FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – The Fresno City Council could cut funding to one of their most prominent anti-gang violence groups.
Advance Peace says it focuses on stopping gang members from committing violent acts.
The council is set to vote on $1.5 million dollars of funding for several community groups throughout the Advance Peace leaders will hang on to the funding they have for as long as they can, if the $375,000 they are proposed in Thursday’s city council agenda, doesn’t come to fruition.
$950,000 of the $1.5 million will come from the American Rescue Plan Act. The remaining $550,000 will come from the general fund. This money has already been allocated in the budget for community groups like The Boys and Girls Club of Fresno, and Advance Peace.
“No matter what ‘till the wheels fall off we’re going forward, whether we’re in the building or in the community,” said Advance Peace Leader, Aaron Foster.
Foster knows how much is riding on this city council vote.
There are seven total employees with Advance Peace handling over 25 cases.
Without the funding, the work will continue, but not in the building they’ve occupied since August of 2021.
“It’s easier to do it with the organization, but people are not going to quit getting killed,” said Foster. “The most lethal people in the city who would normally settle disputes with guns, find alternatives through Advance Peace.”
However, looming controversy over exactly how the group stops gang violence has lingered.
“I have a lot of questions, if those are addressed, if it’s truly not any taxpayer money being handed out as stipends so people don’t commit crimes, I might be willing to support it,” said Councilmember Garry Bredefeld, “Until then, I haven’t supported it.”
Bredefeld added he wants to learn more about their alternatives and how they aim to improve the group.
However, he still anticipates funding to be allocated for the groups.
“I suspect there won’t be any problem in terms of the majority of the council supporting this,” he said.
Police Chief Paco Balderrama has been openly against the group’s funding after the department cut ties with Advance Peace, citing threats to city council members and leaked police information.
We reached out to Chief Balderrama, he said he could not comment on matters before the city council vote.
In April, Leonard Smith, a former employee of Advance Peace, was charged with conspiracy to commit murder in a major gang bust operation called “No Fly Zone.
“Don’t judge the organization on a person, because this is the only organization that I see that is being judged according to people,” concluded Foster.
The council can pick which groups to approve funding for individually, or approve the whole agenda item altogether.
If the council decides to vote on all of them at the same time, Bredefeld says he will vote no.