The Fresno city council took a complicated issue like water storage and made it complicateder. Coming back after a three month delay on how much to charge developers for water fees on new home construction projects, the council asked for another two weeks.

At times during the 2-and-a-half hour presentation and debate (wrapped around a 90 minute lunch break), council seemed confused. Public utilities director Tommy Esqueda, who crafted the plan, seemed frustrated that his explanations of why a $4246 fee per home wasn’t getting through to council.

The home building industry was frustrated too. Led by Josh Peterson of Wathen Castanos and Darius Assemi of Granville Homes, they too had issues with the way the plan was presented.

[editor’s note: Granville is the corporate owner of GV Wire]

The city wants to prepare for an anticipated increase in population through 2035. To handle the increased water demand, they want to add 30 million gallons a day (mgd). No one on the council denied the need for the increase. But the how and where and how much proved frustrating for all.

Although the city plan calls for doubling the size of the Northeast Fresno Surface Water Treatment Plant (from 30 mgd to 60 mgd), there are no actual plans to make the expansion. The city figures it would collect the money first then build.

That was a no go for the building industry. They wanted specifics. Through attorneys and industry advocate groups who spoke during the hearing, they mentioned that the city would be collecting money for an unspecified plant without going through California’s stringent environmental review process (known as CEQA).

The city countered that because no specific plan is in place, they legally don’t have to conduct an environmental impact report. The plans to double the northeast plant is just floating an option. They could also expand the under-construction water treatment facility in southeast Fresno. Or build another new plant.

Councilman Oliver Baines wondered how he can face his public by charging them a water fee for new homes without a specific plan to spend it. Councilman Steve Brandau offered to split the difference of fees of $3900 (a split of $3500 the industry says is fair and the $4200 the city wants).

There was  lots of back and forth between the council, Esqueda, his staff and city manager Bruce Rudd. Some council members wanted staff to come back with more options, including the possibilities of paying for the future expansion with a bond.

Mayor Lee Brand spoke and shot down the bond concept, saying that would send costs through the roof. He did mention the city’s dour history of paying for public projects, from parks and public safety bonds to downtown parking garages.

In the end, the city hit the pause button, and will reconvene on the issue in two weeks.

Contact David Taub

Phone: 559-492-4037 / e-mail

[Note: this version has been corrected to change Mayor Brand’s reference to the city’s history of public works projects to more accurately reflect his statement]

This story was not subject to the approval of Granville Homes.

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