Systemic Racism on Display

Systemic Racism on Display
Fresno City Council Member Miguel Arias trolled homeless advocates on Twitter with this salted earth shot taken after the City destroyed Camp 180 in West Fresno, the first attack under his “anti-Dez” ordinance, now the subject of a civil rights lawsuit.

Nothing upsets people faster than to suggest they’re reinforcing institutionalized racism, regardless of their race. Consider the elected officials and community leaders of the Fresno Council of Governments (COG), the Fresno County Transportation Authority and the agencies’ joint effort known as the Measure C Renewal Executive Committee.

Tony Boren, CEO of “the COG,” is just that, a cog in the wheel that is local transportation planning. He has spent his career at the countywide agency overseen by a board comprising all 15 city mayors and one county supervisor, currently the often absent Sal Quintero. Fresno’s Jerry Dyer, Kerman’s Gary Yep, Mendota’s Rolando Castro and so on, they’re all there, too.

So when Boren told Fresno Bee reporter Gregory Weaver in early April, “Those of us in the business have known that these folks are going to oppose it,” referring to the sales tax renewal, he was accusing committee members such as Sandra Celedon of Fresno Building Healthy Communities, Veronica Garibay of Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, Nayamin Martinez of Central California Environmental Justice Network and Cynthia Arriaga of Youth Leadership Institute of participating under false pretenses—of lying.

Had this theoretically neutral civil servant said the same of fellow White members Scott Miller of Gazebo Gardens and president of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce; ag sector representative Lorna Roush of Schultz Ranch Inc.; or renewal committee consultant Bruce Batti, head of Jeffrey Scott Agency and operating on a $700,000 no-bid contract, according to the Bee—Boren would have been lucky to have kept his job.

Instead, silence. Not a single member of either Boren’s board at the COG or on the renewal committee has rebuked him for his comments, much less called for an apology. Note that Boren defines himself as part of a clique in the know about the motives of these women of color. That clique is the institution he heads: the Fresno Council of Governments. 

Please also note that these women and their organizations were the driving force behind the creation and passage by citizens’ petition of the historic Measure P for Fresno parks in 2018. In truth, they represent the sort of excess of democracy that local power brokers fear most and that their pawns—and cogs—feel free to attack.

Fossil Fools. The hits just keep coming. The Fresno City Council voted unanimously in April to spend a million bucks on fossil fuel methane infrastructure for its transit buses. Genius. And, true to form, they did it in silence. Again.

As the world burns, Council members Miguel Arias, Garry Bredefeld, Luis Chavez, Nelson Esparza, Mike Karbassi, Tyler Maxwell and Esmeralda Soria ignored a critical vote on climate in September as they passed without comment a near-useless update to the city’s greenhouse gas reduction plan, a state requirement they treated as just another item on their paperwork checklist.

Just to round out the disaster, Soria and Arias joined Mayor Dyer and Soria’s heir apparent, Annalisa Perea 3.0, for a greenwashing event with Producers Dairy. The operation has added two electric trucks to their fleet of more than 300 fossil fuel ones while receiving permission to double their megadairy herd west of Kerman from 10,000 to 20,000—all with generous state subsidies.

Sadly, they were joined there by one member of the California Air Resource Board, despite the environmental injustice being wreaked on people from Mendota to the Tower District.

“The deployment of two zero-emission battery-electric trucks at Producers Dairy’s Fresno-based manufacturing facility shows how companies can make innovative, real-world steps to improving air quality in the Central Valley region,” Tania Pacheco-Werner, Ph.D., told Volvo Trucks USA. She represents the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District on the statewide air board.

“I applaud the project partners for their collaboration on getting these fully electric trucks on the road and look forward to seeing Producers Dairy utilize the lessons learned from this deployment to scale up its battery-electric fleet and charging infrastructure in the future.”

Unfortunately, that future is too short for such methane-charged infrastructure, yet the state agency’s latest greenhouse gas reduction plans call for much more of the same. An older generation of leaders, who pretended they had until 2100 to fix things, crafted deadly compromises tied to carbon credit trading, and a new generation is now handcuffed to the controls of this runaway train headed toward a steep cliff: a 2030 deadline to cut emissions by half worldwide to avoid irreversible climate tipping points, regarded by many as already blown. 

Arias Aerial Assault. Following clearing of the Highway 180 encampment, as reported on by Bob McCloskey in the May Community Alliance, the Fresno Police Department issued drone footage of the bare earth left behind. Arias was pouring salt in the wound with his proud flaunting of the Carthage-like destruction when he tweeted the overhead shot of plowed earth, the former campsite of a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the city. One observer called it “Fresno’s Ukraine.” Others called it simple revenge.

And when a homeless 13-year-old, who carries her mother’s ashes in an urn with her, went to City Hall with homeless advocate Dez Martinez and others to plead for compassionate treatment, they were first rebuked in the foyer of the Council members’ offices by Karbassi, who coldly told the group he preferred to deal with professionals after first trying to slip by them unnoticed.

Karbassi then joined Arias at the next City Council meeting in rebuking Martinez and homeless advocates from the dais with false descriptions of events. The city is now the subject of a First Amendment lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of Martinez, McCloskey and Faith in the Valley. A broad-based media coalition has filed an amicus brief, according to Brianna Calix’s reporting in the Fresno Bee.


  • Kevin Hall

    Kevin Hall hosts Climate Politics on KFCF 88.1 FM every second and fourth Friday, 5 p.m.–6 p.m. He tweets as @airfrezno and @sjvalleyclimate and coordinates an informal network of climate activists at Contact him at for presentations and information.

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