Written by The Business Journal Staff
The Fresno Chamber of Commerce’s “Brunch with Brand” event also featured the installation of its new board of directors. But the new mayor served as the keynote speaker and center of attention.
Brand spoke about what is becoming an ongoing theme for him as he leads California’s fifth-largest city in a nonpartisan role. He addressed the balancing act of leading Fresno in an increasingly polarized world — where Sacramento is run by Democrats and Washington, D.C. by Republicans.
“It makes me feel like the captain of the Titanic trying to navigate the icebergs,” he said.
The theme came to a head a couple of weeks ago when Brand faced protests over comments he delivered insisting that Fresno is not, and won’t become, a sanctuary city — a label Brand said defies definition.
Reiterating the sensitivity of the issue, five protestors gathered before the brunch at the Grand 1401 in Downtown Fresno. They held up a banner reading “Smash White Supremacy” while a woman on a bullhorn accused Brand of being a liar and criticized his stance on the sanctuary city comments.
The protest was a rare sight for a Fresno Chamber of Commerce event.
Brand also stressed his priority of gaining buy-in from one or two councilmembers before introducing key initiatives.
“They will get the credit too,” he said.
“Teamwork is really important in this business,” he added.
Also on the theme of unity, Brand also touted the improving relationship between the Fresno City Council and Fresno County Board of Supervisors, which would lead to a rare joint meeting to discuss issues such as safety animal control and homelessness, Brand pledged.
Brand also intends to focus on infrastructure issues, including $113 million needed to update Fresno’s parks and trails, $10 million for Convention Center improvements and $20 million needed for Chukchansi Park.
“We have to find solutions for those kinds of problems” he said, adding that he will seek out new and novel ways to generate revenue, citing $4,000 in revenue from city-owned digital billboards as an example.
On the business front, Brand told the crowd he is planning to fly to Seattle in the coming week to meet with Amazon officials about their plans to locate a fulfillment center in Fresno that would create thousands of jobs.
He added that the high-speed rail maintenance center and its 1,500 jobs are still a high priority.
Brand ended his remarks with a pledge to fulfill his predecessor Ashley Swearengin’s plans to make Fresno more business friendly. He said part of the challenge is changing the culture of city hall.
He also announced plans to create a concierge position in the economic development department to help small businesses find access to loans, expertise, venture capital and other resources.
Brand was downright bullish on the future of Fresno.
“Our greatest days are in front of us,” he said.