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Interview: Fresno Mayor Lee Brand Talks Anti-Slumlord Plan, Sanctuary Cities

Jan 31, 2017

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand took office a little less than 30 days ago, and it’s been an eventful first month. Last week he unveiled his plan to tackle one of the city’s biggest issues – substandard rental housing - conditions that in many cases are unsafe and unhealthy. The plan, which includes a baseline inspection of the city’s existing rental apartments and homes, is one of the biggest changes in years in the way city hall works. It’s also the first big test of Brand’s new administration and his relationship with the city council as it goes up for a vote on Thursday.

"Our official policy is essentially the same as most of the sanctuary cities in California. We simply don't label ourselves a sanctuary city." - Fresno Mayor Lee Brand

At the same time Brand has been thrust into the national spotlight over the issue of whether the city should follow the lead of many in California, and declare itself a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants. Last week Brand came out against the idea, saying it could lead to the Trump administration cutting off federal funds to Fresno. But it turns out, the issue is a lot more complicated than that. For the last year, the city has essentially been operating as a sanctuary city in everything but in name.  Yesterday I spoke with Brand at his office in City Hall to learn more about his thinking on both issues. 

Interview highlights:

Brand on the city's current policy that "officers shall not enforce violations of immigration law/status": 
"Our official policy is essentially the same as most of the sanctuary cities in California. We simply don’t label ourselves a ‘sanctuary city’. Because by making that label, and that proposition, than the city itself is jeopardizing federal funding."

Brand on legislation in Sacramento that would prohibit local governments from cooperating with ICE on immigration enforcement issues:
"I'm walking a tightrope. I have Republican administration in Washington D.C. and a Democratic house and senate and governor in Sacramento.  I want to be respectful to both the agencies and governments. My goal is to do what's best for the city of Fresno. We're going into uncharted territory in terms of the edicts and executive orders of President Trump. I don't know what's going to come out of Sacramento."

Brand on the addition of a mandatory baseline inspection program to the plan:
"It could be argued forever whether half the housing stock is substandard, five percent, ten percent, when you do the baseline inspection over probably a couple of years, we're going to know exactly where that stands. It's also designed to  identify the good properties, put them in a self-inspection pool and then identify the universe of substandard properties and  focus all of our efforts there where the problems are." 

Brand on devoting city resources to enforcing the plan and prosecute offenders:
"Sacramento has a very similar program. Sacramento has 10 city attorneys assigned to code enforcement rental housing. We have probably a bigger population, probably a more problematic population of owners and we have two [attorneys]. So you can see if we start to identify hundreds of violators we're going to have to have the resources on to prosecute these cases, whether they be code enforcement people, city attorneys or possibly third-party attorneys."