By Vic Bedoian
Although the election for mayor of Fresno is in theory nonpartisan, in reality it’s a choice between a progressive vision for the city’s future pursued by Andrew Janz and Fresno’s conservative establishment that retired police chief Jerry Dyer represents.
Janz is a violent crimes prosecutor for the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office. He promises a change of priorities in the way the city is run, “The voters I’ve talked to, they’re hungry for something different. They don’t want the same types of politicians that are bought and sold to the highest bidder and that is what Jerry Dyer is.
“He is somebody that is owned by special interest groups. He’s said publicly on a number of occasions that he’s got so many promises to fulfill, but he won’t tell us what they are. And the voters deserve to know who he’s making promises to and what those promises are.
“I am somebody who is not beholden to special interest groups. I’m here in this race to help working families.”
The Community Alliance caught up with Janz on G Street just west of downtown. He’s here supporting a forward-looking project to install air pollution measuring sensors all over town. It’s the brainchild of 19-year-old Kieshaun White, an Afro-American student who suffered breathing difficulties and decided to do something about it. Since then, 115 sensors that monitor particulate pollution have been installed around town.
Fresno has some of the worst air quality in the nation. Standing on the roof of an unusual-looking building designed by legendary local sculptor Stan Bitters, Janz told White how important monitoring air quality is to the city’s residents, “You know, what I think is great about this is that it’s going to take some money in the short term to start this up and do it, but in terms of the cost savings we’re going to have in terms of healthcare and all of the long-term health issues for people, we’re going to be saving millions of dollars.”
Kieshaun replied that inspiration and persistence were the major factors in bringing his idea to realization, “It’s crazy because I started my project off with a $1,000 grant. So, it’s not a factor of money as much as it is a factor of how much ambition and how much capacity that you bring it with.
“You take your best step forward, see what that looks like and you pretty much plan that out. Also, you need patience. Being a youth, patience is kind of hard to get at this age, but having this project pretty much put me on a pedestal so I could learn much faster.”
Janz praised White’s initiative, “It’s really an amazing story—what Kieshaun is doing. Here’s a kid from south Fresno that’s really working to make a difference in our community.
“People talk about air quality as one of the top issues facing people who live in the Central Valley. This plays into the mayor’s race as well because we’re talking about bringing in electric vehicles, creating more open spaces and bike paths, getting parks up and making sure people are using mass transportation.
“There couldn’t be a more inspiring story. That’s why people are talking about what he’s doing to make a difference in our community.”
Dyer’s campaign slogan is “One Fresno.” But that glosses over the reality of a city divided into an affluent, Whiter northern half and a poorer, diverse southern half. Homelessness is a nagging problem here. When homeless encampments were bulldozed a few years ago, people were dispersed to sleep wherever they could and evade harassment.
Dyer considers homelessness a major crisis for the city. His solution is to construct large tent-like structures for temporary shelter in a part of the city that is already considered a skid row.
Dyer explained at a press conference that his proposal is not warehousing the homeless but rather a transition from people living on the streets to a more stable living situation. “The housing that we’re going to provide in terms of temporary structures, the navigation centers, the bridge housing, they provide laundry so folks can wash their clothes, restrooms, showers and they’re intended for people to stay 90 to 120 days so that they can become stabilized somewhat in a triage location and then ultimately transition into alternative and affordable housing.”
But Janz doesn’t think that is sufficient, “The voters I’ve talked to are very concerned about that. They look like Trump-style detention centers, and street neighbors aren’t comfortable with what Jerry has proposed. And I think his proposal is short-sighted. To me, it seems like an attempt to hide the homeless problem instead of actually attacking the problem of poverty and homelessness at its core.”
Criminal justice is another major issue. Under Dyer’s term as police chief, there were several high-profile cases of police officers killing unarmed young men who had been running away from them. In all those cases, officers were let off the hook, and in some of those cases the city has been forced to shell out millions of dollars in compensation to the families of the victims.
Janz says that as mayor he will take a different approach to crime and punishment, “I was one of the first prosecutors out there that supported bail reform here in Fresno, the model that’s being used statewide in other communities.
“But we also have to talk about the fact that the next mayor is going to appoint a new police chief, and so we need a police chief that is going to believe in things like criminal justice reform and restorative justice principles, diverting these kids out of the prison pipeline. Fresno is one of the worst places in the country in terms of our youth ending up in the criminal justice system.”
One poll appearing before the Community Alliance newspaper went to press showed Janz with a slim lead over Dyer. With five other candidates in the race as well, it remains to be seen if any candidate can gain more than 50% of the vote on March 3 to avoid a runoff in the November General Election.
Vic Bedoian is an independent radio and print journalist working on environmental justice and natural resources issues in the San Joaquin Valley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.