Clean Vehicle Debate Leads to Dirty Words Between Councilman, City Manager
The city could be on the hook for millions in taxpayer dollars to update its vehicle fleet to comply with state clean air mandates.
That was the bad news during a presentation from General Services department director Brian Barr. A new rule approved last month would require medium and heavy-duty tracks to transition to zero-emission vehicles.
That would affect 620 city work trucks across several departments. There are several options for timelines to make the replacements, but eventually all vehicles must be replaced.
“Currently, these vehicles are twice the price, with half the range,” Barr said.
Councilmen Mike Karbassi and Miguel Arias had different takes on how to move ahead.
Karbassi agreed with Barr’s assessment that this was an “unfunded mandate” from the state.
He’s concerned that this could lead to increased utility rates.
“What worries me is this is basically an environmental tax. It’s going to be passed onto our ratepayers because when you’re paying so much more for a truck that can’t do as much, (the Public Utilities department) is not funded by the general fund,” Karbassi said.
It is possible to ask California Air Resources Board for a five-year delay, Barr said, but it is not easy.
Barr did not say how much it would take to upgrade the city’s fleet. He recommends purchasing at least 60 vehicles by the end of the year. CARB has yet to establish a penalty for not complying.
Also in Politics 101 …
- Arias, White argument turns “petty.”
- Drama over approving Dyer’s Measure P commission picks.
- Other Fresno City Council action
- Governor appoints locals to state boards.
Arias, White Argue Over Tables?
Arias was frustrated over his perception that the city has been slow to adopt zero-emission vehicles, even though it’s been a long time coming.
“I just want to be thoughtful that we don’t just finger point. And instead I’m still waiting for the day of our mayor announcing a much more bold vision for how we transition to electrification as a city. Besides doing one-offs here and there in the low-hanging fruit,” Arias said.
He later questioned city spending.
“When Public Utilities is running a deficit and has no cash in the reserves and yet has money to buy $1,000 tables for State of the City, we might have an expenditure problem and not a revenue one,” Arias said.
For the record, the list price for tables was $600 for Fresno Chamber members.
Either way, that set off City Manager Georgeanne White. She said Arias has been “taking potshots at the mayor all day.”
“If you want to take a potshot at a $500 table, $1,000 table for the State of the City, that’s fine. But personally I think that’s a little bit petty,” White said.
White also called out Arias for publicly rejecting any utility rate increase, yet not showing leadership on the fleet issue.
“I think it’s very disingenuous. It’s very frustrating. And you put us in a very difficult position of not being able to win. We’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t,” White said.
“I think we need to be having more productive conversations about what the solutions are on how we’re going to get there instead of criticism of what we aren’t doing and we’re not showing enough leadership. Because we have shown leadership more so in the last two years on major issues for this city,” White said.
City Council President Tyler Maxwell then put an end to the conversation, recognizing “it’s getting a little heated.”
This is not the first time that Arias and White have battled on the dais. But the frustration from both parties has become more evident.
More Drama Over Measure P Commissioners
Mayor Jerry Dyer entered Thursday’s Fresno City Council meeting with four names he wanted on the Measure P parks commission. At the end, he only got one.
There was much angst over Dyer wanting to replace Kimberly McCoy and Sarah Parkes with Christina Soto and Kelly Kucharski, respectively.
Dyer also wanted to reappoint Jon Dohlin and Jose Barraza, but withdrew those nominations at the start of the meeting.
The city council only approved Kucharski to replace McCoy.
The 2018 Measure P sales tax for parks and arts established a commission to provide recommendations on how to spend the millions. Normally lasting four years, terms were staggered so they would not all expire at the same time.
When the commission started in May 2021, McCoy and Parkes picked lots for a one-year term (others drew two-, three-, and four-year terms). Even though the terms for McCoy and Parkes expired June 30, 2022, rules allow them to serve until their successors are approved.
“What we like to do is continue to bring new blood … We’ve had folks that have applied for the positions and we love the fact that Commissioner McCoy and Commissioner Parkes continue to serve unexpired terms. But, we want to make sure that we had two qualified folks that could replace those two folks before we move them on,” Deputy City Manager Matthew Grundy said.
Grundy was complimentary of McCoy and Parkes, but never truly answered why they need to leave. He said any member can re-apply.
Arias admitted Measure P has had a rough start, “I think it’s fair to say that Measure P is still not effectively operating.”
He said “the timing is wrong” to replace two experienced members.
Councilman Mike Karbassi wanted to keep Parkes on the board. He asked Parkes directly whether she wanted to continue. She said yes.
Tyler Maxwell also wanted to keep Parkes, and also approve Kucharski.
But there was a catch. The Measure P ordinance requires commissioners with certain “areas of demonstrated expertise,” including “trails and San Joaquin River Parkway development and programming,” Parkes’ specialty, and also Kucharski’s.
McCoy and Soto have the “parks and youth” special qualification.
With the vote for Kucharski to replace McCoy instead of Parkes, the city will need to find another “parks and youth” expert.
The administration did not explain why they pulled the names of Dohlin and Barraza.
Dohlin, CEO and director of the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, says he would like to be appointed to another term — it expires on June 30, 2023 — but was told by the administration they want to provide an opportunity for new voices.
“Given my work, I’m comfortable not being on the commission,” Dohlin told Politics 101.
There is also another vacancy on the board after Maiyer Vang resigned earlier this year.
Confusion Over How Long Member Can Serve
There was also confusion over whether McCoy and Parkes can continue. Arias pointed out that Planning Commissioner Brad Hardie’s term expired on June 30, 2022, yet he still serves.
“If the mayor chooses to not have them stay in expired terms, then there’s a vacancy of that seat,” White said, implying that extra service is at the pleasure of the mayor.
Grundy said, “Folks serve in these commissioner roles at the will and at the pleasure of the mayor. And it’s the administration’s desire to give Ms. Soto and Ms. Kucharski a chance.”
The city charter says, that members serve until the successor is chosen, or at least five members of the city council vote them out. There is no provision to remove a commission member at the pleasure of the mayor.
Asked to clarify, White told Politics 101 that the city charter section on removal does not apply to members whose term has expired.
Also at City Council
The city council passed, 6-1, a first reading of an ordinance that will block obstructing sidewalks and other rights-of-way, especially around sensitive areas where children may be (libraries, day care centers, schools).
However, the resolution has no legal consequence. Fresno does not have enough homeless bed space to criminalize blocking a sidewalk. That is a requirement from a Boise federal court case.
The question remained, who would enforce? The answer: it would be up to the city manager to decide.
The city council expects a lawsuit from homeless advocates. City Attorney Andrew Janz said the resolution would be “legally defensible.”
The ordinance would not apply to street vendors, which are already covered by state law.
Only Annalisa Perea voted against, concerned that homeless may migrate into residential neighborhoods.
The city council also approved 7-0 an item to spend nearly $2 million on an art project to paint the overpass columns at Highway 180 near San Pablo Park.
And, in another 7-0 vote on the consent agenda, the city council agreed to conduct a traffic study to determine the most dangerous intersections.
Related Story: Leaders Draw a Bull’s-eye on Fresno’s 10 Most Dangerous ...
Newsom Appoints Locals to State Boards
Gov. Gavin Newsom reappointed two Central Valley residents to state boards.
Jeffrey Garcia, a Hanford optometrist, will continue to serve on the Board of Optometry, where he has served since 2020.
Lawrence Garcia from Fresno will remain on the Private Security Disciplinary Review Committee, North, where he has served since 2018. A one-time Fresno City Council candidate, Garcia is president of AmeriGuard Security.