An effort to subpoena Tower Theatre owner Laurence Abbate, seen here, by Fresno City Councilmember Mike Karbassi failed on Thursday. Photo by Edward Smith

published on May 12, 2022 - 11:00 AM
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An effort by Fresno City Councilmember Mike Karbassi to subpoena the owner of the Tower Theatre was tabled indefinitely Thursday.

Karbassi has wanted to question owner Laurence Abbate for more “transparency” related to the city’s agreement to protect Abbate from litigation related to the controversial real estate deal with Adventure Church.

Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias moved to table Karbassi’s item that would have both removed the indemnification clause protecting Abbate and Sequoia Brewing Co. and would have subpoenaed Abbate to answer questions.

Karbassi said while he never expected the clause removing indemnification to pass, he was told the attempted subpoena couldn’t be voted on by itself.

Fresno City Council approves purchase of Tower Theatre

In a previous council meeting, City Attorney Doug Sloan said while the council has the authority to subpoena, he had never seen it done in his 16-year tenure with the City of Fresno.

Councilmember Garry Bredefeld voted to keep the item on the agenda. Luis Chavez was not present.

Councilmembers Esmeralda Soria, Arias, Council Vice President Tyler Maxwell and Council President Nelson Esparza voted against keeping the item on the agenda.

That was the same voting bloc that approved the $6.5 purchase agreement for the 83-year-old theater, as well as the buildings housing Sequoia Brewing and Me-n-Ed’s, on April 21.

Maxwell said that while he understands why Karbassi put the item on the agenda, he “did now want to pick at an old scab.”

Karbassi said he had filed the item for taxpayer transparency — five council members were not present during negotiations over the property.

During a very legalistic back-and-forth line of questioning between Karbassi and Sloan at the April 21 meeting — contract negotiations are typically done in closed session — Sloan said that the City of Fresno did not have its own real estate or legal experts present during negotiations.

Karbassi expressed he had wanted the public to have its chance to find out what sort of legal liability the city was exposed to in taking on any possible legal fees or damages onto city coffers.

During the April 21 vote approving the purchase of Tower Theatre, calls were made to Abbate to appear before the council to say what he could about negotiations with Adventure Church and contractual obligations to J&A Mash & Barrel, LLC — the ownership company behind Sequoia Brewing Co.

Pastor Anthony Flores of Adventure Church maintains that his church was not informed about a right of first refusal promised to Sequoia Brewing Co. Flores has said that they will pursue legal action against Abbate and now the City of Fresno.

Abbate never appeared before open council to discuss the agreement before or after it was approved.

Calls and emails made to Abbate were not immediately returned.

In the meeting Thursday, Arias said Abbate’s legal liability was discussed five times in closed session. No date was given to further discuss the item.

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