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City Hall's Oversight panel sputtering before it can do anything

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Fresno’s mystery advisory committee will try again to build a reputation before it runs out of members.

The Enterprise Capital Project Oversight Board has scheduled a meeting for 5:30 p.m. on April 18 at City Hall.

The board’s scheduled meeting in March was cancelled on short notice. No explanation was given (at least to me).

The board’s scheduled April 4 meeting was cancelled when a quorum failed to show up. There were only three people – none of them board members – in the room when City Clerk Yvonne Spence announced that the meeting was being postponed.

The board is supposed to have nine members – one appointed by each of the seven council members, two appointed by Mayor Ashley Swearengin.

Council Member Oliver Baines has yet to name his appointee. Well-known Fresno developer Mehmet Noyan, the pick of Council Member Esmeralda Soria, resigned last month.

As of late Friday afternoon Noyan’s resignation letter was not on file at the City Clerk’s Office (official repository of important city records). I did get a copy of an email from Noyan in response to a request by the City Clerk’s Office that board members complete the routine Conflict of Interest statement.

“You may not be aware but I had to decline the voluntary position due to some family matters,” Noyan wrote.

I don’t know if “decline” is the right word. Noyan was among the eight board members to raise their right hands in January and take the oath of office.

The Enterprise Capital Project Oversight Board is the idea of a City Council that’s terribly nervous over all the money it’s spending.

There are all sorts of multi-million-dollar construction projects heading our way. They include the Southeast Surface Water Treatment Plant, the “purple pipe” recycled water system, the restoration of downtown’s Fulton Corridor and the Bus Rapid Transit system.

Each will cost eight or nine figures. All are funded with taxpayer dollars (although the use of general fund money is supposed to be verboten). All are supposed to come in at or below budget.

And all will inevitably be subjected to the hidden pressures that can jack up construction costs in a heartbeat.

The City Council said: We’ll get a bunch of volunteers, people with busy lives of their own; we’ll have them oversee all these big projects; they’ll use their construction/accounting expertise to ferret out things like unwise change order requests and shaky business practices; they’ll produce occasional reports that will be unveiled at council meetings; the public will be reassured.

The Southeast Surface Water Treatment Plant, the recycled water system and the restoration of Fulton Corridor are already going full speed.

The Enterprise Capital Project Oversight Board so far has taken the oath office, discussed whether it’s best to meet on Monday and listened to reports on the water and Fulton projects that were largely a rehash of past reports to the City Council.

Don’t get me wrong – all this was essential for a brand new crew. Still, at this rate all the projects will be done before the board gets on its feet.

The April 4 board meeting was to feature a PowerPoint report on Bus Rapid Transit. Based on the City Clerk’s copy, the report contains nothing that hasn’t already angered City Council Member Steve Brandau (a persistent BRT critic).

The April 4 agenda included two reports involving change orders.

The first was a status update on the Southeast Surface Water Treatment Plant. The city had slightly more than $1 million in pending change orders. The biggest ($1 million) is described thus: “Addition of supplemental task line item and budget to the construction contract in line with City’s standard approach to change management and to allow for timely processing of time-critical changes during the course of construction.”

I hope Public Utilities Director Tommy Esqueda is at the April 18 meeting to explain that.

However, Esqueda’s status report notes that the $158.8 million project also has a pending budget change that would save nearly $1.2 million. This expected money-saver involves the trailer complex to house various on-site management teams.

There’s also a potential $1.7 million savings from a modification of the water reservoir.

The board on April 4 also was to review Change Order No. 1 for the recycled water project. Total cost: $262,720. The big-ticket item ($237,940) was for asphalt work along a two-mile stretch of Cornelia Avenue.

Noyan’s resignation is surely a blow to the board. He learned the financial nuances of big projects by doing a bundle of them himself.

In fact, Noyan would have been particularly insightful on the Fulton Restoration project.

Noyan and developer Terance Frazier are teaming up to thoroughly transform Fulton Corridor’s southern tip (Fulton and Inyo Street). The first part of their dream is a multi-story mixed-use building. Then there will be a public market in the old Gottschalks Building. Then there will be more office and residential units near Chukchansi Park.

Fulton Corridor for the past 51-and-a-half years has been Fulton Mall. The restoration project will bring cars back to the six-block stretch. Mayor Swearengin often touts the Noyan-Frazier project as one of the blessings of this change.

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

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