Fresno City Councilman Lee Brand, who is campaigning to be the city’s next mayor, is proposing two major policy initiatives after a large number of residents, almost exclusively in his northeast district, have complained about discolored and tainted water.
Brand’s first proposal would, from the time of council final approval forward, ban galvanized pipe in both renovations and new construction in city residential and commercial projects.
His second proposal would offer city rebates for replacing plumbing fixtures and water lines and would start a low-interest loan program for plumbing repairs to qualifying households.
The items will be taken up at Thursday’s City Council meeting. If they clear the first hurdle, final approval would come a month later.
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This is a well thought-out plan that’s fiscally responsible.
City Councilman Lee Brand, a candidate for Fresno mayor
“This is a well thought-out plan that’s fiscally responsible,” Brand said.
The proposals come as the city is grappling with discolored water in a growing number of homes, including some where lead was found after testing. City officials say the problem lies somewhere inside the house, mostly in homes built during the 1990s. That piping was galvanized iron and steel.
Michael Prandini, president and CEO of the Building Industry Association of the San Joaquin Valley, said the prohibition on galvanized pipe wouldn’t affect area homebuilders, who more than a decade ago moved to plastic pipe in new homes. Brand said cities such as San Diego, Irvine and Santa Clara have enacted similar bans.
City officials think the lead and discolored water are rooted in the interaction of residents’ plumbing with city water. The problems appear to be associated with a surface water treatment plant in the city’s northeast that opened in 2004.
That area is smack in the middle of Brand’s City Council district, and as he nears the end of his second and final term on the council, he is locked in a battle with Henry R. Perea to replace termed-out incumbent Mayor Ashley Swearengin.
Perea has criticized Brand for being unresponsive to his constituents’ needs, and he took it up a notch on Monday, calling Brand’s proposals “a textbook example of leading from behind.”
Perea said Brand has known about the issue since the start of the year. Brand only acted, Perea said, after he made it a campaign issue.
“Being a leader, representing his district, did he ask (Swearengin) as she was building a billion-dollar budget to help his constituents?” Perea asked. “No. He did nothing until two days before the budget ended and panicked because I was fully engaged.”
Brand, however, said he has been responsive. He said he has been working on the problem in conjunction with city officials since he learned about the problem in early January. He said Perea doesn’t see that because much of the work is being done at City Hall.
By opening up a $750,000 fix with no understanding of the magnitude of the problem, Lee is leading the council down the path of writing a blank check for all the taxpayers of Fresno.
Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea, a candidate for Fresno mayor
“I don’t have these giant press conferences,” Brand said, referring to a Perea news conference on the issue. “I just do my job. There’s a contrast in styles. (Perea) is about sound bites and empty promises. I’m about substantive solutions.”
But Perea said he will find solutions to the problems. The first priority, he said, should be to establish how many homes are affected.
“By opening up a $750,000 fix with no understanding of the magnitude of the problem, Lee is leading the council down the path of writing a blank check for all the taxpayers of Fresno,” Perea said.
Brand countered that his proposals for rebates and low-interest loans are narrowly focused, have strict parameters – and will not affect Fresno taxpayers. The money comes from the water fund and not the general fund. It also will not be from ratepayers. Instead, he said, it will come from late fees, fines and money made from selling water to other districts.
Here are some qualifications to get the help:
▪ Only city of Fresno homes built between 1989 and 2000.
▪ Water must have been tested after Jan. 1 of this year and must have shown discolored water or the evidence of lead in the water.
For plumbing fixture rebates, the maximum amount would be $500, with a $100 per bathroom or utility room limit for fixtures or plumbing repairs and $200 per kitchen for similar items.
If the problem is in the water lines, the maximum rebate would be $1,000 for line replacement.
The rebates would be first come, first served, and the pool of money is $250,000.
As for the loans, that pot of money is $500,000. Homeowners could apply for loans up to $5,000 for plumbing repairs. The interest rate would be 1 percent above the City Investment Pool rate. Brand said the current interest rate would be around 1.7 percent or 1.8 percent.