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With less than two weeks to adopt a threshold to adhere to a controversial state environmental law, known as VMT, the Fresno City Council delayed taking action Thursday morning.

“I just actually wanted to see if we could put it over for next meeting. So, motion to table. I need a little more time. I didn’t have a chance to meet directly with staff to talk about this,” said councilwoman Esmeralda Soria.

“I didn’t have a chance to meet directly with staff to talk about this.”–councilwoman Esmeralda Soria

VMT

On July 1, new development projects will no longer be assessed a fee by how much traffic congestion is created.

Instead, a new vehicle miles traveled calculation will be applied. For instance, if a person drives to multiple places a day — work, store, soccer practice, etc. — all of those miles are counted up. Then the VMT fee is calculated for the development. The goal, according to the law’s supporters, is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

An official with the Building Industry Association of Fresno-Madera Counties has estimated that the VMT fees for a 20-unit project in Clovis would be $460,000 over 30 years — or $23,000 a unit. And, while the developer bears the costs upfront, it is passed on to homebuyers and renters.

One Week Delay

Grecia Elenes, senior policy advocate for Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability, agreed with the one week delay. “Given the lasting results that adopting this methodology will leave; we want to ensure that folks, especially those that will likely be the most impacted by (VMT), are engaged in this process,” said Elenes.

The city council must decide whether to adopt a 13% or 15% VMT threshold reduction. The state would impose a 15% reduction if the council takes no action.

Councilman Mike Karbassi agreed to Soria’s motion, but also included his thoughts on VMT before the motion was tabled.

“SB743 is an archaic and flawed law, and that’s why I want to strongly encourage that next week, my colleagues to look into it, to the VMT law, and understand how it’s going to impact Fresno especially in a post COVID economy,” said Karbassi. “It treats you if you have an electric vehicle the same as the antiquated gas guzzling ozone hole producing car.”

“SB743 is an archaic and flawed law, and that’s why I want to strongly encourage the next week, my colleagues to look into it to the VMT law and understand how it’s going to impact Fresno especially in a post COVID economy.” – councilman Mike Karbassi 

Message to Sacramento

Karbassi believes the law will make rentals and housing much more expensive and make the cost of living higher for middle class and lower income families.

“I really would ask us to send a message to Sacramento,” said Karbassi. “I really encourage you to send that message that we support the governor’s plan to build more housing, but we’re not going to do it on the backs of, of those that are most vulnerable.”

What a Delay Means

Councilman Luiz Chavez directed a question to the city attorney about what the vote means. “What is the implication for the city of Fresno, supporting this and not supporting it?” he asked.

The answer? If Fresno does not vote to adopt its own standard, then the city would default to a state standard that is stricter than what the city is looking to adopt.

Council president Miguel Arias summed it up before the vote was taken to delay the vote for a week. “It looks like it’s simple. Local control versus state control,” said Arias.

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