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12 insights into the City’s push toward Fulton Street

Fresno City Hall

12 insights into the City’s push toward Fulton Street

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Fresno’s Enterprise Capital Project Oversight Board held its second meeting on Monday at City Hall.

A dozen observations:

1.) Public Works Director Scott Mozier and special projects engineer Randall Morrison said groundbreaking for the Fulton Street restoration project is Friday, March 3. It’ll take about 400 calendar days to restore Fulton between Tuolumne and Inyo avenues to vehicular traffic. The grand opening? Everyone is shooting for April 2017.

2.) The Fulton project is expected to cost a bit more than $24 million. That’s $20.28 million for what’s called the “transportation” portion – stuff like digging up the mall and getting the artwork spiffed up. And that’s $3.73 million for the “utilities” portion – there’s a sewer line that desperately needs help. The utilities money comes from the city’s enterprise coffers.

3.) Critics of the Fulton project questioned whether Mayor Ashley Swearengin could deliver on her promise to get $2 million from the state to help fund the transportation portion. Mozier said City Hall has the money in hand — $2.3 million in local gas tax revenue. This dough is the result of some jiu-jitsu of revenue streams further up the government food chain. Bottom line: The Mayor came through.

4.) Both portions of the Fulton project have a 10% reserve. What happens if the transportation portion of the project comes in at or below budget? That would leave at least $2 million unspent. Well, the budget includes $1.8 million from Measure C, specifically from the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) pot. “We have a long list of TOD projects,” said City Manager Bruce Rudd.

5.) Most of the restored artwork will go on Fulton’s east sidewalk (28 feet wide). For the sake of Monday’s discussion, the six-block corridor was divided in two. On the north portion (Mariposa Street to Tuolumne), you’ll find The Visit near its current spot by Tuolumne and Le Grande Laveuse (Washer Woman) on the corner of Fulton and Mariposa. On the south portion (Mariposa to Inyo), you’ll find the iconic Clock Tower on the southwest corner of Fulton and Mariposa, an anchor for Mariposa Plaza.

6.) Board members are community volunteers charged with ensuring the wise spending of taxpayer dollars on huge construction projects. They wanted on Monday to make sure they were notified every time City Hall dipped into the reserve. Mozier assured them this would happen.

7.) Department of Public Utilities Director Tommy Esqueda and DPU’s Mike Carbajal (chief engineering technician) followed Mozier/Morrison. DPU’s got $600 million of projects in the air, the biggest being the new Southeast Surface Water Treatment Plant. “The contractors tell us to slow down,” Esqueda said. “We’re not slowing down.”

8.) A big part of the challenge is timing, Esqueda said. The city is building a huge pipeline from the Kings River to the Southeast plant. Then there’s the Southeast plant itself. Then there’s the intricate pipeline from the Southeast plant to the city’s existing system of water pipes. It all must be completed at pretty much the same time – and fit perfectly. “We’re going a hundred miles per hour,” Esqueda said.

9.) Much of the Esqueda/Carbajal presentation was devoted to a review of DPU’s sophisticated system of management control. Much of this system is new. Esqueda, who has been at City Hall for about 20 months, said one of his first tasks was figuring out DPU’s track record on big construction projects. He said he discovered that in the previous 10 years DPU had promised to deliver projects worth $900 million. But, Esqueda said, DPU actually delivered $300 million of stuff. Obviously, Esqueda said, DPU’s old way of doing business couldn’t keep up with new demands.

10.) Board Member Ann Kloose’s long experience as a City Hall policy expert (she’s now with PG&E) makes her an invaluable part of the group. She submitted five detailed questions to city staff last week. They were answered at Monday’s meeting. At the heart of Kloose’s concern was “change orders” – those requests from contractors to spend extra money. Rudd assured board members that all change orders on any project in the board’s jurisdiction would go before them for review and, if merited, formal comment intended for City Council consumption.

11.) Kloose also told staff that board members can’t do their jobs if they’re overwhelmed with information. Board members for Monday’s meeting were emailed about 4,000 pages of reports, charts, plans and drawings. City officials said they’d work on their compression skills.

12.) Monday’s meeting made me think of the nearly-disastrous concourse project at Fresno-Yosemite International Airport some 15 years ago. My editors at The Bee had me dig into the troubles. It was clear from the paper trail that all the major players – City Hall, airport officials, project contractor, construction manager, architects, to name just a few – thoroughly hated each other. This hate had been building and building. The lesson to me: Construction projects gone terribly wrong are a matter of human emotion as well as hard numbers. So, I asked board members on Monday if they plan to also keep abreast of the human interaction between City Hall and its hired guns.

I think they said yes.

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George Hostetter

George Hostetter is a contributor to CVObserver.

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