Written by The Business Journal Staff
Fresno City Council | District 6 | and Westco Equities, Inc.
Title: Executive Fresno City Council member, District 6, and president of Westco Equities, Inc.
What we do: I serve the voters of Fresno Council District 6 and the city at large. I also co-own a property management company that manages over 3,000 residential units
Education: Master of Public Administration degree (M.P.A.) from the University of Southern California and Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Administration from California State University, Fresno
Hometown: Born in Dalles, Oregon, but have lived in Fresno since I was five
Family: Married to Trish Brand for 31 years. We have four children and one grandchild: Charity Brand, 34; Phillip Brand, 28; Thomas Brand, 26; Emily Brand, 24; and Kylie Cole-Brand, 10
Why is financial reform your main priority as a Fresno City Councilman, Lee?
The city cannot deliver vital services without proper funding. In a time of volatile financial markets and declining revenues, it is increasingly difficult to fund core services. Making bad business decisions drains limited financial resources that could be used to pay for public safety, parks or public works. I develop policies that improve fiscal management to improve efficiencies in city government and help ensure that past mistakes will not be repeated.
You drafted the city’s Better Business Act to “prevent future disasters.” What are Fresno’s greatest development misses, and how does the new policy stave off fiscal blunders, Lee?
Over the years, there have been several failed public-private ventures. The most recent examples would be the Met Museum and Granite Park loan guarantees. The Better Business Act was written to resemble a private banking model. It provides detailed due diligence policies and oversight policies that will closely scrutinize any future proposals. More importantly, it provides more transparency by requiring all financial documents related to the loan request to be made a matter of public record.
What spurred you to write the Taxpayer Protection Act, and how is it functioning, Lee?
Before I was elected, I heard rumors that the city had over-leveraged itself in bond-financed debt. My early research had confirmed that the general fund debt service had steadily risen over the past 10 years. I also discovered that the city had no formal debt management policies. The Taxpayer Protection Act was written to provide detailed debt management policies to ensure that future debt decisions were made based on sound fiscal reasons.
The housing market is still struggling. Are we slowly inching away from disaster, or are we doomed to face a double-dip recession, Lee?
The first thing to remember is that real estate markets are local. You cannot make judgments about local market conditions based on national trends. Those communities that prospered the most during the real estate boom a few years back, like Miami and Las Vegas, are the hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis. As a nation, we continue to struggle with mortgage foreclosures and declining real estate values. The Fresno market has recovered somewhat, with significant drops in foreclosures and modest price increases. The primary impediment to recovery of the real estate market is overly restrictive lending policies and an ever-increasing national debt.
You supported the guidelines of the 2025 General Plan to implement smart growth. How do Fresnans reconcile their vision of a mixed-use metropolis with their suburbanized, sprawling reality, Lee?
Fresno was the model of urban sprawl for many years. The endless rows of grapevines and fig orchards were methodically consumed by housing tracts over many years. Operation Rezone and the adoption of the 2025 General Plan changed the future course of housing polices in Fresno. The once booming housing market collapsed a few years ago. You seldom see any new housing tracts with large, quarter-acre lots and 3,000-plus-square-foot models. Recent state legislation, including AB32 and SB 375, has compelled developers to focus on mixed-use, infill developments with higher densities.
What are your roots in the San Joaquin Valley, Lee?
My grandparents (Trosi) on my mother’s side emigrated from Italy at the turn of the last century. They established a small family farm in West Fresno and moved to Fresno after a disastrous crop failure in 1932. They lived in a house on McKenzie Street for many years. When my parents moved back to Fresno from Oregon in the early ‘50s, we lived across the street on McKenzie. I attended local schools including Jackson Elementary, Yosemite Junior High and Roosevelt High.
What was your first job and did you learn from it, Lee?
In high school I worked odd jobs including picking grapes, cantaloupe, peaches and almonds. My first real job was shipping and receiving clerk for Buckner Sprinklers for $1.65 per hour. This was a sweatshop job, and I learned early that my path to a good job was getting a college education.
What do you do outside work, Lee?
I must confess that I am a workaholic. I have burned the midnight oil many nights drafting city policies. I keep myself physically fit by riding bicycles. Working full time at City Hall and running a business have limited my riding time, but I still try to ride at least 100 miles per week.