City Beat

Parks, water and annexations keep City Hall busy

Runners share the road with geese crossing the road at Woodward Park on a morning in August.
Runners share the road with geese crossing the road at Woodward Park on a morning in August.

Here are five things about Fresno City Hall to keep in mind as the new week unfolds:

1.) We’re No. 60, and proud of it … well, encouraged, at least.

I’m talking about Fresno’s national ranking when it comes to green space and green policies.

Analysts from WalletHub say Fresno is No. 60 among the 100 greenest cities in America.

That means Fresno ranks in the middle one-third of the survey.

The Trust for Public Land’s annual survey of municipal park systems always puts Fresno at the very bottom of its lists.

Granted, we’re talking apples and oranges with these two surveys. The Trust’s ranking focuses to a large degree on quantity – number of parks, for example.

WalletHub looks at that, but also takes into account “environmental quality,” “greenness of transportation,” “greenness of energy sources” and “green lifestyle/local policies.”

New York City ranks No. 1 in WalletHub’s overall ranking. Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Honolulu finish the top 5.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is No. 100. The remainder of the bottom five is No. 99 Gilbert, Ariz., No. 98 Indianapolis, Ind., No. 97 Louisville, Ky. and No. 96 Hialeah, Fla.

When it comes to WalletHub’s categories, Fresno ranked No. 91 in “environmental quality,” No. 26 in “greenness of transportation,” No. 10 in “greenness of energy sources” and No. 42 in “green lifestyle/local policies.”

Fresno, with a total score of 44.54 (out of a possible 100), was far behind New York’s score of 77.58. But Fresno was only two points from cracking the Top 50.

Fresno’s modest amount of green space hurt in the “environmental quality” category. This category includes percentage of parkland, median air-quality index and water quality.

Fresno ranked No. 96 in percentage of green space, ahead of only Birmingham, Ala., Norfolk, Va., Hialeah and North Las Vegas.

“Greenness of transportation” includes bicycling, walking and levels of congestion.

“Greenness of energy sources” is based on percentage of electricity from renewable sources and number of smart-energy policies/initiatives.

“Green lifestyle/local policies” is based on number of farmer markets per capita, green jobs and number of local programs for promoting the use of green energy.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin in the wake of the Great Recession is focusing money and energy on rebuilding police, fire and parks services.

Martin Ray Reilly Park in southeast Fresno, a pocket park in downtown’s Cultural Arts District, and the Universally Accessible Park west of Highway 99 are new parks either already in operation or expected to be relatively soon.

Parks Director Manuel Mollinedo said Fresno’s efforts to improve its parks system are “very gratifying.”

But the key is sustaining this commitment for years, if not decades.

Fresno’s park woes “didn’t happen over one or two administrations,” Mollinedo said. “The department’s problems happened over a long period of time. It will take awhile before we see light at the end of the tunnel.”

2.) Speaking of the Universally Accessible Park, the City Council on Thursday will consider a change in its deal with Resources for Independence Central Valley, the lead agency in operating the park.

The park will include a dog park and a skate park. When it went shopping for insurance, Resources for Independence discovered that the bill for liability insurance for these two features was high.

A staff report says the bill would hurt Resources for Independence in operating and maintaining Universally Accessible Park.

Mollinedo recommends that the city assume responsibility for liability insurance for the dog and skate parks. Resources for Independence would continue to operate and maintain both.

3.) The council will consider a request from Bruce Rudd.

The city manager wants a resolution saying any application sent to the Local Agency Formation Commission seeking the annexation of land to the city of Fresno must first get City Hall’s approval.

“The lack of any formal resolution has resulted, in a few cases, (in) a property owner initiating an annexation on their own,” Rudd said in his report to the council. “This has resulted in some ambiguity” when all that paperwork hits the desks at LAFCO, Rudd said.

Annexation strikes me as a big deal. But the rules apparently are still in a state of flux. That’s scary.

4.) I love the optimism of Public Utilities Director Thomas Esqueda.

Esqueda will ask the council to authorize a special contract with the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

The bureau is in charge of water at Millerton Lake.

Now, all deals with the feds are complex. Add water to the mix and things get really convoluted.

But this special contract – called a “215 Contract” – deals with unwanted water at Millerton.

Unwanted water in the middle of the worst drought in recent memory?

Well, Esqueda tells the council in his report, every once in awhile there are “non-storable flood flows” coming from behind Friant Dam. When that happens, the feds are happy to sell the water at a reduced price.

But for that to happen, Esqueda says, the city first must have its “215 Contract” on the feds’ desk.

El Niño comes. We get lots of winter rain. The feds begin calling all the cities on their “215” list. At the top is Fresno. Our aquifer smiles.

Good thinking, Mr. Esqueda. All that’s left in this scenario is execution.

5.) Finally, Esqueda will bring two key pieces of water policy to the council.

The first deals with creation of a state-mandated Groundwater Sustainability Agency. Bottom line: Fresno will soon join a bunch of other government entities in a new agency charged with regulating how much water we take from the aquifer.

And Esqueda will ask the council to accept some changes in the city’s water conservation program.

In his report, Esqueda says the city should limit outdoor watering to one day a week beginning Nov. 1. The current rules allow outdoor watering two days a week until Dec. 1.

The current rules say it’s OK to do outdoor watering one day a week beginning Dec. 1. The city will launch a public education campaign called “Be a Zero Hero.” This campaign will ask Fresnans to voluntarily stop all outdoor watering from Nov. 1 through Feb. 29.

These rule changes are tied to the state mandate requiring Fresno to reduce its water consumption by 28%. The city is right on the mark so far, but continuing to save at that pace in the cooler months figures to be a challenge.

If we don’t get a good amount of rain this winter, Esqueda says, the city on April 1 could go to year-around one-day-a-week outdoor watering and rationing for residential, commercial and industrial customers.

Let’s hope that “215 Contract” is our future.