Michael Carbajal on Monday begins his new gig at Fresno City Hall as director of the Department of Public Utilities.
Carbajal has been DPU’s interim assistant director since April. He succeeds Tommy Esqueda, who has moved on to become associate vice president for water and sustainability at Fresno State.
Carbajal will report directly to City Manager Wilma Quan-Schecter and, ultimately, Mayor Lee Brand.
“Mike has proven experience in managing large-scale water systems for the City of Fresno,” Quan-Schecter said in a written statement. “His leadership during the $600 million Recharge Fresno water infrastructure program was instrumental in the project coming in on time and under budget.
“He already understands the challenges facing our Public Utilities department. I am confident in Mike’s ability to bring a new perspective to an important position while continuing to provide our customers with top quality service.”
Carbajal earned an Associate degree in Business Administration from Fresno City College and a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Fresno State. He has been with Fresno DPU since 2002. He was named Division Manager in 2015 and Planning Manager in 2016.
Anyone attending meetings of the Capital Projects Oversight Board knows that Carbajal has been the public face of the Recharge Fresno project for several years. This was true even when Esqueda was still in charge of DPU. It was as if Esqueda were grooming Carbajal to take over the top spot. Esqueda would sit in the audience while Carbajal explained change orders and delivered construction progress reports to board members.
Carbajal seldom had to look to Esqueda for help. He knew his stuff.
Two quick points.
First, Carbajal in staff reports identifies himself as “Michael,” but he introduces himself at Oversight Board meetings as “Mike.” It’s a funny thing about first names among top City Hall officials. Some people prefer to be addressed by their formal name in all situations. Patrick Wiemiller, the former head of the Public Works and Public Utilities departments, was always “Patrick” even in the most casual of conversations. Former City Manager Andrew Souza, on the other hand, was “Andy” in any situation that was less than, say, an official visit by the Queen of England. So, too, with Esqueda – it was hard to imagine a City Council member from the dais referring to him as anything other than “Tommy.” (All three public servants, I must add, did superb jobs regardless of what you called them.)
I suspect Carbajal will be “Mike” to elected officials and reporters for the duration.
Second, Carbajal as DPU director will oversee the operations of water, wastewater, residential trash and community sanitation. Those divisions are well on their way to remaking Fresno.
Of course, the next big thing in the Water Division is the grand opening of the Southeast Surface Water Treatment Facility. That $160 million plant is already going through its testing phase. I’m guessing the ribbon-cutting ceremony comes in September. Carbajal no doubt will get to make his first big speech.
But there are other life-enhancing projects still in mid-journey or on the DPU’s drawing boards that figure to test Carbajal’s leadership skills.
For instance, there is the plan to create a “residential convenience drop-off center.” This convenience center, the idea of Solid Waste czar Jerry Schuber, has been long in the works but still isn’t a reality. In a nutshell, it would be a place where Fresnans year-round could drop off bulky trash and recyclables. In a city with serious illegal dumping problems, to get such a center up and running could boost the local quality of life.
And then there’s the “purple pipe” project, whose status in the Recharge Fresno crusade seems to be that of a redheaded stepson in an otherwise nuclear family.
The City Council on Thursday is slated to consider an emergency ordinance from Public Works that would allow the city to irrigate with potable water the ornamental turf on a handful of median islands serving a community purpose. It’ll be a grand day in Fresno when a comprehensive delivery system enables City Hall to irrigate these median islands and other green space (private as well as public) throughout the city’s 112 square miles with thoroughly treated water from the sewer farm.
Mike Carbajal, the ball is in your court. We wish you the best.