Documenter: Heather Halsey Martinez

The Scene

The Clovis City Council meeting took place on Monday, March 1, 2021 at 6:00 p.m. It was the council’s last meeting before the March 2 election, when the seats of Ashbeck and Mouanoutoua are up for reelection. On Feb. 27, Mouanoutoua held a well-attended rally, which he had previously been criticized for after sharing a post that insinuated prizes could be awarded in exchange for ballots. Following the election, the council will also elect a new mayor and mayor pro tem among themselves.

The meeting was made available via Webex and YouTube Live. The agenda states that face masks are required for those who attend in person due to COVID-19. Ashbeck was the only council member to wear a face mask throughout the meeting. The other council members did not wear face masks while seated during the meeting.

Names of officials:

Drew Bessinger, Mayor (also Chief of Police, Fresno Yosemite International Airport)

Jose Flores, Mayor Pro Tem (also Chief of Police, State Center Community College District Police Department)

Lynne Ashbeck, Council Member (also Senior Vice President Community Engagement and Population Wellness, Valley Children’s Healthcare)

Vong Mouanoutoua, Council Member (also External Relations and Project Development Director, Community Medical Foundation)

Bob Whalen, Council Member (also Fresno County Deputy District Attorney)

The meeting opened quickly with the Pledge of Allegiance by Flores. From there, the meeting was open for public comments. A Clovis resident, Mike (last name unintelligible), was in council chambers to ask what could be done to open up access to the Dry Creek Trail for his Buchanan Estates neighborhood, which has been cut off due to a fence being installed along the enterprise canal. Bessinger said that the canal access area is private property and that they are not in a position to request eminent domain. Mike also presented maps and diagrams showing the area in question and said that he believes the situation could be made safer by paving an area along Shepherd Avenue. He said he has brought this to the council’s attention two times in the past. “What I truly feel is that you have not represented the people of Clovis,” he said. 

In response, City Manager Luke Serpa said, “The property owners chose to gate it and we may eventually be able to gain access to it, but it’s going to take a lot of negotiations.”

Flores raised his voice and told the resident that they do not have jurisdiction and that it takes time to do what they are trying to do. “Your grievance is with the County of Fresno,” he said. “We have been trying to address that situation for decades. Matter of fact, there’s an item on the agenda tonight that might help mitigate that situation, but it takes time sir. There’s actually opposition to what we’re trying to do.” 

Clovis resident Dan Valasquez was online to speak to the council regarding the, “community of faith,” he and his wife have started in Clovis. He said he is trying to create a church that truly serves the community and asked how he can help the council. Bessinger said he was going to connect him with the Chief of Police.  

Bessinger also noted that the council had received four pieces of written correspondence. 


  • Authorize the City Manager to waive the city’s formal bidding requirements and authorize the purchase of four AirVac 911 exhaust removal systems and related equipment in the amount of $139,996 for the fire department. Approved unanimously with no discussion. 

  • Awarded weed and rubbish abatement contract to Newton’s Custom Tractor Work and Sequoia Western for discing, handwork, trash hauling, grading, tire disposal and tree stump removal. Approved unanimously with no discussion. 

  • After over an hour of debate, the council voted 3-2 (Mouanoutoua and Whalen voted no) to deny the immediate approval of revised standards for single family residential developments. The council voted to continue the discussion at the March 15 meeting due to concerns about the changes being requested and the unintended consequences it could have, such as parking issues along the street due to decreased garage and driveway sizes. 

    • City Planner Dave Merchen addressed the council making recommendations for the adoption of a resolution that would establish objective design and development standards for single family residential development. “We’ve seen the requests that have come through and the need for flexibility in terms of accommodating the houses that you want to live in on the size lots that developers can afford to provide,” Merchen said. “So as we went to create objective standards we tried to blend as best we could the traditional standards that have been in place in our code along with the standards that developers have consistently requested.” The code amendments he suggested were: 

      • Smaller 18’ x 20’ garage size. Prevailing garage size is 20’ x 20’ or larger. 

      • Compact single family development with lots as small as 1,800 square feet. 

      • 4’ garage side setback, although the Planning Commission recommends a 5’ garage side setback. There was much discussion of how the garbage cans could be moved along the side of the house with the amended 4’, which would leave just 4 to 6 inches on one side. 

    • Whalen asked why the staff is recommending the reduced setbacks and going against the Planning Commission recommendations, which were to align with the State Bill 330. Merchen said the objective standard was in line with SB 330, but more to address the need for developers to have a clear standard to follow. 

