Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Vagim, Wayte begin challenge of Fresno’s water rate hike

Local anti-tax advocates Doug Vagim and Steve Wayte on Friday delivered paperwork and a $200 check to the Fresno County Clerk, officially starting a process to put the city’s recent water-rate increase to a vote.

Vagim, a former Fresno County supervisor, and Wayte, a Tea Party activist, say they need to collect around 4,500 signatures of registered voters — which is 5% of those who voted for governor in 2010 — though they hope to collect at least 5,000 signatures if not several thousand more.

Doug Vagim

They want to go above the minimum, they say, to be safe, and to show city officials there is a groundswell of support for repealing the increase.

City officials, however, say Vagim, Wayte and others supporting the initiative — which would be placed on next June’s primary ballot — are wasting their time.

Doug Sloan, who is Fresno’s city attorney, reiterated what he said in a recent Bee article: essential public functions undertaken by cities cannot be challenged through the initiative or referendum process.

It looks like a court fight in the making, because Vagim disagrees, and thinks he has the law on his side. Furthermore, Vagim says he has a legal team waiting to defend the initiative.

“We’ll win,” Vagim said Friday outside of Fresno’s City Hall before filing the paperwork, “and then we’ll charge (the city) the legal bill.”

But Sloan and other officials who watched Vagim and Wayte’s Friday news conference say the courts have already weighed in on the matter — and found for cities.

Steve Wayte

Fresno officials also point to the city’s nearly seven-week, legally mandated protest period that was held ahead of the council vote on the rate increases.

If a majority of the nearly 134,000 water customers — including county island residents — had turned in protest letters, the rate hike would have been killed.

Fresno City Clerk Yvonne Spence said her office received 495 such letters.

But Vagim says it was poorly advertised, and the petition had the look of a normal city mailer that was likely thrown away by many residents.

Vagim and Wayte are seeking to challenge a new water-rate structure that was approved by the City Council in August. Diane Smith is a third Fresno resident who signed the petition that was delivered to Spence’s office on Friday.

According to Vagim, the Fresno City Attorney’s Office now has 15 days to respond to the petition, and issue a title and summary of the proposed initiative. That will start a six-month window to gather the signatures to put the initiative on the ballot.

The water-rate increase will help fund a $410 million upgrade to the city’s water system that will replace old pipes, build new recharge basins and sink new wells, as well as build a $227 million surface-water treatment plant in southeast Fresno.

Olivier announces he’ll seek second Fresno City Council term

Fresno City Council Member Clint Olivier made it official Wednesday — he’ll seek a second term serving District 7, which covers the central part of the city.

The decision was never in doubt. A few months ago, Olivier was already sparring with public employee unions over his second term. The unions were feeling good after defeating Measure G, Fresno’s residential trash privatization proposal, which Oliver supported.

Clint Olivier

“Hit me with your best shot,” he said at the time.

Olivier, 38, made his announcement in front of Babcock Lawnmowers on Blackstone Avenue.

He was backed by more than three dozen people holding campaign signs with the slogan “Good News for Fresno.”

Olivier said in an interview that he’s been walking precincts for three weeks, and “the response has been very encouraging.”

He also pointed out that members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1027 — Fresno’s bus drivers — and the city’s firefighters’ union came to the campaign kickoff to show their support.

It is, Olivier said, “indicative of a major split in labor.” He said it also shows he isn’t anti-labor.

Other unions are still looking for an opponent for Olivier. They feel he has not championed their causes and has opposed some labor issues after telling unions he was supportive.

Race already shaping up for Fresno City Council’s District 1

The presidential-year elections were less than nine months ago, and the Fresno area has just been through three special elections, but it’s already time to start gearing up for next year’s Fresno City Council contests.

Of the four seats that will be up for grabs, none will likely get more attention than District 1, which covers west-central Fresno. The reason: current Council Member Blong Xiong will be termed out of office, making for an open seat.

Oliver Baines in District 3, Sal Quintero in District 5 and Clint Olivier in District 7 are all eligible to seek re-election. An open seat is always more attractive because there is no incumbent.

Cary Catalano

Already, businessman and community activist Cary Catalano and businessman and Fresno Planning Commission Member Rama Kant Dawar say they’re running.

Catalano, in fact, already has a Facebook page, has designed a campaign brochure, plans to release his initial slate of endorsements this week and has big precinct walk planned for Aug. 10.

“We are ready,” he says.

