Fresno County supervisors postpone ballot decision on renewing zoo funding measure

The Fresno BeeJune 3, 2014 

As dirt flies and shovels clank, a pair of East African Crowned Cranes decide they want no part of the groundbreaking ceremony of the Fresno Chaffee Zoo's new African Adventure exhibit in Roeding Park. The birds, part of the zoo's Winged Wonders Bird Show, were on hand as part of the festivities surrounding the long-awaited expansion project's groundbreaking. East African Crowned Cranes will be included in the new exhibit.

JOHN WALKER — FRESNO BEE FILE Buy Photo

Fresno County supervisors on Tuesday postponed a resolution to put Measure Z -- which provides funding for the Fresno Chaffee Zoo -- up for renewal on the November election ballot.

Supervisors want to know if the Fresno County Zoo Authority needs to pick up the bill for the ballot measure. Zoo officials said Measure Z's campaign committee could pay, if necessary.

But County Counsel Dan Cederborg said he didn't know if the zoo campaign should pay the nearly $45,000 cost, because it would give a role in the election to an agency with a vested interest in the outcome. Cederborg said he will review the matter.

Following the meeting, zoo director Scott Barton said an earlier county counsel said the county should pick up the cost, which is why it was on the supervisors' agenda.

Under Measure Z, revenue from a tenth-a-cent sales tax pays for zoo programs. About two-thirds pays for projects, such as Sea Lion Cove, and another third pays for personnel. Measure Z will have generated $100 million for the zoo by the time it expires later this year.

Zoo opponents asked supervisors not to offer "a subsidy for this corporation," according to lawyer Richard Harriman, who has filed lawsuits against the city of Fresno and Fresno Chaffee Zoo over expansion plans.

Harriman, one of three to speak against Measure Z, asked supervisors to bring the issue back again next year for consideration.

Lisa Flores, a citizen opposing Chaffee's expansion, said the zoo, which 10 years ago was teetering on the brink of closing, has stabilized its business model and no longer needs taxpayers' dollars.

"Now it's time to stand up and deliver," she said. "Let them stand up like other enterprises have to do."

Fresno Chaffee Zoo Corp. board member Colin Dougherty said the zoo has been successful in large part because of Measure Z, which has allowed the zoo to expand and renovate.

"It's terrible to be chastised for being successful and I think we have shown you success in the last 10 years," he told supervisors.

In addition to paying the costs for the ballot measure, supervisors wanted the zoo corporation to make its bidding process public, allowing an accounting for each bid proposed for zoo projects. Under the existing rules, the zoo selects the best-value bidder, Barton said, which could be the low bidder but also may be the most qualified or the bidder that can get the work done fastest.

Supervisors also asked that the zoo corporation make its financial records available under the state Public Records Act.

Those documents are made available by the Fresno County Zoo Authority, which conducts financial oversight for the zoo, including audits, monthly financial information, project costs and budgets, Barton said.

Following the meeting, Barton said every audit done for Measure Z has returned "absolutely clean."

Measure Z's renewal is needed for the zoo to expand to 39 acres in Roeding Park with additional exhibits over the next 10 years. The current tax rate will remain the same if Fresno County voters approve it.

"All we are asking them to do is put it on the ballot and let the voters decide," Barton said. Supervisors will discuss Measure Z again on June 17.

Road widening shelved

Supervisors withdrew a plan to widen Millerton Road from two to four lanes between Friant Road and Sky Harbor Road. The plan was to move the project from a lower priority to top priority.

But supervisors learned Tuesday that officials from several western Fresno County cities, as well as Fresno, Clovis and Reedley, opposed the proposal because the $24 million used to build it would come from a $305 million project to connect Highway 180 to Interstate 5. The Highway 180 project was on a higher priority list for Measure C, the county's half-cent tax to fund transportation projects.

About $30 million is forecast to remain when all other high-priority projects are finished. That money would pay for environmental studies on the Highway 180 project, county officials said.

The Millerton Road widening is expected to cost $24 million for property acquisition, utilities relocation and road construction, said Janet Dailey, design division manager for the Fresno County Department of Public Works and Planning.

Jeff Roberts of Granville Homes, a property owner in the area, said that Table Mountain Rancheria could get federal money "that no one else can tap" to help offset some county costs if the project is deemed a high enough priority. The rancheria has already contributed money for environmental studies, he said.

"Millerton Road is a road with a lot of traffic that is growing, it's a road with a lot of variety of traffic and it's a road with some safety problems today before there is additional development," he said.

Solar project OK'd

Supervisors supported a solar project about eight miles southwest of San Joaquin.

The Giffen Solar Park will use about 160 acres on the north side of Mountain View Avenue, between the alignments for Stanislaus Avenue and Oil City Road.

The project uses solar panels to sell electricity to Pacific Gas & Electric. It will generate 20 megawatts of power to energize 20,000 homes. The project was appealed to supervisors when the planning commission voted 4-4 after concerns were raised about using farmland.

The project was moved from prime farmland to a less-productive site, supporters said.

Water law tabled

Supervisors voted to wait at least 90 days before bringing a water ordinance back for discussion. The ordinance would affect those living in county service areas, about 2,800 homes total.

The plan proposes steps that would reduce landscape watering and other water use by allowing county supervisors to rate each of the roughly two dozen water districts based on water availability in each area.

Supervisors asked the county's development and planning staff to consult with citizen advisory committees for each county service agency before returning with an ordinance.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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