Politics & Government

Fresno City Council cool to water law

The Fresno City Council on Wednesday got its first look at a new state law regulating how Californians water their yards.

Council members didn't like what they saw.

The law spells out rigorous requirements for water conservation, including things like runoff limits and strict irrigation-system rules. Council members said the law is well-intentioned, but it is bureaucracy run amok.

"This is classic Sacramento," said Council Member Andreas Borgeas.

At his request, officials from the city's Planning and Public Utilities departments laid out the complexities of the state Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance, which went into effect Jan. 1.

Council members said the law is confusing, complicated and sure to be a financial burden to homeowners, business owners and the city. Staff members didn't dispute their points.

According to a staff report, the law doesn't apply to all residential and commercial landscapes. The criteria include the size of the landscape and whether the landscape is new or a rehabilitation project.

Any landscape plan covered by the law must meet extensive testing and reporting requirements.

Staff said the law permits cities to adjust it to their own needs as long as there's no decline in water savings. But, staff added, there's still no baseline by which to judge the effectiveness of a locally written plan. Council Member Mike Dages said the law should be renamed the "Expansion of State Government in Tough Economic Times" ordinance.

Father, son removed from meeting

An otherwise low-key morning session took an unusual turn about 30 minutes after it began.

Council President Larry Westerlund told the audience that the unscheduled communication period would be moved to the conclusion of this and future meetings. For many years, the unscheduled communication period, during which people may address the council for a maximum of three minutes on any topic, had been early in the meetings.

Westerlund didn't explain the reason, but reminded the audience that people must be civil at council meetings. He said some speakers at recent meetings had violated this standard. Any speaker who violates the council's code of decorum "will get one warning. Then you'll be escorted out," Westerlund said.

Westerlund then asked whether anyone in the audience wanted to comment on any item on the consent calendar. The consent calendar enables the council to approve many routine items with one vote.

Rick Morse walked to the podium, saying he wanted to speak about a Public Works Department project. Morse soon began talking about Jesus Christ.

Westerlund asked Morse to limit his comments to the project. Morse said Jesus was pertinent to the project. Westerlund told Morse that he'd had his warning. Morse continued to speak of Jesus. Westerlund asked that Morse be removed from the council chamber.

A private security guard approached Morse. Brandon Morse, Morse's son, stood next to his father. A uniformed Fresno police officer started walking toward Morse. Morse was escorted out of the chamber. Brandon Morse began to sit, but Westerlund said, "No, I'm sorry, get out." Westerlund said Brandon Morse had interfered with the security guard.

Brandon Morse left the chamber singing "God Bless America."

When Brandon Morse was gone, Westerlund said, "We got that over earlier than I expected."

Rick Morse and Brandon Morse at recent meetings have criticized the city's handling of the homeless, with their comments sometimes getting personal. Rick Morse also has been in a legal battle with City Hall over the fate of Medmar, a medical-marijuana dispensary he owns in the Tower District.