Right out of the gate, Dawar also has something significant: Xiong’s endorsement.

“I’ve worked with him for a long time,” Xiong said of Dawar. “If he’s still going forward with it, I told him I’d support him.”

The question is, who else — if anybody — will join the race?

Rama Kant Dawar

One intriguing possibility is Marina Magdaleno, who is business representative for the Fresno’s blue-collar union. She was one of the opposition leaders of Measure G, the unsuccessful ballot initiative to privatize the city’s residential trash pickup.

“I’m very interested in running,” she said. “I feel I have a lot to offer.”

Magdaleno, 61, said she still hasn’t made up her mind. “I make a really good salary,” she said of her current job. “It would be a cut in pay, but I’m OK with that. Money isn’t everything.”

Two other familiar names appear to be out — at least for now.

Fresno Unified trustee Carol Mills, 58, said she’s been “asked by many supporters, Republican and Democrat,” to run.

“Although I indicated I was not inclined to run, folks have been trying hard to get me to reconsider,” she said.

Marina Magdaleno

The other is business owner Scott Miller, who lost a tough race for the seat to Xiong in 2006.

Miller, 41, said he’s thought about running again “every day for eight years.” But for Miller, it’s a different world now. The big difference is his business — Gazebo Gardens — which has doubled in size since his run against Xiong.

“As of right now, I’m not in,” he said. ”As much as I love running, love city politics, love the city, love my neighborhood, I do not see it right now.”

So for now that leaves Dawar and Catalano.

Catalano, 39, is the owner of Catalano Fenske & Associates, a Fresno marketing firm.

This is his second council run. He earlier ran in 2002 for the neighboring District 3 council seat, losing in the primary. Cynthia Sterling ended up winning the seat. Baines is now the council member in that district.

“I have no regrets,” Catalano said of that run. “I learned a lot about myself, I learned a lot about the people in the community.”

It also makes him a better candidate this time, he said.

Dawar, 45, is an interpreter, paralegal, notary public, registered income tax preparer, substance abuse specialist facilitator and domestic violence facilitator.

“I want to serve my community,” he said. “I already made up my mind (to run) two years ago.”

Xiong — who said the district is really three distinct regions in the Tower/Fresno High, west of Highway 99 and south of Shaw Avenue areas — had advice for any potential candidate: “It’s about contact. Walking, talking to people.”

Fresno County supervisors spar over how to deal with city

Not only are the city of Fresno and the county struggling to get along, but county leaders are now at odds over how to deal with the city.

Incoming Fresno County Supervisor Andreas Borgeas, the former city councilman, proposed this week the creation of a joint city-county task force to try to settle common issues that the two sides don’t agree on – building a new animal shelter or high-speed rail or regional growth. Pick a topic.

Sound simple? It wasn’t.

The plan garnered just one supporter at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting –- Judy Case — and perhaps more tellingly, the plan gave the new supervisor a preview of the pushback he’s apt to get from his veteran colleagues over the next four years.

Supervisors Phil Larson and Debbie Poochigian said they’d seen task-force ideas like this tried before without success: “We’ve kind of been there and done that,” said Poochigian.

And Supervisor Henry Perea had a plan of his own, which Larson was quick to support: demand the city drop its lawsuit against the county (over development) before any discussion begins. “We’ll start the conversation there,” Perea said.

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Fresno County does not see income opportunity in trash franchises

If the city of Fresno can make $2.5 million a year by franchising its trash service, shouldn’t the county of Fresno be cashing in on its independent trash haulers?

Not necessarily, county leaders say.

County Administrative Officer John Navarrette said charging private companies for the right to pick up trash could result in rate hikes for the tens of thousands of households in unincorporated areas.

“In other words, instead of trying to get the revenue, let’s make sure we can keep the rates as reasonable as we can,” he said.

Navarrette wasn’t around when the county began contracting with private haulers for residential trash service seven years ago. But he suspects that the little bit of money that might be made off haulers wasn’t worth the hassle.

Plus, the situation for the county is slightly different from the city’s. Unlike the city, the county had no existing trash department when it began contracting for trash service in 2005, meaning there were no existing customers or business model to prove its worth.

The county, though, does charge a nominal fee to the 12 contractors that pick up trash – to cover administrative expenses.

The Fresno City Council just a week ago gave final approval to outsourcing residential trash collection, a move that Mayor Ashley Swearengin said can bring in an initial $1.5 million in signing fees and $2.5 million annually in franchise fees.

