The City of Fresno developed a solid public understanding of the synergy between water resource challenges and needs, and the often-resulting need for infrastructure investment. However, this was not achieved without substantial controversy and opposition. In 2014, an approved four-year rate increase was rescinded and an in-process water infrastructure capital improvement program was stalled. Despite having received approval for both efforts in 2013, it became clear to City leadership that community members did not feel informed or involved in the decisions and did not trust the City’s transparency or expertise. The result was a citizen-led signature drive to place a measure on the ballot to cancel the program. Committing to do things differently, the City agreed to temporarily stop the half-billion-dollar CIP program, and launch a robust and transparent community education and involvement program to share information and invite community input in an unprecedented way.
For more than five years, K&A worked on several phases of the Recharge Fresno program, including rates communications, programmatic communications and construction relations. Working with City staff, the K&A team implemented a tailored community education and participation process to conduct a public conversation about Fresno’s water situation, infrastructure planning, and water issues. In addition, as part of City efforts to communicate the purpose and needs of the program, K&A supported an in-depth community discussion about the cost of infrastructure, components of rates, funding resources, etc. The discussion led to a new rate proposal and accompanying proposition 218 process, which resulted in the City Council approving a five-year rate increase in 2015. In addition, K&A led construction relations efforts for this $500 million capital improvement program. Work included conducting outreach training with contractors, preparing project notifications in three languages, staffing the Program hotline and coordinating 24-hour responses, conducting business pop-ins and neighborhood meetings to better understand and minimize impacts, and supporting the City’s social media efforts for the project.