New cash pits Brand vs. Brandau for west of 99 development

Steve Brandau is pushing to put newly-available money toward the writing of a specific plan for the area west of Highway 99 and north of Roeding Park.

Fresno City Hall and the North Central Fire Protection District have made peace.

I wouldn’t be surprised if that leads to a fight on different front between the City Council and the Brand Administration.


We’re talking money, of course.

The council on Monday approved an 18-month deal that calls for the Fresno Fire Department to continue providing fire services to residents of Kerman and the North Central district.

The council at its special meeting gave the deal a 7-0 blessing.

Fresno has been providing fire services to North Central by contract since 2006. However, city officials for several years have worried that Fresno was getting the short end of the stick – the cost of providing services was more than the money coming in.

Officials from Fresno and North Central have been negotiating for some time. They still don’t see eye-to-eye on a long-term agreement. But with Fresno threatening to end service to North Central in mid-December, the two sides suddenly saw the logic in a stopgap measure.

The new deal ends on June 30, 2019.

“I am pleased that we were able to reach a satisfactory agreement that will continue to provide excellent fire services to the citizens of the North Central Fire Protection District,” Mayor Lee Brand said in a news release. “Our goal has always been to find common ground and come to a reasonable solution that maintains that high quality of service.

“I appreciate the help of Supervisors (Brian) Pacheco and (Buddy) Mendes in facilitating the meeting between my chief of staff and I and two members of the North Central Fire Protection District that led to this resolution.”

The council’s vote requires us to revisit last June’s budget hearings. That’s when Council Member Steve Brandau shrewdly anticipated Monday’s vote.

The City Hall-North Central dispute is complex. As far as the 2017 budget hearings were concerned, City Hall was looking at a worst-case scenario that, for reasons not important here, could cost the general fund $700,000.

The Brand Administration set aside $700,000, just in case.

I wasn’t there for this particular hearing, but Brandau told me on Tuesday that he proposed a budget amendment: If the $700,000 doesn’t get spent in the North Central battle, then the money should go toward the writing of a specific plan for the area west of Highway 99 and north of Roeding Park.

Brandau told me that the council as a body supported his amendment. He said the plan – he calls it the River West Specific Plan – will “help bring this part of the city into the 21st century.”

I’ve written several pieces for CVObserver about the development/land-use problems in this part of town – an area Jacky Parks calls “Forgotten Fresno.” It’s sufficient here to note that Brandau (District 2), Esmeralda Soria (District 1) and Oliver Baines (District 3) all have a stake in seeing the River West Specific Plan get funded.

All of Fresno has a stake in seeing the plan actually deliver some magic.

So, you ask, why my expectation of a fight?

Because I view the council’s North Central vote as dropping $700,000 of general fund money into the laps of spend-happy politicians with bad memories. Sure, the money (should there be a North Central deal) was allocated months ago to another purpose. But there’s every reason to think that Brand would love to spend some (or all) of that $700,000 on something else.

Fresno has lots of needs. What some might view as “free” money doesn’t come around every day. Five council votes can change mid-year spending priorities.

The River West Specific Plan? Hey, there’s always another budget cycle coming up.

Brandau has a great memory. He’s been the west-of-99 area’s best friend of late. But he’s only one vote.

Parks has good reason to call it “Forgotten Fresno.”

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