Political Notebook: Honored by Swearengin, council in the morning, Stanley turns foe in the evening

Fresno City Council members this morning honored the Rev. Sharon Stanley, giving her a plaque, reading a proclamation and naming the day in her honor.

Mayor Ashley Swearengin was present, stood with Stanley and gave her a hug. A standing ovation followed.

In the evening, however, the hugs and tears will turn to gritty determination for Stanley, who is a leading opponent of Swearengin’s controversial proposal to outsource the city’s residential trash service.

It will likely be Stanley’s final Fresno battle.

For the past 23 years, she’s been in Fresno. The past 18 as executive director of the Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministry, which helps refugees — many from Southeast Asia — transition to life in America.

But now she’s headed to Washington, D.C., for a new job.

That was the reason for today’s honors.

Stanley, however, is also a force in local progressive politics, and she isn’t a fan of Swearengin’s proposal, which has several supporters on the council — likely a majority.

Stanley said local residents need more information, more debate and more time before a decision is made.

Political Notebook: Fresno City Council signs off on election — the June election, that is

The Fresno City Council this morning passed a resolution “declaring the results” of the election — not from three weeks ago, but from June.

County elections officials certified the June primary election five months ago.
“We’re moving at the speed of government,” Council President Clint Olivier said in an interview.

A resolution approved by the City Council says that Ashley Swearengin, “having received the majority of votes cast for the office of Mayor, is hereby declared elected to that office.”

It does the same for soon-to-be Council Member Paul Caprioglio in District 4 and incumbent Council Member Lee Brand in District 6.

For those with short memories, a background memo to the council from City Clerk Yvonne Spence says that Swearengin, Brand, and Caprioglio all received more than 50% of the vote.

Oh, and one more thing: the resolution also says “a general municipal election in November is required for Council District 2.”

That, of course, already happened, and Steve Brandau won the race over Pat Di Cicco.

Brandau and Di Cicco faced off because none of the five candidates in District 2 were able to win more than 50% of the vote in June. Di Cicco and Brandau advanced because they were the top two vote getters.

There’s no word on when Brandau’s win will be “declared” official.

Political Notebook: No TV in 5th Assembly race and other quick hits as Election Day nears

A few tidbits and quick hits as Election Day closes in:

The 5th Assembly District sprawls across all or parts of nine counties in the western Sierra foothills, across the highest peaks and over to the Nevada border.

There’s tons of square miles, and no real big cities.

So how does a candidate reach voters? Not by television, it seems, at least not during the general election.

Calaveras County businessman Rico Oller and Madera County Supervisor Frank Bigelow are passing up TV in favor of radio, lots of radio, as well as mailers, to get their message to voters.

“TV for that district is nearly impossible,” said said political analyst Tony Quinn, a former GOP legislative aide and co-editor of California Target Book, a nonpartisan analysis of legislative and congressional races.

The main TV markets are Fresno and Sacramento — or even Reno — but they only cover parts of the district. It’s not much bang for the buck, Quinn said.

Both Oller and Bigelow have purchased radio spots on stations in Bishop, Sonora, Fresno, Modesto, Merced, Jackson, Mammoth Lakes and Stateline and Reno in neighboring Nevada.

It’s hard to get all seven Fresno City Council members to agree on much of anything, but it appears they’ve come together on State Center Community College District trustee Richard Caglia.

Lee Brand, Andreas Borgeas, Blong Xiong, Larry Westerlund, Sal Quintero, Oliver Baines and Clint Olivier have all endorsed Caglia for reelection over challenger Kevin Hall in District 7 on the State Center board.

A few weeks ago Fresno County Supervisor Debbie Poochigian not only announced her endorsement of Jim Patterson over Bob Whalen in the 23rd Assembly District race, she also sent her constituents a letter urging them to support the former Fresno mayor as well.

Now, we know how much that cost.

Patterson’s latest campaign finance report shows Poochigian spent $3,635.52 on postage, envelopes and letters.

Otto Lee, the Bay Area Democrat who is challenging incumbent Republican Devin Nunes in the 22nd Congressional District, is now a Clovis resident.
Lee, a lawyer and former City Council member and mayor of Sunnyvale, had lived in the Bay Area during the primary. But this week his campaign said he was a Clovis resident.

Fresno County elections officials confirmed Lee changed his voter registration from Sunnyvale to a Clovis apartment in June.