Community Development Director Darlene Mata presented material July 7 at a hearing regarding the revocation of an operating permit of Aguilar and Sons Automotive at 330 E. 7th Street.
While Mata showed that Richard Aguilar was out of compliance with various city regulations, she faced significant pushback from more than 6 residents–many of them business owners–who said Aguilar has helped many people in the community by offering fair treatment including lenient terms when people couldn’t afford to pay all or part of their automotive repair bills.
The hearing also illustrated the differing styles and policy approaches between council members.
There was also resistance to staff’s recommendations from Councilpersons Art Brieno and Francisco Ramirez and eventually the council agreed to adopt Brieno’s changes. The bottom line was Aguilar was given more time to comply by a 5-0 council vote.
Part of Aguilar’s explanation for his failure to comply with the conditions of a building permit was that he didn’t have the money to make the repairs but was trying to secure financing.
But staff and City Manager Mario Cifuentez insisted Aguilar had to do something about a string of violations including not building a required trash enclosure and following city conditions for adding more repair lifts.
Cifuentez said his hand was forced because of the “absolute requirement” in the Hanford Municipal Code that Aguilar’s violations be addressed.
No one among the public spoke in favor of the revocation although Councilperson Sue Sorensen repeatedly defended Mata’s explanation of the circumstances of revocation and said there was a “need to allow the staff to do their job.”
One of the speakers against the revocation was Al Cason. “He has demonstrated by his longevity (he) cares about the community. Give the man a chance.”
Businessman Drew Robinson said the city leaders need to lead Aguilar on a path where he becomes compliant with city regulations.
Another speaker said a structure is needed where the staff gives him ample time to solve the problem.
During the public comment period Ramirez and Mayor John Draxler got into an argument about speaking time. Ramirez reminded Draxler that every speaker is allotted three minutes to talk.
But Draxler said he wanted speakers who presented new information, not a rehash of things that already had been said.
“My job (is to) run the meeting. If (there’s) new information, love to hear it,” said Draxler.
Sorensen emerged as the defender of the staff’s position. “It’s always hard when (we) have a lot of emotions,” said Sorensen. But she said Aguilar has a responsibility to follow the rules.
She said she understood the struggle of small businesses and said her husband, who has a dental business, has long worked 80-plus hours. But Sorensen said Aguilar’s business has to be safe for customers.
Councilperson Art Brieno said Sorensen’s comparisons between her and her husband’s business and Aguilar’s were not the same. “(It’s) a totally different business than yours,” Brieno said to Sorensen.
Brieno said the city was “operating in a very heady fashion.” And Brieno was successful in eliminating a condition for administrative approval of his operating permit that stated if Aguilar didn’t comply, there would be an immediate revocation of his permit. Instead, the council agreed unanimously to require the council to make that decision.
Brieno also took issue with the number of inspectors although Sorensen insisted that the fire department and building inspector look at the project.
Brieno said the council agreed that only the fire and building inspectors examine Aguilar’s property but Mata said in an email after the meeting that there was no change in a condition that required more extensive inspection requirements made by staff.
In the end the council voted 5-0 to give Aguilar 180 days to comply with the conditions of the permit and if he fails to meet the conditions, the council will decide what to do.