Q: Your name for the record?
A: A Sincere Friend of Fresno.
Q: What's your line of work?
A: I write about cities that get screwed over by developers.
Q: That's interesting. Let's cut to the important part. Do you think Donald Trump, president and chairman of The Trump Organization of New York, is trying to screw over California's sixth-largest city?
A: Not necessarily. As one city resident testified before the Fresno City Council on November 19 in favor of Trump's intended acquisition of the 480-acre Running Horse golf course development, Trump is not in Fresno because he cares about poverty in the west side of the city. He may not even like raisins all that much. Trump wants Running Horse because he sees the potential of the course, which could become his seventh golf property in California. (He is also building courses in the Caribbean and in Scotland.)
Q: How do you know Trump doesn't like raisins?
A: I sent him a panettone once that was returned unopened. By the time the package came back, the cake was totally stale. You couldn't even toast it.
Q What do you think of The Donald himself?
A: That he's smarter than he looks, that he uses his boorishness and charm alternately to disarm people and that he's a pretty canny guy.
Q: Would you ask him to decorate your home?
A: Maybe, if I lived in a brothel. (Sniggers to himself.)
Q: Why is Trump asking the city to get involved in his purchase of Running Horse?
A: Well, Trump had been negotiating with the current developer of the project since last March, until negotiations broke down in July.
Q: Why did negotiations fall apart?
A: It's not clear. Trump, in a conveniently leaked letter, claimed that the owners were not willing to "make a deal." The owners' lawyer said at the time there were unresolved issues about the owner paying a fee for the use of Trump's name, which I don't understand, unless the owner wanted to retain ownership and hire Trump to operate the property.
Q: What was the real reason?
A: Trump and his people probably lost confidence in the ability of the current developers to assemble the entire property from some hold-out property owners. One party in particular owns 20 acres in the middle of the place and has been asking nearly $6 million for a parcel with an assessed value of about $900,000.
Q: How can people demand such an outrageous mark-up on the value of land?
A: Dunno. Maybe because the fellow who wants to buy it is named Trump?
Q: How did Trump's strategy change at that time?
A: He realized that the city had some powerful tools in its belly bag,
including powers of eminent domain, that even jillionaire developers from New York can't buy.
Q: What utterly inappropriate and exploitative terms did Trump attempt to impose on the county seat of Fresno?
A: He wanted the city to buy the entire property on his behalf, all 30-odd parcels, and would accept nothing less than a complete conveyance, thank you very much.
Q: What were the somewhat more reasonable terms the city talked Trump into?
A: Trump would acquire the 90% of the parcels that presented few problems, while the city would take on the tire-biters, including the infamous 20-acre holder-outer. Trump also agreed to provide a $10 million letter of credit to cover any possible loss by the city.
Q: What is the city's likely investment in the deal?
A: Something between $3 million and $7 million, according to City Manager Andrew Souza.
Q: So Trump is asking the city, in effect, "Let's you and him fight?"
A: More like, "Let's you and him make a date to meet in eminent domain court."
Q: The purpose of which…
A: …Is to save The Donald a few mil, assuming that the city can acquire the parcel, and later sell it to him for something close to the assessed value of the land rather than some wildly inflated price. After all, a developer should not have to put up with some guy trying to speculate on real estate, should he?
Q: Please outline the various ridiculous and outlandish claims on behalf of the project made by that otherwise admirable man, His Honor Alan Autry, mayor of Fresno.
A: During the November 19 council meeting, Autry described the deal as possibly the most important the council would ever vote on. He also claimed that a single PGA tournament could bring $40 million to the city, and the course might attract as many 25 tournaments, implicitly generating up to $1 billion!
Q: Wow, that's quite a load. Please outline the concatenation (i.e. series of causal connections) that His Honor made between golf course development and early childhood education.
A: "Poverty is reduced, and when poverty is reduced, crime is reduced, and when crime is reduced, hope increases." That's really what he said — about a golf course. Listen to the tape. He even took a second run at it: With the decrease in crime, west Fresno will experience a "lower drop-out rate [because] daddy has a job and can be there to mentor the child. It's not a far stretch."
Q: Yeah, we left "far stretch" behind a long time ago. So do you think that a Trump-owned golf course will be a "positive revenue generator," as the econ-dev folks like to say?
A: Oh, sure.
Q: And what economic benefits do you see for west Fresno from this successful golf course?
A: The property surrounding the course may appreciate slightly in value. We may see some slightly higher end retail along the road leading to Running Horse. But relief from poverty is a crock. Golf courses do not employ many people, maybe a couple of dozen. Plus, the golf course is not a redevelopment project, so the revenues from the project will not necessarily be funneled back to the neighborhood. The benefactors are Trump and the city treasurer, not the poor schmuck in West Frez.
Q: Lord, how did you become so cynical?
A: By writing about deals like this.