had his name attached to 15 committees and Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria would have been involved with 13.

“Because of the Brown Act, this is the first chance we as an entire body have been able to look at this document and discuss it,” Karbassi said. “I want to make it very clear on the record I tried my best to avoid a food fight out here. What I would like us to do is to look at every single item and talk about who’s going to be on those committees.” 

Karbassi said he thinks a lot of the Council members would like to serve on several committees, but they don’t have the opportunity to do so because the list was worked out behind the scenes.

Bredefeld stood with Karbassi and shared the same sentiments. 

“I’m not happy about this,” Bredefeld said. “This is a scam. This is put together by I guess four people, and it’s completely unfair. My constituents are not getting represented on these committees, and I’ll measure my experience on business and finance against anybody who’s on it. So I’m really pissed off as I look at this, and I too was also trying to avoid a food fight. But I guess it’s been worked out by four or five council members, and it’s not right to Council member Karabssi or myself. We should be represented on these committees.”

It didn’t turn into a full cafeteria brawl with Council members, but things got chippy as the Council complied with Karbassi’s request and sorted out all 33 committees one-by-one instead of approving them all as initially proposed in one vote. 

Things came to blows over the discussion on the Census-Redistricting Committee, which would determine how the City Council district boundaries are aligned over the next decade. 

As proposed, the committee was set to be Councilmen Nelson Esparza, Arias and Tyler Maxwell. 

Karbassi noted that he was on the committee last year, which never actually met, and now he has been removed from the committee. 

“I’m sorry to say this, but when you look at the voting population, the fact of the matter is a majority of voters come from two council districts, and there is no representation from those districts. I think that really disenfranchises voters in Districts 2 and 6.” 

Districts 2 and 6 – Karbassi’s and Bredefeld’s districts – make up north Fresno. A map of the districts can be viewed here

Karbassi said he initially spoke with Arias last year when the latter was the Council President and was put on the committee, but this time around he was replaced with Maxwell.

He saw this as an attempt by Arias to pit him against Maxwell, who took the oath of office in January. 

“I really resent the fact that you’re playing whatever games behind the scenes and pitting me against Council member Maxwell,” Karbassi told Arias. “I have a lot of respect for Tyler. I don’t want us to have bad blood between us, and I think it’s really unfair you did this. 

“I was a member of that committee, and I don’t think you have unilateral control of what happens in this building anymore. This could’ve been totally avoided if you would’ve honored the agreement you made with me, and you failed to do that. And that’s why we’re having this problem today.” 

Arias called Karbassi’s comments “personal insinuations and attacks” and said he would not engage in that way. 

“Not personal attacks, sir,” Karbassi said. “It’s what happened. It’s the truth.” 

Arias went on to argue that Maxwell represents north Fresno. Maxwell’s District 4 has its northern boundary at Bullard Ave. and its southern at Belmont Ave.  

“People aren’t dumb,” Karbassi said. “They know what’s really going on in this building. You and I had an agreement. You broke your promise to me. That’s why I can’t trust you, Miguel, and it’s not a personal attack.” 

After Council President Luis Chavez interjected to cool things off, Bredefeld made the motion – which was seconded by Karbassi – to remove Arias from the committee in favor of Karbassi. 

The motion failed 2-4 with Chavez abstaining. 

City beautification

The city council unanimously passed two items involving the upkeep of the city’s beautification. 

The council approved a second year in a contract with the Fresno County Transportation Authority (FCTA) for the Highway Litter Abatement Program.

The FCTA was under contract for one year at $100,000, and the extra year brings the total agreement to $200,000. 

Under the Highway Litter Abatement Program, the FCTA services highways 41, 99, 168 and 180. 

The city council also approved $700,000 to be used for tree trimming throughout the city. Of that total, $350,000 is being transferred from the housing fund and the other $350,000 from the Multi-Generational Facility Project in District 4. 

Downtown development 

A proposed development that would have included retail space, housing and a parking garage along the southern corridor of the Fulton Mall was axed. 

Developer Cliff Tutelian had been negotiating with the CVS on the corner of Fulton and Tuolumne streets to redevelop the block to Merced Street. 

After having approved two negotiation window extensions already, the council was set to grant Tutelian a third extension to complete the plans and submit them to the city. 

However, Arias had other ideas and removed it from the agenda. Bredefeld made a motion to keep it on the agenda for discussion, but the council voted 4-3 to remove it. Esparza, Maxwell and Soria sided with Arias to kill Tutelian’s exclusive negotiating rights. 

Tutelian spoke during the public comment section of the meeting, saying that he will continue to work with the city to see the project materialize. 

“While we’re disappointed in the outcome of today’s meeting, I want to speak in the spirit of our continued commitment to downtown and also to preserving the viability of our historical building at 1401 Fulton (The Grand) – and just wanted to kindly let you know that it’s our intention to continue our dialogue with the mayor’s administration and staff to bring this project to fruition and continue on with the hard work that’s already been put into the project,” Tutelian said. 

“We feel that we’ve done that which has been asked of us, and we are as we speak engaged with CVS, and we will continue and be in touch.”

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.