By Richard Stone
Clint Olivier is, at 38, a relative youngster on the Fresno City Council, and he meets me in his office full of youthful enthusiasm. It is clear he loves his job and is committed to doing the homework needed to do it well. However, while quite willing to answer my questions directly, he also shows a trace of suspicion: Will this representative of a progressive journal try to make him look foolish? He is, after all, often labeled as a “Libertarian,” and on national issues he typically stands on the side of governmental nonintervention.
“But,” Olivier states firmly, “a Council seat is nonpartisan. We deal with local affairs. This is the level of government where you have to look your constituents in the eye. And, in these days of fiscal difficulty, we are dealing more often with what we can cut, not where we can spend.”
Olivier represents District 7, with a diverse population ranging from North Blackstone businesses to inhabitants of Van Ness mansions to tenants in apartments owned by Fresno’s worst slumlords. He is cautiously optimistic about changes in the district. “There have been some new businesses coming in; Manchester Center has stabilized; there’s less prostitution; and I can say that at least my office provides everyone access to code enforcement. If we get a complaint, we’ll follow up.”
But he admits there has been little proactive effort to upgrade poorer neighborhoods. In fact, he suggests that there has been all too much attention given to “downtown revitalization” at the expense of exploring policies to improve all of Fresno’s less-affluent areas. (When I trot out a favorite metaphor—that City Hall seems intent on building an “urban theme park” that looks like a model city for Disneyland, instead of working to strengthen real neighborhoods—Olivier nods assentingly.)
Olivier in fact speaks of himself as a defender of “infill,” of a General Plan that emphasizes building up the inner core of the city rather than allowing more development at the edges. Thus, he was opposed to the General Plan option that essentially redefined infill, but he is also unhappy with the other options, preferring a combination of the two.
Olivier also voices frustration with the “Strong Mayor” model of city government now in effect. While acknowledging that it was voted in place because of previous Council ineptitude and malfeasance, he feels it has over-centralized power at the expense of democracy and accountability. He thinks the current Council consists of mature capable members who are not allowed to represent their constituencies as well as they might. “But,” he adds, “I do feel that I have stepped forward to strongly present the case for the people of my district, even though we don’t have the power to do what we should.”
When asked about city/county relations, he audibly sighs. “There is no hostility, no real reason not to work better together. But something is missing—trust? Leadership? The right issue? I don’t know. We did come close over animal control. Maybe the time just isn’t right.”
Olivier continues to support the Office of Independent Review (OIR), which oversees police activities, voting to restore it to the budget when it was cut this year. And while rightfully keyed into the effectiveness of current Reviewer Rick Rasmussen, he was not aware of how limited are the powers of the OIR. When I gave the opinion that the Office is prohibited from providing the public with a comprehensible picture of how police abuse cases are dealt with, he seemed unaware of the problems I cited.
Olivier has a mixed record on privatization, but insists he has no ideological position for or against, simply evaluating proposals case by case. Although on the final Council vote, he favored Measure G (for privatizing home garbage pickup), he states strongly, “I fully supported bringing that to a public vote, and I fully support the voters’ decision.” He is, though, happy that there are no privatization issues on the horizon, as they seem to present unresolved conflicts for him.
Asked what surprised him most about his office, Olivier answered, “How hard it is. It demands reflection and compassion, and full-time commitment. But that’s why I got into it. I want to be of service to my community, and this brings out my best.”
My sense during the interview was that this is a fair picture of Clint Olivier the man. But I also sense that he is not fully aware of the impact on his record of his Libertarianism, which includes (as all ideologies do) pictures of how people function, what “the good” is and how it is best achieved. While he accurately assesses the Council’s priorities and constraints, I could wish for him to have a vision of civic responsibility less focused on dollars-and-cents and more on justice and communal sustainability.
Meanwhile, Olivier seems to have entered wholeheartedly and (I’d adjudge) with a pretty open mind into the job as he sees it. He definitely plans to run for a second term, though he hasn’t thought beyond that. As one who loves above all its other qualities the diversity of Fresno, it is fitting that his advice for a prospective office-seeker is, “Remember all the neighborhoods in your district, remember who you are…and who you are to them.” My impression is that Clint Olivier takes that dictum seriously, and I would expect him to be changed as he continues to do so.
Richard Stone is on the boards of the Fresno Center for Nonviolence and the Community Alliance and author of the forthcoming book, Hidden in Plain Sight. Contact him at email@example.com.