Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias joined his ideological opposite on the dais, Garry Bredefeld, in criticizing Fresno County officials for their handling of the illicit Reedley lab — specifically in not notifying the public.
“To say that there’s been a lack of transparency, truthfulness and basic cooperation from our county partners is an understatement,” Arias said at Thursday’s council meeting.
Arias echoed sentiments Bredefeld made at a July 31 news conference. Bredefeld blasted the Fresno County supervisors for keeping silent about the lab bust, even though some were notified in March. The supervisors responded publicly this week, insulting and criticizing Bredefeld.
It should be noted that both Arias and Bredefeld are running against sitting supervisors in 2024 — Arias against Sal Quintero; and Bredefeld against Steve Brandau.
City Slow to Respond to Fresno Lab’s Problems
A fire sent the Fresno Fire Department to Universal Meditech Inc. in Fresno in August 2020. GV Wire reported that it took two years for the city of Fresno’s Code Enforcement Unit to follow up on demands to correct numerous electrical and storage violations at the south-central manufacturer, inside Arias’ district.
Photos taken by an architect hired by Universal Meditech to bring the bio lab up to code showed dead mice, uncapped fluids, and a bathtub that drained into an adjoining room. After the company stopped paying his invoices, he stopped working for them, architect Nicholas Crawford told GV Wire.
The supplies and biological materials at that lab were later found in an illegal Reedley bio lab in March operated by a different firm, Prestige Biotech, which took control of financially troubled Universal Meditech’s assets. Inspectors found samples of HIV, tuberculosis, chlamydia, malaria, and the disease that causes COVID in Reedley. They also found 1,000 lab mice.
That set off a multi-agency effort to shut the lab down and dispose of the hazardous waste.
Bredefeld announced he and Arias will bring city legislation to create more transparency with labs. He called for the state and federal governments to do the same.
Arias Blasts County for Heeding Governor’s Request for Silence
Speaking during his comment time on Thursday, Arias said he didn’t buy the county’s rationale for informing the public earlier. He said county officials were not “truthful and forthcoming,” and engaged in “name calling.”
“If they can have a press conference over a garlic festival, they can surely have a press conference when people are running Chinese labs in our backyards,” Arias said.
Point of fact: Members of the board attended the February 2022 news conference organized by the National Garlic Festival. The Board of Supervisors later allocated $225,000 from the county’s share of federal ARPA relief funds to the festival on a 3-2 vote with Brian Pacheco and Buddy Mendes providing the “no” votes.
KMPH reported that county officials and the state Department of Public Health engaged in emails as far back as March on how to notify the public. The state asked the county to omit certain pieces of information, such as law enforcement’s investigation.
“Their latest effort to suggest that the governor told them not to tell us, it’s comical because I can guarantee you that governing body could care two (expletive deleted) about what the governor tells them to do,” Arias said.
The county posted information from a health director order on its website about the Reedley lab on April 21 but didn’t issue a news release.
Arias and Bredefeld said that public officials have an obligation to share information with the public.
Arias concluded his comments by thanking Bredefeld “for your advocacy on this issue.”
It’s not unprecedented, but rare, that Arias and Bredefeld are on the same side. They once partnered to oppose state legislation that would keep Fresno bars open until 4 a.m.
Arias Unaware Universal Meditech Was in Fresno
News about the Reedley lab broke two weeks ago with a report in the Mid Valley Times and was picked up by other Fresno media, followed by national media.
“If not for that story, when if ever, were the county Department of Public Health and the Board of Supervisors notify the public? Would they ever have done so?” Bredefeld said.
Arias said he had no idea that Universal Meditech operated in Fresno. He added that it is the county that awards hazardous waste permits, and the supervisors should monitor and provide oversight on how they are enforced.
During Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, supervisors criticized the city of Fresno for not performing thorough code enforcement inspections at Universal Meditech when it operated in Fresno from 2018-2022.
Supervisor Brian Pacheco said he did not become aware of the Reedley lab until July 27. It is believed that Nathan Magsig and Buddy Mendes were informed in March.
Quintero said he also became aware on July 27. He said he had “no reaction” to Arias’s comments.
“We as the supervisors are going to … ask that situations like this … that we find out about it a lot sooner and be forthcoming with the information that we’re able to give out at that time. It’s a learning experience, and we’re going to try it and maybe do a better job,” Quintero said.
Brandau has not answered GV Wire’s inquiries about when he knew of the Reedley situation.
Mendes also declined to answer when he knew.
“I don’t comment about (expletive deleted) crazy people,” Mendes said, also calling Arias and Bredefeld liars before hanging up.