Fresno’s council president makes history, pledges transparency, discusses priorities

Fresno’s new city council president, the only woman currently serving, told The Bee her priorities for the year are infrastructure investments, housing policies to promote multi-family residences and collaboration with Fresno County on homelessness and tax sharing.

Councilmember Annalisa Perea was sworn in as president last Thursday, which starting this year pays an annual salary of $113,850. She made history as the first openly gay councilmember when she was first elected in 2022. Her father, former Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea, and older brother, Henry T. Perea, also previously served.

“I’ve grown up in City Hall,” Perea said in an interview on Wednesday afternoon, “so it’s pretty rewarding to now be able to sit up on the dais and hold the gavel and be the leader now.”

Perea said she plans to introduce legislation this year for more transparency in how the City Council conducts its business. She and other councilmembers were criticized and sued last year for holding budget subcommittee meetings behind closed doors. She declined to comment for this story about her time on the subcommittee, citing the pending litigation, but she said she hopes legislation can clarify the structure and obligations of council subcommittees.

Perea represents District 1, which includes parts of the Tower District, Fresno High neighborhood, and a chunk of land west of Highway 99. She served as council vice president last year. She succeeds Councilmember Tyler Maxwell, whose District 4 covers east and central Fresno. The council president presides over council meetings and sets the agendas.

Fresno City Council Vice President Annalisa Perea gets a hug from father Henry R. Perea after being sworn in as councilmember at City Hall on Jan. 5, 2023. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA/
Fresno City Council Vice President Annalisa Perea gets a hug from father Henry R. Perea after being sworn in as councilmember at City Hall on Jan. 5, 2023. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA/

In her first year on the council, Perea launched a program to promote brick-and-mortar business and job growth in the Tower District, co-sponsored a pilot program to regulate street vendors in the Tower District and advocated for the city’s first LGBTQ liaison, a position Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer filled last year. She said some of her biggest accomplishments involve public safety initiatives in her district, such as championing more bike lanes and speed signs near schools.

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“The number one issue that I hear from folks is related to their neighborhood,” she said. “People want to be able to walk out their front door and know that that their neighborhood is invested in.”

She shared her plans for the upcoming year in an exclusive interview with The Bee and Vida en el Valle.

Housing, homelessness, safety

Perea said she plans to increase Fresno’s housing options by amending the city code to ease the way for office spaces to convert to multifamily residential units as more people work from home.

“I think what we’re going to see is an apocalypse of vacancy in our office buildings,” she said, “now that we know that we can work from home.”

She also wants to see more tiny homes and religious institutions build housing on their property, after a new state law passed that would make it easier to build on vacant lots owned by churches.

“Usually, you drive past a church and they have big open green space,” she said,” and so I’m really hoping that there could be more collaboration between the city (and religious centers).”

Former Council President Tyler Maxwell passes the gavel to incoming Council President Annalisa Perea on Jan. 11, 2024. Melissa Montalvo/Fresno Bee
Former Council President Tyler Maxwell passes the gavel to incoming Council President Annalisa Perea on Jan. 11, 2024. Melissa Montalvo/Fresno Bee

In recent years, Fresno community-based advocates and low-income renters have called for the city to take measures to control the rising costs of rent in Fresno, which shot up nearly 30% during the pandemic. (Some have called for a rent control policy that would limit annual rental increases at 3%.)

A Fresno Bee analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey data found that 52% of all Fresno renting households, or 44,386 of 84,164, are cost-burdened, meaning they spend over a third of their income on rent.

When asked how she’d address calls for a rent control policy, Perea said she wants to see better enforcement of the state’s existing 10% cap on rental increases.

“I would like to see us make progress with implementing what we have now,” she said, “before we transition to any sort of additional rent control policy for the city.”

Perea, a renter (and landlord), said she often gets inquiries from constituents to see if their rental increases are legal, and her office runs these by the city attorney’s office. Fresno residents concerned their rent increases surpass the state limit should contact their city council representatives for guidance, she said.

No more ‘secret budget committee?’

The budget planning process could change under Perea in 2024. For one, there may not be a budget subcommittee formed this year. “We’re not quite sure how to handle that yet,” she said.

Last year, the city was sued over a so-called “secret budget committee,” made up of a team of councilmembers that worked with the mayor to decide on how to spend the city’s nearly $2 billion budget. The ACLU Foundation of Northern California and the First Amendment Coalition filed the lawsuit, alleging that the city was violating the Brown Act, a state law requiring legislative bodies to hold open meetings and release agendas in advance.

Moving forward, Perea said she’ll work with the city attorney’s office to develop a structure on how to form any new subcommittees. On Feb. 22, she said she plans to introduce a resolution clarifying the “nuts and bolts” of council subcommittees, including: the framework for subcommittees, who can establish subcommittees, how they function, which are subject to the Brown Act, lifespans of committees and reporting requirements.

“What I learned this past year is there are a number of documents that provide guidance on subcommittees, but they conflict with one another,” she said. “What I’m hoping to do with this resolution,” she said, “is to clear up any misunderstandings of what subcommittees are, or how they function and really set the course for moving forward.”

Collaboration on tax sharing agreement

Another priority for Perea is working with the county to re-establish a property tax sharing agreement after the former one expired in 2020.

The agreement has “significant impact on where future growth can occur and whether the city can afford to provide services to new developments while maintaining similar levels of service in older neighborhoods,” The Bee/Fresnoland reported in 2020.

The primary disagreement at the time was over how property tax revenues for county land annexed into the city would be split. Under the old agreement, the city receives 38% of property tax revenue generated from developments not yet within city limits, similar to other cities in Fresno County, but pays for 62% of public services in those same areas, according to a study prepared by Economic and Planning Systems, Inc.

When these “fringe” neighborhoods get annexed into the city, it’s the city’s responsibility to invest in infrastructure such as sidewalks, road improvements and parks. Under the previous agreement, the county allowed developers to build within the city’s growth boundary without requiring the developments to meet the city’s standards. City leaders have said Fresno should be entitled to a higher percentage of property tax revenue from new developments annexed into the city.

Right now, Perea said, the tax sharing is handled on a project-by-project basis, with each requiring their own standalone tax sharing agreement.

Property taxes are an important source of revenue for the city’s general fund. In late 2022, Fresno city leaders said they had to create a special tax to cover a shortfall in property tax revenue for police and fire services for new developments in certain areas of Fresno because of the lapsed county agreement.

“Once we have our our Master Agreement reestablished,” Perea said, “I think we’re going to see just a lot more mutually beneficial outcomes for both the city and county.”

Meetings to iron out an agreement between Fresno councilmembers and county board of supervisors will commence in the coming month. She sees many opportunities to collaborate with the county, such as with the new CARE Court, the state’s new plan to curb homelessness by using the county’s court system to get individuals with severe mental illnesses into treatment.