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Interview with Mayoral Candidate Part 1

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Kathy Ayala and Lee Brand // Photography by Clara Luna

Our community correspondent, Kathy Ayala, had the pleasure of interviewing Fresno’s mayoral candidates in order to find out what they are planning on doing to stop slumlords in Fresno if they are elected mayor. Both Council Member Lee Brand and Supervisor Henry Perea took time out of their schedule to answer our questions. In this article we focus on Council Member Lee Brand.

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Lee Brand // Photography by Clara Luna

Who is Council Member Lee Brand?
President of Westco Equity Inc
Fresno City Council Member for District 6
Candidate for Mayor
Husband, Father, Grandfather

Brand grew up in Southeast Fresno, was raised on McKenzie street with his family and extended family. “My mother and father — we lived in a small two bedroom, one bath house with five kids. My father died when I was young and my mother raised us on a social security check and with the help of my relatives. So that’s my roots in the community. I’ve seen it, again, from both sides. And I’ve raised a family, I’ve got four children and three grandchildren and one more on the way.” – Lee Brand

Q: Why are you running for Mayor?

A: I love this community. I think it’s given me a lot of blessings, a great family, a business and was fortunate enough to get elected to City Council and I want to make this a better city. And I’ve seen this city grow and grow from a smaller town to a bigger city. And as it is now, it has the big city problems — high poverty rate, it has gangs and crime and it’s got a great diversity of people, which I love. I love people. I love to walk precincts because I love people. And I love this cauldron of all these different ethnic groups. Everybody has the same dreams and I don’t think it’s been an equal opportunity over the last 50 years, and my job would be to spread this wealth and this opportunity across every zip code in the city of Fresno.

Q: What is your definition of a slumlord?

A: It’s an irresponsible landlord who preys on the poor and unfortunate and typically immigrant populations and takes economic advantage and I think that is morally wrong. And it’s a black eye on the entire community and in a way it — in a direct way it influences other responsible landlords.

Q: If elected as mayor how would you tackle the issue of slumlords? What would be your plan?

A: So the first step is to establish standards — you have to register the house. You have to board it up and keep it in decent shape, mow the weeds, make sure it’s not infested with mice or roaches and it’s not been inhabited by people who aren’t renters or aren’t owners.

The second step I took, this is myself, I changed the ordinance, I made an amendment regarding the hearing officers. I gave the city attorney more discretion and more latitude to prosecute, particularly in cases over 10 thousand dollars. You really get people to act when you hit them in the pocketbook.

The thing that has not been done that I would have normally done already but I’ve been pretty busy lately with what I’ve been doing, is the way the fines are structured. It’s kind of one size fits all. They’re (City Hall) revising the ordinance to start placing a fee value to the violation that’s in proportion to the severity of the violation. There’s got to be a proportional fining system.

Let me say one thing first of all, every person who lives in a dwelling in Fresno has the absolute right to have a safe habitation with all things — where there’s no mold, where all the appliances work, all the heating and cooling and all the basic amenities in life.

The first thing we need to do, and I’m not sure exactly where they’re at on task force, I’ve talked to some of the people, is to define what is substandard. There’s a working definition and I can tell you right now that even within Code Enforcement, different Code Enforcement Officers have different opinions in what they think is substandard. So we have to have a model that is reasonable. So we have to define what is.

Q: Our group has talked to families that live in slum housing, community leaders, property owners, teachers, health officials, firefighters, police officers, and many more individuals from the community and they have all expressed their frustration with the city of Fresno. They mention that the City of Fresno is lax and soft on slumlords. Do you agree with this assessment?

A: I would say looking on a perspective, not only eight years on the council but being in the business for 40 years, and I’m seeing how Code Enforcement has been very capricious, it’s been inconsistent, it’s been ineffective and nobody has ever — going back to at least when I started in the late 70s early 80s it’s been consistently that way. I see no change until the last couple of years when you guys and other people started saying, ‘Hey we got a problem here.’ The Fresno Bee, ‘You got a big problem here.’ And I can say during my eight years, particularly during the first four, five years, there was so much focus on simply surviving. We were literally at bankruptcy’s door. It was a very difficult time for the city. A lot of people got laid off, there’s privatization, there was a lot of stuff.

And if I’m elected this year to be the Mayor, I will start off in a city that, when I started off in 2009 was one payroll period away from bankruptcy, a city that’s on the recovery, that’s starting to prosper, having more money come in. We can start to take on our responsibilities on public safety, on parks, on housing, and substandard housing. And that’s that you have to have the resources and you have to allocate the resources wisely. The first thing I would do, if I’m elected mayor, using my knowledge, this intimate knowledge of this business, having the contacts with all these different people I know.

I would come in and really put my knowledge to work because this is going to drag on for a while and my goal is to find a solution and before the first year have it up and running, starting to prosecute, doing all those things necessary from the Code Enforcement, ordinance legal side, to prosecution side, to getting all the resources out there to make sure the goal, that everyone that lives in the city of Fresno has a safe habitable housing situation.

Q: Our group has observed that repeat violators suffer no real consequences for their actions. For years code enforcement policy has been to hand out courtesy notices or give courtesy calls for repeat offenders. There is no fine, no citation for repeat offenders. These repeat offenders have no incentive to change. What are your thoughts on this policy?

A: What we started already by — two approaches, going into the ordinances themselves they have to define structure. Define structure right now needs to be reformed. It doesn’t differentiate in degrees of severity, that’s step number one, we have to change the code, the Master Fee Schedule to have — basically have the fine fit the crime, so to speak. We need to have the process move quicker and identify if you are a repeat offender, we’ve been at your place maybe 10 times in the past year, then you’re going to go to step two. We’re past step one, we’re past the courtesy notice. Those kinds of things need to be done.

Q: What message do you have for slumlords?

A: If I get elected mayor, there’s going to be a change. I’m not gonna do the macho deal, get out of town, the dirty dozen. It’s gonna be, you’re gonna have to be a responsible landlord in the City of Fresno. We’re not [going to] accept substandard conditions and we want to have everybody having a decent habitable property. And you’re going to pay the price and you may lose your property because of it. So we’re giving the opportunity to be a responsible landlord but if you’re not we’re going to move quickly and swiftly and we’re going to fight. We’re going to seek justice.

Q: Do you have any additional comments?

A: Well I thank you guys for being the advocates out there. Some people view it differently.


To learn more about Lee Brand and his campaign for Mayor, visit his website.