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Money Back Guarantee Gets 7-0 Vote, But Fine-Tuning Ahead
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By David Taub, Senior Reporter
Published 5 years ago on
February 1, 2019

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A proposal to guarantee that Fresno delivers planning department services on time received a 7-0 vote from the city council Thursday.
But council members also made it clear that important issues must be ironed out before the “money back guarantee” plan is adopted.
The bill, introduced by Garry Bredefled (District 6) and Steve Brandau (District 2), would return fees to developers if the city planning department, known as DARM, does not advance projects according to specified timelines.

“What has remained consistent is the problem in terms of the culture, the anti-business culture. And that is what this is an effort to address.” — Garry Bredefeld
“Over the course of 30 or 40 years, staffing levels have gone up. Staffing levels have come down. What has remained consistent is the problem in terms of the culture, the anti-business culture. And that is what this is an effort to address,” Bredefeld said upon introducing the bill.
While others on the council agreed with the concept of service and accountability, they had many questions about implementing the plan.
And, with that came several “friendly” amendments.
While the vote advances the bill, it will not be final until the amendments are sorted out and the council takes a second vote at a future meeting.
As Councilman Miguel Arias (District 3) said after the preliminary tally, “Don’t count your chickens.”
Even with debate on the finer points of implementation, all sides had one universal agreement: Developers would much rather have their projects proceed in a timely fashion than get their money back.

Developers Pushed for Money Back Guarantee

When Bredefeld first proposed the money back guarantee last year, it ran into resistance from Mayor Lee Brand and the Fresno Chamber of Commerce.
Both vocalized support for the plan Thursday.
The building industry helped craft the plan and advocated for it during the debate.
Among those voicing their support: Josh Petersen of Wathen Castanos Homes and Darius Assemi of Granville Homes. Assemi is the publisher of GV Wire.
Petersen warned that there are many nearby communities where developers can go, including Clovis.
Dirk Poeschel, a planning consultant, called the proposal a “very creative solution.”

Union Concerned About Staffing

Sam Frank, the president of the union representing DARM workers, told the council that short-staffing jeopardizes the plan.
“We do not oppose a money back guarantee. What we do oppose is a business model that you do not gear up for a money back guarantee,” Frank said.
Frank said pressure should not be placed on DARM employees because they don’t control hiring.

“We’re not going solve the problem if we don’t fill the vacancies.” Esmeralda Soria
“This act puts another job in their lap. They are already overworked. They are underpaid. They are trying their best to get caught up,” Frank said.
Frank’s argument won the support of Esmeralda Soria (District 1). She proposed an amendment to offer a $5,000 signing bonus to recruit new DARM employees.
“We’re not going solve the problem if we don’t fill the vacancies,” Soria said. “I’m tired of excuses.”
She likened a bonus to a similar program implemented for the police department.

Who Should be Accountable?

Arias put DARM director Jennifer Clark on the hot seat, asking if there were any studies or metrics to quantify a problem with her department. He also wanted to know how much the proposal would cost the city.
“You are asking us to approve a money back guarantee, with the administration’s support, without understanding the scope of the problem? Nor the potential impact fiscally?” Arias asked.
Clark stood at the podium silent, with no response.
Brand pointed out that such metrics aren’t available and most of the problems are anecdotal.
Soria said accountability begins on top. She needed assurances that more staff would be hired before she could support the bill.
“What surprises me is that this hasn’t been a priority for the last two years. And, it has to take the council to micromanage, to figure out how to get the job done. It’s frustrating,” she said.

Other Tweaks

“You are asking us to approve a money back guarantee, with the administration’s support, without understanding the scope of the problem? Nor the potential impact fiscally?” — Miguel Arias
Brand proposed a six-month trial period before any refunds could be given. A May 1 start date for the trial is envisioned. Progress reports would be issued monthly.
And, council approval would be required before DARM returns any fees.
Bredefeld and Brandau accepted the amendments.
 

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David Taub,
Senior Reporter
Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

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