The Fresno City Council will start the process of raising utility rates at its meeting Thursday (Oct. 11). The overall rate would drop 13 cents next July and then gradually climb in 2020 through 2023.

The city says the rates will continue to be among the lowest in the state.

Photo of GV Wire's David Taub

Politics 101

David Taub

But, if enough angry customers take proactive measures, the hike will take a hike.

Overall, customers would see their base utility bill dip by 13 cents next summer and then climb $21.62 over the next four years.

Fresno utility rate hike chart (Graphic/City of Fresno)

The city says the rate increases are needed to cover required costs, maintenance and to meet state and federal regulations.

With the council’s blessing, the city will send out mailers to utility customers notifying them of the proposed rate changes, as well as protest cards. The action also starts what is called a Proposition 218 election, which means if a majority of customers return the protest cards, the rates will stay the same.

The mailers also start a 45-day public comment period. The council will hold a public hearing Dec. 6 for an official vote on the rate hikes. If passed, the increased rates take effect July 1, 2019.

Brandau Won’t Support

Steve Brandau

Councilman Steve Brandau is more skeptical.

“Money doesn’t grow on trees here in the Valley,” Brandau said.

Luis Chavez, the District 5 councilman up for re-election, also expressed doubt.

“Given that we recently raised fees for water/utilities and asked ratepayers to support spending $469 million dollars for a water treatment plan, I have a number of questions on the need for this,” Chavez said.

Miguel Arias, a candidate for the District 3 seat, criticized the potential hikes during a forum with challenger Tate Hill on Tuesday (Oct. 9). Arias said the city has not conducted any community meetings like it did last time.

The council passed a water hike in 2015 that nearly doubled rates to fund the Southeast Surface Water Treatment Facility, which recently opened.

Regulating Scooters

Despite his business-friendly claims, Mayor Lee Brand clamped down on the scooter company Bird when it migrated to the Fresno market last month. This despite the fact the city has no regulations related to scooters or “shared mobility devices” in City Hall parlance.

Now, Brand is proposing regulations for the industry. In part, the rules would prevent the rental or abandonment of the devices on any public right of way (i.e. sidewalks or the street). If that happens, the city can impound the scooters. Violators could be fined $1,000 per infraction.

Traffic laws governing bicycles or riding animals and the like would also apply to scooter riders.

Bird, through a spokesperson, said the company is ready to accept regulation:

“When Bird first landed in Fresno, we were encouraged to see residents quickly embrace our affordable, environmentally friendly vehicles. Since pausing our service in the area, we have been working hard to build relationships with city officials and community leaders while they work on a framework that can work for everyone. We hope to return to the roads soon so that the people of Fresno can once again have access to our transportation solution.”

Long-time Employee Suing City?

Shaun Schaefer (Image/ABC 30)

An interesting item on the council’s closed session is potential litigation from Shaun Schaefer, a 30-plus year employee working in the parks department. He is currently on leave.

Potential actions from employees aren’t uncommon on the agenda. What makes this case unusual is that the item is sponsored by the city attorney’s office (normal) and Councilman Paul Caprioglio (abnormal). Other councilmen say they can’t recall when a sitting council member attached his or her name to such an item.

Caprioglio refused to answer questions about his involvement, if any, in the case.

Grizzlies Buying Parking Lot

The council will vote on selling the 216,000 square-foot parking lot on H Street between Kern and Mono to the parent company of the Fresno Grizzlies for $1.9 million.

Grizzlies president Derek Franks says the team intends to continue using the space as a 535-car parking lot, and not try to develop it for another purpose.

“We want to make sure we secure that lot; we can control it and enhance the parking experience for our fans. It is a statement from our new ownership group that we are in it for the long haul,” Franks said.

Franks said the team has no plan to change rates. If they do, they would go lower.

In the future, if the Grizzlies to decide to sell the lot, the city would get first crack to buy it back. Also, the city would receive 5% in profit if a sale to another party occurs.

Ridership Successful

The city is happy with its one-year relationship with State Center Community College District, providing free bus rides for students, staff, and faculty. The council will vote on whether to renew the contract for another year.

SCCCD students, staff and faculty rode the FAX buses more than 376,000 times Aug. 2017-July 2018. The city says that generated $252,000 in farebox revenue. The district reimburses FAX at $1.10 a ride, a 12% discount off the regular rate (or the same as buying a bulk ride ticket).

“Ridership has been strong and we will continue to encourage our students to utilize this free service,” said SCCCD chancellor Paul Parnell. “Not only does it remove a  transportation barrier for students, but it also addresses the parking issue and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.  This is a win-win solution that we are excited to continue offering.”

The new agreement would extend the program through June 2019.

Water Fountain Repairs

During the reconstruction to make Fulton Mall into Fulton Street, the city spent $4 million to rebuild 16 fountains. When Fresno put out a maintenance contract out for bid, only one company returned a proposal.

City staff is asking the council to reject that bid, saying it would be more cost effective to keep maintenance in-house.

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