There is serious trouble on the Fresno City Council.
You’ve got Steve Brandau and Garry Bredefeld vs. Oliver Baines, Paul Caprioglio, Luis Chavez, Clint Olivier and Esmeralda Soria in a nasty fight over the proper way to set an agenda.
And you’ve got Bredefeld vs. Baines, Caprioglio, Chavez, Olivier and Soria in an even nastier feud over personalities.
In the background is the short- and long-term jockeying for higher political office that is never missing from City Hall.
And overseeing it all is new Mayor Lee Brand, who can only hope things settle down before the June budget hearings.
“We have a crisis on the council right now,” a council member told me last week on background.
No kidding. Anyone paying attention to council shenanigans in recent months would come to the same conclusion – and would use earthier language to make the point.
Bredefeld is at the heart of just about all the stress. The Big Five – my term for what is turning into the Baines-Caprioglio-Chavez-Olivier-Soria faction – are fed up with the District 6 council member. It’s a safe bet that Brand is, as well.
They see Bredefeld as a swaggering, know-it-all loudmouth more interested in trumpeting his own ambitions than working collaboratively for the city’s good.
Bredefeld isn’t boo-hooing. He’s sick and tired of the Big Five. He sees them as milquetoasts too lazy or shortsighted to tackle tough issues important to Fresno’s future.
All this anger began building after the November 8 general election. But the emotional temperature went red hot at the March 23 council meeting. Whether events turn into the kind of civil war we saw at City Hall in 1999-2000 during the fight over a Downtown stadium is the key question.
The nearly eight-hour March 23 meeting featured two rarely-seen procedural ploys.
With the morning’s opening prayer and flag salute out of the way, Council President Olivier was about to ask his colleagues for their approval of the meeting’s agenda. That’s when Chavez stepped in.
Let’s make one more change, Chavez said. Let’s remove the proposed resolution opposing state Senate Bill 54, he said.
SB 54 is working its way through the legislature. The bill would make all of California a sanctuary state. To say that such a law could fundamentally change California’s social order and the state’s relationship with the federal government is an understatement.
What made Chavez’s request unusual is the resolution wasn’t his. Brandau was the sponsor. Brandau wants City Hall to go on the record saying SB 54 is a horrendous idea.
Some at City Hall think SB 54 is a great idea.
Brandau tried to regain the initiative with a motion: Let’s keep my resolution in play. Bredefeld gave the second.
A yes vote on the motion was pro-Brandau. A no vote was pro-Chavez. The final tally: two yes (Brandau, Bredefeld), three no (Baines, Chavez, Soria), two abstentions (Caprioglio, Olivier).
The resolution debate was killed. As we will see, this came as no surprise to Brandau.
The agenda had a second proposed resolution involving Sacramento machinations. Brandau and Bredefeld co-sponsored a statement opposing an Assembly bill (AB 199) that would dramatically extend prevailing wage mandates in the construction industry. Here, again, the potential effects on civic life are momentous, with passions running high on both sides of the argument.
Bredefeld spoke. He said AB 199 would kill jobs and make housing, already harmfully pricey in California, even more expensive. Brandau spoke. He said essentially the same thing.
Olivier called for the vote. Only Brandau and Bredefeld took the plunge. The vote was 2-0 in favor of the resolution. Baines, Caprioglio, Chavez, Olivier and Soria abstained. The motion failed to get the minimum four votes.
Five abstentions among a seven-member legislative body on a single question – Olivier in announcing the tally said that’s a “record.”
I’ve seen several council members run out of City Hall under cover of darkness to prevent a quorum on a trash vote they were sure to lose. I’ve never seen five abstentions in open session to accomplish the same thing.
Only Olivier among the Big Five spoke on either issue. Olivier said he, too, views AB 199 as a fiasco. But, Olivier added, he hates even more the thought of a council sliding into the habit of passing council-initiated resolutions on every piece of nonsense coming out of Sacramento.
When the dust settled, the Big Five had turned a total three no votes, seven abstentions and long moments of straight-faced silence into two embarrassing defeats for Brandau and Bredefeld.
Folks at City Hall tell me the Big Five designed the two votes as a message to the Brandau-Bredefeld alliance on one hand and to Bredefeld as a newbie on the other: Play the political game by our rules, or you’re an outcast.
Actually, two messages were sent. The other message is from Bredefeld: Bring it on, baby.
What follows is a look at the crisis of Fresno’s City Council. I’ve talked to Baines, Brandau, Bredefeld, Caprioglio, Chavez and Olivier. All but Caprioglio went on the record for a portion of the interview. I left a phone message with Terry Cox, Soria’s chief of staff; I heard nothing from either of them.
Brandau and Bredefeld get the lion’s share of commentary. The reasons are simple. First, they talked the most on the record. Second, of course they talked the most – they’re the losers so far in a game where only winning counts.