Developer Terance Frazier says Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer and city officials deliberately swayed organizations from doing business with him — an act he says fits into a larger narrative of racial discrimination.
That’s one of the latest allegations made in the newest version of Frazier’s lawsuit against Dyer and other Fresno officials. Frazier, who is Black, filed an amended complaint in federal court against the city last week.
A federal judge on Feb. 7 granted Frazier and his lawyers permission to amend the original complaint to add specific examples of violations of state law, in addition to federal.
Frazier is in a relationship with Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria, D-Fresno, who sat on the Fresno City Council at the time the conflict with the city began to boil.
He estimates that he, personally, and the sports foundation he oversees, Central Valley Community Sports Foundation, has lost more than $11 million due to discriminatory practices by the city of Fresno, according to the amended lawsuit.
He is suing for financial damages, alleging retaliation, breach of contract, discriminatory business dealings and discriminatory denial of contract and equal protection rights.
Among the key details in the 109-page amended complaint, Frazier alleges in February 2021 he agreed in principle with United Health Centers to develop 8 acres near Kearney and Crystal avenues in the southwest area of the city. The project was part of the health center’s plans to expand in southwest and southeast Fresno.
The southeast Fresno location, at Kings Canyon Boulevard and Minnewawa Avenue, was developed on schedule, but the southwest location where Frazier’s 8-acre lot is located never got off the ground.
The lawsuit alleges former City Manager Tom Esqueda told company representatives that they should not get involved in any projects with Frazier.
“Mayor Dyer has similarly told intended developers to avoid doing business with Mr. Frazier, stating that ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire,’” according to the amended complaint.
To date, the 8-acre lot purchased over a year ago remains undeveloped, according to the suit.
Plus, Frazier alleges in the complaint that starting in fall 2021, city officials began encouraging the foundation’s lenders to issue notices of default on loans related to Granite Park.
“Plaintiffs are informed and believe that these efforts are ongoing, and that the City of Fresno has actively sought to enlist other parties to assume CVCSF’s debt and replace it as the tenant of Granite Park,” according to the lawsuit.
“Plaintiffs are informed and believe these actions were at the direction of defendants Mayor Dyer, Former City Manager Esqueda, Former Chief of Staff (Tim) Orman, Councilman (Garry) Bredefeld, and Councilman (Mike) Karbassi, on behalf of and as policy makers for the City of Fresno.”
Sontaya Rose, city of Fresno spokesperson, declined to comment Friday, saying the city does not comment on pending litigation.
The suit evolved from a 2019 claim filed against Fresno, saying city officials discriminated against Frazier by prematurely releasing an incomplete and improper audit of Granite Park, which is operated by his sports foundation.
As sports foundation president, Frazier was angry when the city released the results of an audit of the park’s financial practices. Frazier said the audit was incomplete, prematurely released and ultimately damaging to the foundation and him personally.
“Mr. Frazier has been denied loans for other projects based upon the bad press associated with the draft audit report; and CVCSF has lost tournament revenue due to a reduction in bookings for softball and baseball tournaments,” according to the lawsuit.
Other Frazier projects have also allegedly been stalled or killed by city officials.
Frazier alleges past and present city officials have repeatedly treated him unfairly because of his race, and because he has been a frequent critic of their actions.
“No other developer, and certainly not one of another race who has declined to exercise his protected First Amendment rights to criticize and petition for redress, has been treated similarly,” according to the lawsuit.
“No other developer has been publicly undermined and had issues pertaining to him referred for federal and local investigations, much less publicly.”
Named in the lawsuit is former Mayor Lee Brand, Dyer, former city manager Wilma Quan, Esqueda, current city manager Georgeanne White, former assistant city manager James Schaad, Orman, and Councilmembers Bredefeld and Karbassi.
Frazier alleges Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp played a role in his troubles.
According to the lawsuit, Smittcamp issued a news release on June 23, 2021 and sent letters to the members of the City Council and other officials that her office was investigating alleged “potential Brown Act violations by members of the Fresno City Council related to Granite Park.”
Nine months later, the DA’s office issued another news release stating that the investigation was closed and no charges would be filed.
But Smittcamp also mentioned the “purported ongoing nature of a federal investigation regarding the 2019 draft audit of CVCSF,” according to the lawsuit.
“The United States Department of Justice has a longstanding policy of not disclosing the status of ongoing investigations, so it is questionable how District Attorney Smittcamp would be privy to such information, or why she saw fit to disclose it in a press release,” the lawsuit states.
Smittcamp declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying she has not been served with a copy.
Kevin Little, Frazier’s attorney, said the city has three weeks to respond to the amended complaint and he suspects it will likely ask a judge to dismiss the case.
“Maybe one day we can get into litigation but right now we are just arguing over the complaint,” Little said.
Little said that despite Frazier’s history with the city, he still wants to be involved.
“He loves the city of Fresno and wants nothing more than to get this lawsuit resolved so he can continue doing business with the city and continue to develop projects,” Little said.
This story was originally published February 13, 2023, 12:14 PM.
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