Despite staunch developer opposition, Fresno City Council members on Thursday supported a new fee that imposes a charge of $4,246 for every new single-family home to provide water for future growth.
The vote was 5-1, with City Councilman Garry Bredefeld opposed.
The fee is actually a combination of charges that will allow the city to improve its ability to treat surface water, build infrastructure to distribute water to new development, and dig new wells and increase the capacity to recharge a groundwater basin that is overdrafted.
But representatives of the development community opposed the fee, saying that charges for new capacity actually would require the city build an expansion of its Northeast Surface Water Treatment Plant. That would trigger the need for an environmental impact report, said John Kinsey, a lawyer representing Granville Homes and Wathen Castanos Homes.
“The Northeast Surface Water Treatment Plant is part of the ‘whole’ of the ‘action’ being considered as part of the proposed capacity fees, and thus must be analyzed under CEQA,” Kinsey wrote in a nine-page letter to the council.
He added that the new charges would mean that the city is “committing to a definite course of action” on infrastructure improvements, including expansion of the treatment plant, and would be approving facilities under California environmental law.
At a 1.8 percent annual growth rate in the coming years, public utilities director Thomas Esqueda said he estimates the city will need to develop the capacity to provide 30 million more gallons per day from surface water supplies. He added that the $4,246-per-home figure is based on that anticipated demand, whether it comes from doubling the capacity of the northeast plant or providing that capacity elsewhere.
The fee would only be charged for new development, not existing homes and businesses, because they are intended only to accommodate the demands created by future growth.
Engineering firms estimate the cost to build an addition to the northeast treatment plant at just over $81.6 million. The transmission mains and other costs raise the total to about $172 million, city documents said. The fee also pays another $143.9 million for new water wells, recharge basins and distribution pipelines.
“Water capacity fees are not a project... it’s a funding mechanism,” said Esqueda.
The state environmental laws will be addressed once the nature of the water system project is confirmed, city officials said.
A video showed residents in 2015 asking the city to make developers pay a fair share of the costs of new infrastructure to serve new growth.
The fee proposed in December was $6,373. The revised fee will go into effect in May, if approved on second reading.