By Mike Rhodes
Will progressives vote for Henry Perea for mayor? Only if they don’t want four more years of a right wing Republican led City Hall.
Henry R. Perea, a Democrat, wants progressives (and everyone else) to vote for him so he will become the next mayor of Fresno. I sat down with Perea in mid-July and asked him about his positions on issues of concern in the progressive community. Although most of the conversation focused on addressing the homeless issue, several other topics came up as well. The Central Valley Progressive PAC endorsed Perea in the June primary, and he will be the group’s featured speaker at its next meeting, Saturday, August 20, at 3:30 p.m. at Studio 65, 2965 N Maroa in Fresno.
Perea’s opponent, Republican Lee Brand, speaking at a Fresno State mayoral debate on March 19, referred to homeless people living on the streets of Fresno as a “horrible cesspool of humanity.” Brand argues for a continuation of Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s policy of demonizing the homeless and providing no safe and legal place for the majority of homeless people to live. At the Tea Party mayoral debate, Brand said, “Many of you know me; I have been at Tea Party meetings for the last four or five years.” He went on to strongly identify with the issues and concerns of the Tea Party.
Perea says that he favors a policy of establishing safe and legal places where the homeless can live with dignity and respect. He sees a significant gap with the current policy of Housing First that leaves too many homeless people scattered throughout the city, sleeping in abandoned houses, on ditch banks and behind businesses. Perea says we can do better. “I think the gap in Fresno right now is emergency shelters,” Perea said. We need a structured environment where people can go to…I think we have an obligation to provide a safe environment.”
These shelters that Perea is proposing would represent a significant public policy shift for this community. He is not talking about a return to the homeless encampments that existed 5–10 years ago but rather facilities that would offer a safe and legal place for every homeless person in Fresno. In addition to a place to rest, these facilities would provide homeless people with basic public services, like water, a toilet and trash pickup. From there, people can access social services and move in a direction to improve their lives. Perea said, “We have to provide a safe environment for everyone.”
Perea is supportive of alternatives like the Dakota EcoGarden project, which is in a residential neighborhood on Dakota Avenue near Hughes Avenue. He mentioned that when he toured the facility a few months ago he learned that a Fresno County employee was living there. He was surprised by that but was impressed that she was able to move into an apartment within a short time. Perea said that he would make sure City Hall helped, rather than obstructed, the good work of projects such as the Dakota EcoGarden.
Speaking about architect Art Dyson’s plan to build an Eco Village, which is an expansion of the project on Dakota Avenue, Perea said, “I would like to give Art a piece of city property somewhere and have him develop his demonstration project.”
If Perea is elected as the next mayor in Fresno, slumlords had better pack their bags. Speaking about his plans to end the outrageous conditions that exist in the local rental market, Perea said he wants to focus on the dirty dozen. “The worst slumlords in this town. I think we know who they are. Day one in office I’m going to wrap code enforcement around the dirty dozen and do two things. They are going to do an immediate inspection of all units and before they can rent any of those units, they are going to have to have an inspection and approval.”
Not surprisingly, Lee Brand is endorsed by the Greater Fresno Apartments Association, and the California Apartment Association maxed out on contributing to his mayoral campaign. After all, Brand was on the City Council when the Code Enforcement department was gutted, which was the prelude to the horrific conditions that exist today in the local rental market.
In the aftermath of numerous shootings of unarmed Black men, the increased visibility of the Black Lives Matter movement and the killing of five police officers in Dallas, Perea addressed the issue of police accountability. Many police accountability activists in Fresno have demanded Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer’s removal, citing the violent culture within the department. Although Perea says he will replace Dyer within two years, it is not because he doesn’t like him. Dyer will retire, and Perea will replace him with someone he insists will be fully vetted by the community. Perea also wants to remove Rick Rasmussen as the independent auditor of the police department. Perea does not believe someone who lives in Salt Lake City and has no investigative authority can build trust between the community and the police.
Another possible area of public policy where there is divergence from some progressives is Perea’s closeness to developers, concern about urban sprawl and if he will adhere to the City of Fresno General Plan that focuses on infill and higher density and restricts urban development on farmland. Perea insists that his approach will provide Fresnans with more housing options, will include public transportation options such as light rail and is consistent with the General Plan.
You are invited to attend the next CVPPAC meeting and talk with Henry Perea. Decide for yourself if electing Perea the next mayor of Fresno will be an improvement or if you would prefer another four years of right-wing Republican attacks on the homeless, pandering to slumlords, attempted privatization of essential public services and wanton disregard for the poor.
Mike Rhodes is the Central Valley Progressive PAC treasurer and recently authored Dispatches from the War Zone, a book about homelessness in Fresno from 2002 to 2015.