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Blindsided by Council, Fresno's airport tries to figure out how to sell Uber fee

I conclude with a handful of quick thoughts:

1.) It’s been my experience that Uber/Lyft issues are like issues involving the Police Department, marijuana dispensaries and the Grizzlies’ stadium lease: They’re always dynamite. I’m stunned anyone at City Hall with real-world experience thought an Uber/Lyft fee would fly under the council’s radar.

2.) I asked Meikle: Who’s idea was it to put the fee on the consent calendar? “I’m to blame for that,” he said. When an issue is presented to the council through, say, the General Administration part of the agenda, staff takes the lead. There’s a formal presentation that helps set the terms of the debate. When an item is pulled from the consent calendar, the council member who made the request has all the momentum. All debate hinges on questions from the dais. Poor Dan Weber was doomed from the get-go.

3.) I sense a big hole in Meikle’s new strategic vision for the Uber/Lyft fee. He says Airports must maximize (prudently and fairly) its revenue streams in 2017 and subsequent years so there will be a big pot of cash in 2025 when it’s time to go the bond market and borrow for that $100-plus-million capital project. The pot of cash would serve the same purpose as a down payment on a home mortgage. But nothing I heard at Thursday’s hearing described how Airports would guarantee the council that money extracted from consumers in 2017 would be squirreled away until 2025. You don’t have to be a cynic to think government will immediately spend any money it gets its hands on. You don’t have to be a cynic to think Airports will maximize its revenue streams for the next eight years, only to have the Airports director in 2025 go to the City Council and complain that the money pot is full of nothing but IOUs.

4.) Here’s where the new mayor comes into the picture. Brand during eight years on the City Council made his political reputation as an unyielding foe of ill-conceived debt policy. City Hall too often in the past operated on the premise of borrow first, ask questions later. Brand most likely wouldn’t be mayor today if he hadn’t worked long and hard to replace that institutional mindset with one based on caution and scientific management. If Airports’ $3 Uber/Lyft fee really had at its heart a $100-plus million bond eight years down the road, Meikle’s staff report to council should have included a detailed exhibit from the Administration explaining how everything fit into the Mayor’s overall debt management agenda. If that exhibit accompanied Meikle’s report to council, I admit to missing it.

5.) Something similar to the Uber/Lyft fee most likely will find its way back to the council. If so, the proposal probably will encompass fees on other types of ground transportation. The reason is simple: Airports says it needs the money. “It’s going to take time,” Meikle told me. “But we’re not going to sit back and do nothing.”

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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