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Council members, mayor call for immediate moratorium on water use fines

FRESNO, CA – Council Members Steve Brandau and Garry Bredefeld announced they are co-sponsoring a resolution to initiate an immediate moratorium on water fines at a Special Council meeting last Thursday, November 1, 2018. They are joined by Mayor Lee Brand, who supports the moratorium, which also calls for customers who have been fined for excessive water use based upon water meter data since October 1, 2018 to have their fines dismissed.

The resolution is a result of significant public confusion and concern over the City’s new watering violation policy, which was approved by City Council on October 19, 2017 but was not implemented until this past summer as part of a pilot water conservation program set up by the University of Chicago.

“This recent round of fines is infuriating Fresno residents,” said Councilmember Brandau. “I am calling for an immediate moratorium on fines until we get our act together.”

Councilmember Bredefeld states, “Fresno’s current water usage policy has caused great concern for many of our constituents, and they question the fairness of having received violations for excessive water use. When they call City Hall requesting an explanation for their violations, they are not getting a timely response if they get a response at all. That is why Councilmember Steve Brandau and I are co-sponsoring a resolution calling for a moratorium on all water use violations until the City can properly investigate its flawed water usage policy. We are pleased to be joined by Mayor Lee Brand in this effort.”

“While it’s important for the City of Fresno to set guidelines for responsible outdoor watering and have a mechanism in place to effectively enforce those regulations, it’s equally important for our customers to have confidence in the data we use to calculate their bills and send notifications of violation,” said Mayor Brand. “We’re asking Council to support our request to suspend all fines until we can answer our customers’ questions in a timely manner with the goal of finding solutions that best serve the needs of both the citizens and the City.”

The current policy calls for automatic notification of water use violations and sets the threshold for notification in cases where customers use potable water in excess of 300 gallons per hour during days or hours when outdoor irrigation is prohibited. It also increases the fines for the second month of water waste to $50, $100 for the third month, and $200 for the fourth incident of water waste for every subsequent month through the end of the calendar year. Customers receive only a warning notice for the first incident that is recorded by City staff or the City’s water meter reading system for that customer during the calendar year.

Under the moratorium, the City shall not issue fines based upon water meter data for violations of Fresno Municipal Code Chapter 6, Article 5, Water Regulations, until Council adoption of new water usage rules, which will likely be voted on in January, 2019 after the Department of Public Utilities presents the analysis of the data received from the three-month University of Chicago pilot program to the City Council.

The Department of Public Utilities staff is currently in the process of returning all customer calls regarding watering fines as quickly as possible. If any customer has a question or complaint about their water bill or notification of violation, they are asked to call 621-5480.

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