Voters in March will be asked to change Fresno County's charter in a battle over law enforcement elections with potential statewide implications. Credit: Heather Halsey Martinez / Fresnoland

What's at stake?

The Fresno Planning Commission is an advisory body with a significant role in new development. A nominee for planning commission, a real estate agent, raises questions for one councilmember.

This story has been updated.

The Fresno City Planning Commission is a body of government that often flies under the radar – but at Thursday’s city council meeting, some sparks may fly about conflicts of interest facing the seven-member group making decisions about development in the city.

At the heart of the matter? Jacqueline Gutierrez Lyday, Mayor Jerry Dyer’s new appointee to fill the spot vacated by Rob Fuentes, who resigned from his seat earlier this month after being elected a trustee to the State Center Community College District board in November.

Lyday is a real estate agent with London Properties and resides in northeast Fresno, in City Council District 6. She’s a Kerman native who received her political science degree from UCLA before returning to the valley. Her husband, former BYU basketball standout Terrell Lyday, is a real estate investor with Teamus Management, LLC.

Lyday comes recommended by Henry Perea, former Fresno County Supervisor who is currently a member of the High Speed Rail Authority Board as well as a registered lobbyist to the city of Fresno.

City Councilmember Miguel Arias says he is concerned about potential conflicts of interest that may arise when a real estate agent – who works for a large firm that handles hundreds of residential, commercial, and industrial transactions across the city – sits on a board that routinely makes land use decisions that can impact property values.

“It would set a new precedent for the level of conflict of interest, which would require substantial amounts of resources from the city attorney’s office to make sure we’re compliant with conflict of interest laws,” Arias said.

A conflict of interest might arise if a commissioner has a personal, financial, or material interest in a decision, according to Jay Wierenga, communications director for the Fair Political Practices Commission. 

Ultimately, the commissioner is responsible for reporting potential conflicts of interest as they arise – and consulting with the city attorney or FPPC staff to proactively identify those conflicts.

“Who is making sure that every decision is getting vetted? We have an honor system now, which isn’t working out too well,” Arias explained.

Beyond filing an annual report that lists their economic interests – also known as a Form 700 – commissioners are expected to name conflicts of interest publicly, and step out of the room while the item is being discussed, per California’s Political Reform Act.

Lyday would not be the first commissioner active in real estate transactions. Commissioner Brad Hardie is the president of Regency Property Management, which owns or manages more than 6,350 rental units throughout the Fresno area. He is also a co-founder of RH Community Builders, an affordable housing firm as well as Elevate Community Services, which operates homeless shelters.

He has had to recuse himself multiple times, including during a crucial vote on a plan for the West Area neighborhoods, west of freeway 99. 

Hardie told Fresnoland last August that he plans to resign from the Planning Commission once a replacement is found. Lyday’s nomination is expected to fill the vacancy left by Fuentes.

What does the planning commission do?

In California, a planning commission is tasked with both making decisions on individual developments, but also setting broader land use policy – and making sure bigger picture policies like the city’s general plan, which guides future growth and development, are followed. Fresno’s planning commission is advisory – meaning that any decision they make can ultimately be appealed, up to the city council, for a final decision.

In Fresno, a typical planning commission agenda might include decisions on a new single-family subdivision; a new warehouse development; or a change to what uses might be allowed in a zoning district.

Who can be on the planning commission?

Fresno’s planning commission currently has six members and one vacancy. Planning commissioners come from all parts of the city – but are not required, under the city’s charter, to be geographically balanced between the diversity of districts and neighborhoods. 

They’re all appointed by the mayor, with input from city council members and trusted advisers. Anyone from the public can apply.

The current commission includes:

  • Brad Hardie, president of Regency Property Management, a real estate investment and property management company
  • Reverend David Criner, lead pastor of Saint Rest Baptist Church
  • Haley Wagner-Drilling, a commercial risk management broker
  • Kathy Bray, president of Denham Resources, a human resources firm
  • Monica Diaz, president of Diaz Financial Services, a real estate and financial services advisory firm
  • Peter Vang, a financial planner with Thiesen Dueker Financial Consulting Group

Arias has previously expressed the need for more scrutiny over conflicts of interest on the planning commission, calling it the “mayor’s commission,” after a majority of commissioners approved a controversial rezone in southwest Fresno. 

Fuentes, who voted against that rezone, along with Commissioner Peter Vang, were the sole “no” votes. Commissioner Criner – whose work is in southwest Fresno – was absent, and Commissioner Bray recused herself, without stating the reason why – which is required under California’s Political Reform Act.

The appointment of Jaqueline Lyday will be discussed at the Fresno City Council meeting which starts at 9 a.m. on Thursday at Fresno City Hall, 2600 Fresno Street.

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