In a brilliant political maneuver involving a highly controversial affordable housing project in an affluent part of Hanford a majority of the council Tuesday (4/19) used the threat of potential lawsuits that they said could harm city’s delivery of basic services to stave off opponents and approve the issuance of $30 million in tax exempt bonds vital to the project’s construction.
Mayor Kalish Morrow (District B North Hanford) and Vice Mayor Diane Sharp (District C Northeast) and Council Member Francisco Ramirez (District D Central, southeast) made up the majority voting for the issuance of the bonds. Only Council Members Amanda Saltray (District A North Central, northwest) and Art Brieno (District E Southwest) voted against the proposal.
Sharp said the city was potentially facing a bevy of lawyers threatening the city with lawsuits in letters if the bonds for the project near 11th and Fargo avenues were rejected. She said “don’t think this is the one to die on.” The lawsuits, she said, could harm the city’s general fund which is used to cover day-to-day operations. A local group is in the preliminary stages of recalling Sharp over her handling of the issue.
Sharp is the daughter of the late Sid Sharp, a locally prominent attorney. She has extensive real estate holdings in Hanford, according to county assessor’s records.
It is “…one thing (to) fight this (Northstar), another thing to sign checks for attorneys’ fees that come with it,” she said.
She said an attorney who reviewed the letters for her called them “four battleships ready to go.”
An April 12 letter to City Manager Mario Cifuentez from the State Department of Housing and Community Development said the agency supported the 72-unit project and reminded the city of its continued obligations under the Housing Element Law.
Another letter dated a day later from Patience Milrod, executive director of Central California Legal Services, to Morrow said if the city were to deny a certificate connected with the bonds it “…might raise a concern whether that denial is ‘materially inconsistent’ with the City’s obligation to affirmatively further fair housing.”
Sharp and Ramirez also channeled local anger toward Sacramento for coming up with affordable housing requirements without what they said was adequate local control.
Ramirez said he was concerned about the cost of potential lawsuits. He said it was his obligation as an elected official to make sure municipal services such as police, sewer and refuse were running.
Saltray said she opposed the bonds and the project as a stand for her constituents adding, “(I) don’t believe (we) have the infrastructure at that location to support that project.” Her attempt to table the public hearing on the bonds until the next council meeting died. Only she and Brieno voted for it.
Brieno argued for making a deal with Self Help Enterprises and Upholdings, the principals on the project, to come up with a more acceptable solution for the community. “There is a resolution,” he said. “We should be working on that.”
The majority of people who spoke during the council’s public comment period before the hearing and public hearing itself were strongly opposed to the project.
“The project was forced on us without citizen input,” said Larry Faria. He called Sharp “a smug businesswoman” who did not listen to the people’s suggestions. He urged the council to “…make good choices by putting we the people first.”
Eleven speakers opposed the project at the present location while two speakers said they were for it.
“Set these differences aside, focus on the humanity of the people in front of you,” said Carole Farris in support of the project. She manages the soup kitchen that feeds the homeless at the Episcopal Church on Douty St.
At a special council meeting earlier this year at the Hanford Civic Auditorium more than 700 people, mostly opponents, attended. The meeting was one of the most raucous in the last two decades with catcalls and shouts from the audience against city council members and the principals of the project.