Thursday, September 29, 2011

Council shouldn't let political games get in the way of common sense approval

According to the Fresno Bee, what should be a routine approval from the City Council this week has become a "battle".

I'm talking about one of the three projects I highlighted earlier this week, the restoration of Hotel Fresno.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and City Council President Lee Brand are headed for a fight over the fate of the nearly century-old Hotel Fresno building.

She wants to spend taxpayer money on what she calls a risk-free project that will spark downtown.

He thinks she is pushing taxpayers into a disaster.

Swearengin's administration on Thursday will ask the City Council to approve a loan of nearly $860,000 in City Hall-controlled federal housing money to help jump-start the rehabilitation of the Hotel Fresno.

Fresno Bee


Here's the deal. Councillor Brand is apparently concerned about a series of ill-advised loans the city made over the last decade. The Met Museum. Granite Park. Chukchansi Park. The list goes on. Basically, the city put up money to help a private developer or organization launch a big project...and then the project failed, putting the city on the hook for the loan payments.

Brand said the Hotel Fresno loan documents are based on faulty revenue and cost estimates, which almost inevitably will lead to a failed project. He said it makes no difference that the city's shrinking general fund, which goes largely to public safety, is not on the hook.


So is concern warranted? Sure. We don't want that to happen again.

But that's not what the council will be voting on.

The council will not be voting to put up a loan from Fresno money.

The final piece in the $16.5 million package is about $860,000 in federal housing funds, Swearengin said. She said this money can be used only for affordable housing. If the city doesn't commit the money by the end of September, it must be returned to the federal government.

That is, the council is being asked to take $860,000 in FEDERAL money, that has been specifically set aside for affordable housing projects. That's what the money is for, and can't be used for anything else.

And there's more

Swearengin said the city's money won't be spent until the developers have secured the HUD loan and their money is in the bank. If the developers fail in any of these steps, she said, the city gets its $860,000 back.

There doesn't appear to be any kind of risk.


On top of that, as I mentioned a few days ago, there is one other brand new residential project where the same pot of money is being requested from. Apparently, there are no concerns about that project.

What's the difference? One is new construction for seniors, while the other is a high profile renovation.

City Council President Lee Brand is playing this for the politics and nothing more. That's not just foolish, but reckless. Downtown needs all the help it can get, and turning away federal money to make a political point is not what Fresno needs.

I hope the rest of the council sees past these games and approves the request.

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