Councilwatch: Parsing the new recycling center regulations, SPCA gets the Soria treatment

George Hostetter dives into a half-dozen thoughts on yesterday’s Council meeting – from marijuana to recycling to West Fresno growth.

A half-dozen observations on Thursday’s Fresno City Council meeting:

1.) Sophia Pagoulatos, City Hall’s manager of long range planning, gave the council a quick tutorial on the new Southwest Fresno Specific Plan.


The plan is a blueprint for growth in the largely undeveloped area (about five square miles) on the edge of traditional West Fresno. The growth blueprint for much of traditional West Fresno (closer to Downtown) is covered in the Downtown Neighborhoods Community Plan of several years ago.

City Hall has big plans for the area covered in the specific plan. West Fresno residents have high hopes. Pagoulatos was quick to assure council members that the plan will not displace current West Fresno residents – in other words, gentrification.

The specific plan, Pagoulatos said, “is meant to enhance existing neighborhoods.”

I thought to myself: The specific plan, if fully implemented, may not drive current West Fresno residents out of their homes. But the specific plan, if successful, is sure to generate a huge influx of new residents.

What gets displaced is the traditional West Fresno political power structure.

2.) Pagoulatos said West Fresno residents had plenty of opportunity to opine on the plan.

That provided Council Member Steve Brandau with an opening. Brandau noted that West Fresno residents expressed a strong preference for a growth formula featuring more single-family houses and fewer apartment complexes. Brandau asked Pagoulatos how this sentiment squares with the 2035 general plan that lauds high-density housing and deplores new suburban houses on the city’s edge.

Don’t worry, Pagoulatos said – the city’s housing budget can accommodate the construction of more single-family houses than originally expected.

Single-family houses, Brandau said, are “where people predominately want to live. That’s a good thing.”

Need I add that Brandau has been a stern and persistent critic of the 2035 general plan? He can smell the general plan’s weaknesses in a market economy.

3.) Linda Van Kirk, executive director of the Central California Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, delivered an impressive 50-minute summary of the non-profit’s work for Fresno.

City Hall contracts with the SPCA for a variety of animal control services. According to the 2017-18 budget, the contract’s cost this year is $3.8 million.

Van Kirk was aided by a PowerPoint presentation. If I heard her correctly, the most recent statistics in the presentation are from the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The SPCA took in a total of 27,600 animals that year (intake and strays). That included 14,000 dogs (10,000 strays) and 12,100 cats (9,800 strays). The SPCA handled on average 67 animals (intake and strays) every day.

The zip codes producing the most strays were, for the most part, in southwest and southeast Fresno. The 93706 zip code (West Fresno) produced the most strays by far – 3,585 compared to 1,964 for runner-up 93702 (southeast Fresno/fairgrounds).

There were 480 dog bites in 2013. There were 853 dog bites in 2016.

The SPCA does all it can to reunite lost pets with their owners. The SPCA does all it can to find new owners for strays. One hundred percent success is impossible. The SPCA’s live release rate for dogs is 52%; for cats, it’s 33%.

Fresno isn’t the worst city in California when it comes to the size of its stray pet population – but we’re close. The local SPCA did a survey of 25 other animal control operations in the state. Madera County ranked No. 1 with an annual intake of 77 animals per 1,000 human population. Fresno was No. 2 at 54 per 1,000. Sacramento, for example, was No. 5 at 26 per 1,000.

Another slide in the presentation showed that the SPCA’s cost per animal intake was $133. This compares to Bakersfield with an annual cost of $486 per animal intake.

Bottom line: The local SPCA does a ton of good (and often unappreciated) work at a relatively low cost to the taxpayer.

4.) No need here to go into the history of the sometimes strained relationship between City Hall and the SPCA.

No organization is perfect. The local SPCA is certainly capable of improvement. Van Kirk said as much on Thursday.

Still, it’s safe to say the SPCA gets a raw deal from some of its critics.

Take the comments from Council Member Esmeralda Soria. She told Van Kirk that she and her District 1 staff have received constituent complaints about the SPCA “on a very, very regular basis.”

What’s the essence of these complaints? Well, it seems that District 1 residents have a habit of losing their pets. These pets have identification microchips on them. The pets have tags and collars with vital identification information about the animal and the owner.

However, Soria said, “it took a number of days” for the SPCA to contact the owners that the pound had their pets. Soria said her constituents found this delay intolerable.

I thought to myself: Soria’s complainers didn’t think to immediately call the SPCA or drive out to the pound?

Our civilization is doomed.

5.) City Hall Communications Director Mark Standriff likes to kid me about my habit of connecting any marijuana initiative to city finances.

Several marijuana initiatives were on Thursday’s agenda.

I’ll be brief: Medical marijuana is about to make a comeback in Fresno; the ban on recreational marijuana dispensaries cleared its final hurdle on a 4-3 vote (Soria, Clint Olivier, Oliver Baines on the losing side).

Dope or no dope, the general fund always has the munchies for money.

6.) Council Members Paul Caprioglio, with an assist from Baines, crafted new regulations for recycling centers taking in things like plastic bottles and aluminum cans.

The regs passed 7-0.

The first three words out of an editor’s mouth when a reporter pitches a story idea are: “What’s the hook?”

What’s the story about? Why would the reader care? Why should the newspaper care?

The reporter better have a clear and concise (and accurate) answer for the editor.

That’s what I thought as I sat through the long public hearing on Caprioglio’s proposal: What’s the hook?

After all the talk, I still don’t know the answer.

Is the proposal another step toward resolving the homeless crisis? Is it a boost to public safety? Is it a boon to neighborhood quality of life? Is it a local reform of state recycling law? Is it a warning to the surviving recycling businesses to clean up their act? Is it an attempt to isolate recycling centers in industrial parts of town? Is it a mandate to large grocery stores to open in-house recycling centers? Is it a gambit to get the issue in a courtroom? Is it a poke in the eye of state legislators who seem to delight in creating well-meaning laws that produce harmful consequences?

Thursday’s hearing had a bit of everything.

I’d tell the editor: “Our hook is all of the above.”

The reply: “Find another story.”

  1. The City will lose the recycling regulation fight. It’s in direct conflict with state law and the courts have already ruled the state has pre-emptied the realm of recycling. The grocers association has the law behind its back too. Both entities have the bucks to pound the City into dust in court.

    I’ve heard for years the City wants to force residents to recycle cans and such via the blue bins. To do that, private recyclers have to be put out of business. This may be that move. I suspect the recyclers will pull out their maps and start looking for county islands to relocate into. Who knows? Tenaya Park or Old Fig may become the new place to bring cans.

  2. Re the SPCA: they’re terrible. Their animal control officers try to find every excuse not to do their job. They tell people who call about stray animals, “we don’t come out unless the animal has been confined.” The public has to cope with vicious critters. Just in the last couple weeks, I’ve read complaints about a pack of loose German Shepherds terrorizing people and other pets on Palm Avenue in the Tower. It’s taken calling the police to get AC out there.

    Some years ago the grand jury looked into the CCSPCA after the organization refused to give an accounting of how it had spent money it got from the City for AC services. The board called the money a donation that it didn’t have to account for. They also stonewalled the grand jury by hiding behind its non profit status-even though it received public funds.

    The CCSPCA is another example of the failings in the Fresno non profit world.

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