Lee Brand now has one year under his belt as mayor of Fresno.
It’s fair to suggest his performance review for 2017 could go something like this:
1.) Economic development: Check.
2.) Top-notch management: Check.
3.) Everything else: See 1 & 2.
Want to guess what Brand has in store for 2018?
“My administration is going to put a full-court press on economic development,” Brand told me in a recent interview. “Economic development drives everything. If you have a sound economy and a fiscally sound, well-managed city, everything falls into place. If you don’t have that sound management, you’re never going to have enough parks or cops or street repairs or potholes filled.
“All that stuff that makes a city a city is not going to be there without that underlying sound management.”
But the harsh truth is that Brand’s success next year will depend less on what happens at City Hall than on what happens 3,000 miles away in Washington, D.C.
Like it or not, as Donald Trump goes, so go Lee Brand and Fresno.
If you don’t believe me, just ask Ashley Swearengin and Alan Autry about the impact that national events can have on local politics.
Let’s first tackle a half-dozen specific peeks at Brand’s 2018 agenda:
· The 2017-18 budget calls for 825 sworn police officers by next July. Brand said Chief Jerry Dyer should hit that figure by April or May. “My goal is to have 900 in my first term and 1,000 in my second term,” Brand said. “We’ll have more cops on the streets. Safer streets are absolutely essential. That will enable us to implement a community policing plan.”
· Fulton Mall is gone, thanks to Swearengin’s perseverance and her rapport with the Obama Administration. Vehicular traffic has returned to Fulton Street between Inyo and Tuolumne for the first time in more than a half-century. Now comes the really hard part – getting new businesses up and running along Fresno’s only high-rise corridor. “Market forces will determine where things go,” Brand said. “But it’s not going to happen by itself. We’ll have to get in there and push.”
· Look for a Southeast Surface Water Treatment Plant ribbon-cutting in late summer. The plant is the signature piece of the massive Recharge Fresno project started during Swearengin’s second term. Brand gives a guarantee on the southeast treatment plant’s performance: “The water will be clear.” (If the cryptic promise is confusing, you missed all of 2017.)
· The all-important working relationship between mayor and city manager should remain in good shape. Wilma Quan-Schecter “has been great to work with,” Brand said. As to the destiny of the other “at will” managers, well, Brand in 2017 showed that his Administration is not afraid to make tough leadership decisions. For example, a nasty turf battle was settled in the Finance Department and a quick change was made in the top spot at Transportation.
· Speaking of Transportation, it falls to Brand to make the new Bus Rapid Transit system work as promised. The first riders should be zipping along Blackstone and Ventura/Kings Canyon by early spring. I didn’t have time in our interview to ask the Mayor specifically about BRT. Perhaps that’s just as well. The BRT project over the years has gone through the wringer. Some at City Hall suspect the promises were too grand.
· Perhaps only Assistant City Manager Bruce Rudd is a bigger fanatic about infrastructure than the Mayor. Brand in 2018 will be keen on seeing massive amounts of dirt being moved (or, at the least, funding secured for such movement) on the Veterans Boulevard project. Just as important in Brand’s eyes are a variety of possible infrastructure projects in the Reverse Triangle south of town (soon to be home to thousands of jobs, with thousands more in the pipeline). “I heard Trump talking about infrastructure,” Brand said. “When they’ve got a plan, we’ll be going to D.C. to lobby for infrastructure (money) for Fresno.”
Of course, there’s much more to Brand’s vision for 2018. But you get the picture – the Mayor will once again be focused on core city services.
On a personal note, I hope Brand in 2018 repeats himself in one specific area. His 2017 State of the City address was tight and to the point. It was the best State of the City address in my years of covering City Hall.
In conclusion, it’s not unfair in reviewing Lee Brand’s first year as mayor to note that his timing couldn’t have been better.
Think back to 2001, when Alan Autry took office. The Dot Com bubble had burst the year before. Then came 9-11. Autry would be office during the go-go years of the real estate-home mortgage bubble. But he got his start at City Hall under trying circumstances.
The same can be said of Swearengin. The real estate-home mortgage bubble burst late in Autry’s second term. Swearengin was left to pickup the pieces in Fresno. Like Autry, she was forced to cinch the city’s belt in her first year as mayor (to be accurate, years two, three, four and five were lean and mean, as well).
Lee Brand moved into the Mayor’s Office in the same month that Donald Trump moved into the Oval Office. The American economy was already headed in the right direction. Yet, there’s no denying that the economy has surged with Trump as president.
Experts say the economy could grow at a 4% clip in 2018. The growth rate was 1.6% in 2016.
Brand’s reputation as a superb manager of municipal affairs will be a lot easier to maintain with a national economy growing at 4% rather than 1.6%. But such things are out of his hands.
And in light of the current state of political passions in California, it’s unlikely that Brand will be publicly sporting a “Hooray Trump!” button any time soon. But he (and Fresno) would be most unwise not to hope for the President’s success with the economy.
The mayor of Fresno will concentrate on what he does best: Managing. A lot of Fresnans think that is enough.
“I will continue to make myself visible in all areas of Fresno,” Brand said. “It’s part of my effort to keep this community united and making sure everyone feels important. It’s amazing the reception you get simply by showing up.”