    • Ashbeck asked about the unintended consequences of these requirements, such as garbage cans being visible at the front or on the side of homes due to the smaller 4’ setbacks along the side of homes. 

      • Whalen and Merchen went back and forth again to come to an understanding of just why these recommendations were being made. “Every time that there has been a change, it’s been to make a change to allow for higher density,” Whalen said. “…Why is it that the staff has pushed for increased density in these objective standards, when that was not something that was required under SB-330.” 

      • Merchen replied saying, “We didn’t approach it as an increase in density, so much as an increase in flexibility.” He went on to explain that these recommendations are to bring the standards more in line with what is, “actually being built on the ground.” 

      • To which Whalen replied, “We’ve made so many exceptions, that now the exceptions are now truly swallowing up the old rule at least in practice and it doesn’t apply because we’ve made so many exceptions. We are now basically standardizing those exceptions because that allows for more flexibility,” 

      • Merchen said, “The city’s development practice and experience has been to allow smaller lots or lots smaller than the historical average and that we’ve allowed development standards that are different from our traditional standards to accommodate that, which has in effect become the norm.”  

      • Flores then asked, “When these exceptions have been made in the past, who allows these exceptions?” To which Merchen replied, “Your council.”  

    • Planning Commissioner Michael Cunningham was in council chambers and said that his concern with the 4’ setback is that it’s only 6” more than the width of the garbage cans, which would make it difficult to put on the side of the house. 

    • Clovis resident, Paul Pierce, commented on the problem of making the garage narrower and the impact it will have on street parking. 

  • Approve expanding the city’s sphere of influence north and moving forward with an environmental impact report (EIR) on developing homes on approximately 1,050 acres of property located north of Shepherd Avenue, between Sunnyside and North Carson Avenues. Many interested parties were in council chambers to make comments in support of the development and a few were online to provide comments in opposition. Senior Planner Ricky Caperton presented recommendations:

    • Authorizing the City Manager to execute a consultant agreement between the City of Clovis and De Novo Planning Group for the preparation of an EIR and services. They submitted one of eight bids received and they were deemed the most qualified candidate. 

      • Staff can immediately begin working with the EIR. Total cost of the EIR is $556,268, Wilson Premier Homes to pay $435,587, Harlan Land Co. to pay $31,668 and City of Clovis to pay $89,012. 

    • Approve a request allowing for the preparation and submittal of an application to the Fresno County Local Agency Formation Commission to amend the City of Clovis sphere of influence to include the approximately 1,050 acres.

      • This allows for the municipal services review to begin concurrently with preparation of the EIR, which saves 6 to 12 months of time. 

    • Whalen expressed concerns with expanding the sphere of influence before seeing the EIR. “My primary concern is whether there is going to be enough infrastructure, water, sewer and whatever else to support both the full Heritage Grove as part of our sphere and (Shepherd North).” “I want to make sure we make a well-informed decision and the EIR and the MSR, I can see providing assistance in making a well-informed decision, but if the only way we can get the MSR is to push forward with the sphere of influence, haven’t we to a certain degree, let the horse out of the barn?” 

      • Whalen also asked the City Engineer Mike Harrison if the city’s current infrastructure was there to support Heritage Grove and this development. “I would not be comfortable saying categorically yes at this time,” Harrison said. “I think part of this exercise is to find out some of those answers.” But, he said for sewer and water they have planned for the needs of the area.

    • Dirk Poeschel and Shawn Stevenson were in council chambers to speak in support of the development. Shawn is part of the Harlan family and said his first time addressing the council on the parcel of land in question was in 1993.

    • Vince Genco, Clovis resident and owner of 33 acres of the property included in the plan, also spoke in support of the EIR.

    • Art Belarusian also spoke in support of the development on behalf of the Ricchiuti family. 

    • Manny Penn of Stone Valley Communities was also in council chambers. He said that he is developing 4,000 units that make up the Heritage Grove city center. He said that the Shepherd North development would be a good complement to Heritage Grove. 

    • Clovis resident, Guy VanAdam, said he lives on Fowler and Perrin Avenues and he expressed concerns about the development and the water situation in the area. “Where exactly is the water coming from? Can anybody answer that?” The city said that all the city’s water comes from surface water, which is the Kings River and possibly the Friant system in the future. 

    • Clovis resident, Paul Pierce, asked questions and expressed concerns.

    • Clovis resident, Jared, was online and asked about the rule to develop other areas to 75% before developing a new area.

