Republican City Council candidate Lori Oien has accused Democrat Rodney Glassman of a litany of environmental violations involving his family's business — violations committed largely when Glassman was a child by a company he doesn't own.
Oien says Glassman is an environmental hypocrite for saying he's a steward of the environment who is endorsed by the Sierra Club, while his family spent more than 50 years running Fresno-based pesticide and farming companies she says have hurt the environment.
Glassman, 29, scoffed at the charges, saying many of the issues Oien is raising happened while he was in elementary school in the mid- to late 1980s.
What's more, he said he has no ownership connection to the companies Oien cites.
While posts about Glassman's family business and its environmental record have appeared on blogs for months, the spat is spreading as the campaign heats up.
Oien's Ward 2 campaign recently sent out links to a database showing Glassman receives U.S. Department of Agriculture farm subsidies through a trust set up in his name.
The e-mail, from Oien's campaign manager Walt Stephenson, charges the Glassman family companies caused "environmental catastrophes and worker injuries."
Both charges appear to be unsubstantiated.
Independent research by the Arizona Daily Star found that while the network of companies had numerous environmental issues, the most serious incident happened two decades ago and resulted in a $400,000 fine from the state of California.
"If he's receiving funds from the family business, I think Rodney needs to know what the family business is," Oien said in an interview. "It comes down to, if your family is doing something that you don't think is ethically correct or morally correct, I think you disavow the money."
Glassman's share of the trusts received farm subsidies of nearly $164,000 in 2005, the last year data was available.
Glassman said his trust was set up by his grandfather when he was born, and it gets the subsidies because he owns farmland in Fresno with other family members in what's called a "tenant in common."
Glassman has his own trust and is a beneficiary with other family members of nine other tenants in common.
Glassman's father, Bob Glassman, said the proceeds are used to buy life insurance for the family or are reinvested in the trust, which is run by an independent trustee.
"He has no signature power," he said, adding his son's only way to profit financially is to sell the 960 acres he owns.
Still, Oien said his financial stake in the companies makes him responsible for their actions. "The fact of the matter is, if he is unaware then he is very naive, and that's certainly someone I don't want on the City Council," she said.
Glassman couldn't say exactly where the land he owns is, other than the "Fresno area."
While acknowledging the subsidies are legal, Oien said voters have the right to know the Glassman family is benefiting from taxpayer money.
"We understand you're wealthy, and there's nothing wrong with being wealthy, but you can't play both sides of the card and say, 'I'm an environmentalist and have the endorsement of the Sierra Club but I also have shares in these companies,' " she said.
The Sierra Club stands by its endorsement of Glassman, citing his answers to questions regarding public transit and mixed-use developments.
"I don't blame Rodney for something his father and uncle did," said Lee Oler, political chair of the Sierra Club's local Rincon Group. "Of course we don't like what his father did, but we don't think he was malicious about it. We're not in favor of pesticides, but it's done and they're working on cleaning it up, and Rodney had nothing to do with it."
Glassman's family company, Britz Inc., has had environmental issues since Glassman's grandfather owned the company, including:
● Three decades ago, Britz was forced to clean up DDT contamination after that chemical was banned.
● In 1983, state investigators found Britz illegally buried toxic materials which may have contaminated the groundwater, according to the Fresno Bee.
● In 1987, one of the company's plants emitted a poisonous cloud of hydrogen sulfide gas.
● In 1989, the company was fined nearly $400,000 by the state for disposing of toxic wastes in unlined ponds, according to the Bee. Bob Glassman said the fine was later set aside by the state.
Much smaller incidents have occurred in the past two years.
The elder Glassman said the companies are "professionally" run and deal with issues as they arise, which he said happens to any company.
He blamed several of the environmental issues on changes in the law, which turned legal practices his company was engaging in into environmental violations, like the cleanup of DDT, which previously had been legal.
The elder Glassman said his family's past is not the issue.
"I'm not running. I live in California," he said. "He's running against a person who cannot compete against him on the issues."