Fresno

New fire station approved for long-forgotten NW Fresno residents

The residents of Northwest Fresno are finally getting a new and permanent home for Fire Station 18.

The Council on Nov. 14 awarded a $6.26 million contract to Bakersfield-based Klassen Corporation got for the construction of a new Fire Station 18.

The current firehouse, in service since January 2005, is at 5938 N. La Ventana Ave. The site is a suburban home turned into a firehouse. The location is not far from the intersection of Bullard and Grantland Avenues. This is on the west side of Highway 99, in the part of town that is often called “Forgotten Fresno” because late 20th century development there outpaced City Hall’s ability to wisely plan for the growth.

The new Fire Station 18 will be at 6605 W. Shaw Ave. The site is about a mile west of Highway 99 and about a half-mile east of Grantland Avenue. The new firehouse will be close to Veterans Boulevard and centrally located in Fresno’s West Growth Area.

According to the staff report, the entire project will cost $7.36 million. I’m assuming the $1.1 million above the Klassen contract amount represents “soft” costs such as design.

The project’s financing is not simple. According to the staff report, funding begins with $3.5 million from the general fund. This has already been appropriated in the Fire Department’s FY 2019-20 budget.

There will be $3.86 million in inter-fund loans. The city charges developers a variety of Urban Growth Management (UGM) fees – the idea being new growth must pay its fair share of the cost of infrastructure. Two UGM funds will be tapped for the loans. The Area-Wide Oversize sewer fund will loan $2.4 million. A Wellhead Treatment Area fund will loan $1.46 million.

These two UGM funds will be repaid with interest.

The Council on Nov. 14 approved all these financial arrangements on a 7-0 vote.

But debate had its stressful moments.

The new station will sit in District 1, which is represented by Esmeralda Soria.

“I’m grateful that we were able to find a way to make this happen,” Soria said. She added, referring to not only to the Station 18 project but all of the city’s future new facilities construction projects: “Are we looking at building it so that they’re more energy efficient? Is it going to have solar to make sure that that’s part of the long-term cost savings?”

Debbie Bernard, project manager from Public Works, said the Station 18 project will have energy efficient lighting. She said it may have a recharging station for electric vehicles at some point in the future. But, Bernard said, Station 18 at this point is not slated for solar.

Said Soria: “I would hate to have to come back later, five years from now, and say, ‘Hey, now it’s time to add solar.’”

Public Works Director Scott Mozier went to the public microphone to add some clarity to the work on the design phase of Station 18.

“What we wrestled with was: Do we modify the plans right now and attempt to include roof top solar?” Mozier said. “What that would have done was to increase the construction costs. We would reap benefits in terms of operating savings for the Fire Department. But we would need to borrow more money, come up with more capital dollars up front.”

Mozier said Public Works is convinced that the current design for Station 18 is the way to go.

“We’re entirely convinced that is the best alternative,” Mozier said. And, he added, there’s “the urgency to of getting the fire station in construction due to the public safety needs in the area.”

Assistant City Manager Jim Schaad said solar “is not a panacea for all things.” When it comes to designing new public facilities in the future, the city would “look at the energy efficiency as a whole and we would also look at solar to see if that makes sense on facilities and then we would move forward. In this case, it probably does make sense. But then we have to look at installation and how we’re going to finance it. Where that funding is going to come from.”

Soria said she understands the urgency of improving the public safety infrastructure on the west side of Highway 99.

“But I also think that we have to think long-term when we’re doing this,” Soria said. “Just because we have a sense of urgency doesn’t mean that we just skip over it. I will give it a pass this time. I will be supportive of the motion with the understanding that we’ll bring this back sooner rather than later. I don’t want to have to exit this building and it not be discussed.”

Council Vice President Miguel Arias said he has “huge and significant concerns” with how the Station 18 project will be funded. In a nutshell, Arias wanted to know why developer fees in the area being immediately served by Station 18 aren’t enough to fund the entire project.

Replied Mozier: “The fees have essentially been too low for too long a period.” Mozier said the Council recently updated schedule of developer impact fees.

Arias also asked Mozier for reassurance “that we’re not building a Taj Mahal” at the new Station 18.

Mozier said the project has been heavily value-engineered, shaving $2 to $3 million off the initial vision.

Arias (District 3) also represents a portion of “Forgotten Fresno.”

The final word came from District 2’s Mike Karbassi, who represents the far northern end of “Forgotten Fresno.”

Karbassi took issue with the term “Taj Mahal” to describe what is being built for Fresno’s firefighters working in Station 18.

“I don’t like that comment very much,” Karbassi said. “I don’t think they (firefighters) are asking for luxury. They’re asking for safety.”

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