    • Whalen said that he doesn’t like the idea of expanding the sphere of influence, but that he’s not opposed to the EIR. “I just want our growth in the City of Clovis to be very orderly,” he said. “We have told our folks that we are going to have this village concept.” “I want orderly development and if we are starting to expand our sphere then it’s going to become disorderly development and that’s my fear,” he said. 

    • Bessinger said he participated in a Zoom meeting with the Ricchiuti and Wilson families concerning this development, prior to the meeting. 

    • Whalen was the only dissenting opinion in not approving expanding the sphere of influence.

  • Receive and file 2021 five-year financial forecast for the City of Clovis through fiscal year 2025-26 and discuss options for 2021-22 budget preparation. Finance Director Jay Schengel pointed out how much things have changed since the five-year forecast was presented on March 2, 2020, just two days before Governor Newsom declared a state of emergency on March 4, 2020. 

    • He said general fund revenues have performed much better than anticipated. “Our sales tax did not drop the way we thought it would,” he said. 

    • The forecast includes nine additional police officers, additional firefighters, a new fire station, grant money, impact of pandemic on discretionary revenue, ongoing funding of public safety vehicles, as well as maintaining emergency reserve at 15% or higher.

    • The forecast challenges included rate increases for water and refuse, PERS costs rising significantly, staffing costs of fire station 6, fire station 2 remodel, transfers to government facilities are to fund debt service only and the long-term impacts of the pandemic. 

  • Approve the contract extension for Shelli Vinson as a contract extra help fire inspector II. Due to the length of the meeting, this item will be continued to the March 15, 2021 meeting.

  • Approve the City Council to provide policy direction to oppose, unless amended, proposed legislation Senate Bill 9, which would allow single family lots to be split into two residential units and additional accessory dwelling units. Community and Economic Development Director Andy Haussler presented to the council and recommended the City Council provide policy direction to oppose the legislation unless amended as proposed by the League of California Cities. Approved unanimously with little discussion. 

  • Approve change of council meeting schedule. Luke Serpa recommended canceling Monday, March 8 and schedule for March 22, which would be a reorganization meeting. Approved unanimously with little discussion. 

In closing, City Manager Luke Serpa gave an update on COVID-19 cases in the state and local area. He said cases in California and Fresno County are declining and the second wave is coming to an end. In Fresno County, 16.6 adjusted new cases per 100,000 population, 6.6% positivity rate, 8.3% health equity quartile positivity rate. 

Serpa said the supply of COVID-19 vaccines continues to be a limiting factor. He said 175,792 doses have been administered in Fresno County to date. The county is currently focusing on Food, Ag, Education and Childcare workers. He also shared a chart showing the 51 City of Clovis employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, the department hardest hit was the public utilities-water department with eight employees testing positive throughout the pandemic. 

In closing, Bessinger said the Rodeo Association was meeting this week and planning how they move forward. He said he was hoping they plan to host in April. 

The public portion of the meeting adjourned at 10:30 p.m. It was noted on the agenda that the council would move into a closed session to conference with legal counsel regarding existing litigation regarding low-income housing, Desiree Martinez, Maria De Jesus Sanchez v. City of Clovis, et al. 

Future meetings are scheduled for March 15 and 22, as well as April 5, 12 and 19. 


  • After more than an hour of discussion, the council voted to deny the immediate approval of standards for single family residential development and continue the conversation during the March 15 meeting. Many of the changes recommended by the city planner were focused on decreasing setbacks to maximize home size on smaller lot sizes. One in particular regarding a change in setback from 5’ to 4’ went against recommendations from the planning commission. The council members were concerned about the impact these changes would have on the liveability of the homes and unintended consequences they could have, such as street parking issues. 

  • The council voted to bring, “Shepherd North,” into the city’s sphere of influence and approved an environmental impact report (EIR) on developing approximately 1,050 acres of property located north of Shepherd Avenue, between Sunnyside and North Carson Avenues. Several interested parties and developers tied to the Heritage Grove development were in council chambers to share support of the decision to move forward. While three Clovis residents expressed concerns. 

  • In a 2021 five-year financial forecast, Finance Director Jay Schengel said general fund revenues have performed much better than anticipated, but noted the long-term impacts of the pandemic are unknown. 

  • Bessinger said the Clovis Rodeo Committee is meeting later this week to discuss plans for this year’s rodeo scheduled for april 21-25. He said that he hopes they move forward. 

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