Them’s fightin’ words in Fresno, but when the fascists went on a GV Wire–inspired attack at Fresno Unified School District Board meeting in February, Dr. Lars Maischak’s words of warning from a recent KFCF interview came to mind: it’s important to not surrender our public spaces to fascists. And to know one when you see one.
I observed the first round at the old Pink Palace from outside the building and online. I spoke at the next two meetings and called out the connection to the Assemi family and the role they’re playing in local politics, and submitted a list of more than $200,000 in campaign contributions that their network of 15 family members, companies and employees dropped into local races in the 2019–20 election cycle alone.
In April, I went before the Fresno County Transportation Authority to repeat my original message and to add an economic argument to help explain the Assemi family’s motivation: road subsidies for sprawl. Created by voters in 1986, the Authority decides on Measure C sales tax dollar allocations. There’s a $5 billion renewal effort under way that’s ignoring community demands for inclusion in planning, equity in spending and a focus on climate resilience.
The powerful but little-known agency is chaired by Fresno County Supervisor Buddy Mendes. His vice chair is Lynne Ashbeck, mayor pro tem of Clovis. Rounding out the body are Supervisor Steve Brandau, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer, Fresno City Council Member Esmeralda Soria, Mendota Mayor Rolando Castro, Parlier Mayor Alma Beltran and public member Paul Sihota, a rural trucking interest.
I spoke twice. First when the Measure C renewal report was given, then under public comment. Here are my remarks:
Good morning Mr. Chairman, and Board Members, my name is Kevin Hall. I live in Fresno.
The most popular sales tax in Fresno County’s history was the Measure C renewal effort in 2006. Only 22% of voters opposed it. The least popular ever was the Measure C renewal effort four years earlier in 2002. Opposition was double, at 44%. The difference, of course, was the organized opposition of a small coalition of community groups who could only scrape together $11,000.
But it’s not about the money.
Consider the 2018 City of Fresno vote on Measure P for Parks. Then [Fresno Police] Chief Dyer and Darius Assemi put together a $400,000 opposition campaign. But they only picked up another two percentage points of opposition. And it apparently cost $390,000.
Who here has actually worked on a countywide sales tax that faced opposition? Because there hasn’t been one since 2002. I think it’s safe to say that 20% of voters will never support a sales tax. That’s a conservative estimate of conservatives. Of the remaining votes, you have to take four out of every five to reach 66%.
You’re ignoring the 20% on the other end of the spectrum: that’s the informed voter. They read the ballot arguments and the list of names opposing and supporting. Half will only read the names and decide against you.
In short, you’ve got 60% support at best for this Measure C renewal, six-zero. If you have opposition. And it appears you do.
And the community groups that Tony Boren cynically disparaged in the recent [Fresno] Bee article are so much more organized than we were then, I think you’ll be lucky to top 55% if you go to the ballot in 2022.
But I hope you do. I think it’s the only way to clear the cobwebs out of this place.
And it’s not right for Mayor Dyer to call the sprawl subdivisions west of [Highway] 99 the “forgotten Fresno” when talking about Veterans Blvd. That term has been stolen by these Measure C consultants from the residents of West Park, who live more than 10 miles south near Church and Valentine; they named themselves the “Forgotten Ones” and now that’s being taken from them. Thank you.
Something very dangerous is happening in Fresno County that threatens everyone’s safety, so I’m here to make a request of every board member—stop talking to GV Wire. Stop participating on Unfiltered. These platforms are products of the public relations and campaigns department of Granville Homes and nowadays they’re a threat.
They can hire all the former Bee reporters they want; these people are now Granville Homes publicity agents, and they’re functioning as provocateurs.
Fresno politicians face an ugly choice: They can either take the Assemis’ campaign contributions, sign onto their sprawl agenda and agree to interviews, or they get attacked online with headlines about false controversies for the political attack ads that are coming later, and now they’ve added on a layer of fascist intimidation—of violence in our political discourse: I witnessed it at Fresno Unified board meetings in February and March.
This is where we have to draw the line. There is no place in the public square for fascism. It is not acceptable speech. They tried to overthrow the U.S. government in January of last year, yet there was one being platformed three months later on Unfiltered. And the Bee did it this February [see April’s Community Alliance], following the GV Wire storyline. That’s mainstreaming.
The Assemis call GV Wire an online digital news site. But in the last election cycle, their family members, companies and employees gave more than $200,000 in Fresno County races alone. I’ve attached the list for you. $200,000 in just two years.
Ask Channels 21, 30, 24, 47, 26, the Bee, how much their companies gave to politicians last year. The answer will be zero. Even KMJ comes up dry. That’s because they make their money from ads and subscribers, not home sales and public subsidies.
The Assemis are playing with matches and gasoline, and you’re playing along whenever you talk to GV Wire or go on Unfiltered. Now is the time to stop. Thank you.