Documenter: Loren Friesen
Board votes 4-1 to lift Fresno County’s State of Emergency for Covid-19, with Supervisor Quintero in dissent, despite the recommendation of Fresno County Public Health officials.
Board voted unanimously to rescind approvals for the Friant Ranch project, due to a Writ of Mandate from the Fresno County Court of Appeals.
Board voted unanimously to establish an advisory board consisting of 11 members (up from the previous 5), appointed by the Board of Supervisors, to oversee the redistricting process in Fresno County, after significant public comment urging the board to establish an independent commission instead.
This Board of Supervisors meeting was exceptionally lengthy, specifically due to 3 items: item 5 (lifting Fresno County’s state of emergency for COVID-19), item 6 (determining the process for redistricting), and item 10 (the Friant Ranch project). Many public members were furious with the state of emergency (while citing lots of false information). The board decided to lift the state of emergency in a 4-1 vote (the first non-unanimous vote this year to my knowledge), despite their own public health officials recommendations. Also of significance, after many public members voiced encouragement for an independent commission to oversee the redistricting process, the board decided instead to use an advisory board to which they could appoint members.
The meeting started at 10:02 AM. The Board of Supervisors use three cameras for their webcast: one for the public speaker, one for the board speaker, and a wide shot of the room.
The room was fairly full, with many people standing in the back of the room – they left after item 3. Many of those that commented during the public comment section for item 5 – determining whether to lift Fresno County’s state of emergency for COVID-19 – sat in the room unmasked. One woman appeared to live stream or record the majority of the meeting on her phone.
When it was their turn to address the board, the majority of the public unmasked to speak.
Below are listed the members of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. Present are in bold:
Steve Brandau – District 2 – Chairman (North Fresno)
Brian Pacheco – District 1 – Vice Chairman west, rural like Kerman, Firebaugh)
Sal Quintero – District 3 (Central Fresno) (over the phone)
Buddy Mendes – District 4 (rural towns like Reedley, Sanger, Fowler, Kingsburg)
Nathan Magsis – District 5 (eastern, rural, mountains)
As stated on their website, Fresno County’s goal, in sum, is to provide excellent public services to our diverse community. Specifically the County is “defined and authorized under the California Constitution, law, and the Charter of the County of Fresno, and provides countywide services, including elections, voter registration, law enforcements, jails, vital records, property records, tax collection, public health and social services. In addition the County serves as the local government for all unincorporated areas.“
The board unanimously approved the consent agenda, with the exception of 25.1.
Regarding item 25.1 of the consent agenda, the board unanimously approved to adjourn in the memory of Juliano Magana, a Fresno County Probation Department Senior Juvenile Correctional Officer.
The board unanimously voted to send a letter to Federal and State representatives requesting acceleration of westside surface water deliveries in Fresno County.
After lengthy discussion amongst public and board members, the board passed 4-1 to lift Fresno County’s local state of emergency regarding COVID-19. Supervisor Quintero was the lone dissenter.
The board unanimously adopted a resolution that recognizes the County’s Wellness Program’s receipt of the American Heart Association’s Bronze Award in Workplace Health Achievement.
Despite many public members voicing their encouragement for the board to adopt an independent commission to oversee the redistricting process, the board unanimously voted to adopt an advisory board – meaning they would appoint the board members – and raised the number of members on that board from 5 to 11.
The board unanimously approved Mr. Mohamed of “Jack’s Gas”’s application for an Alcoholic Beverage License Type 21
After conducting the first hearing to amend the Fresno County Master Schedule of Fees, Charges and Recovered Costs Ordinance, the board unanimously voted to set the second hearing for May 11, 2021 and designate County Counsel to prepare a summary of the proposed ordinances.
Regarding a protest of a 2nd bidder for a public works contract, the board unanimously to adopt staff’s recommendation to award the contract to the first bidder. The 2nd bidder, who was protesting, did not show up to the meeting.
Regarding the Friant Ranch Project, the board unanimously approved staff’s recommendation to adopt a resolution that voids and rescinds a previously certified Environmental Impact Report in order to be in alignment with the State Supreme Court’s writ of mandate regarding this item.
The board unanimously approved a vacation of certain road right-of-way of Sunset Avenue.
The board unanimously approved board appointments.
Regarding item 25.1 of the consent calendar, Chief Haines described Medana’s heroic medical battle and summarized his leadership attributes. Medana’s wife, holding her son, thanked the board for adjourning in his memory.
District Attorney Smittcampt sent in a letter, which was read in the meeting, thanking Lori Liles for all her hard work in lieu of her retirement. Bob Whelan, a friend of Liles, commended her emotional bravery for her work in the sexual assault unit. Liles said she was proud of her work. The board and audience gave her a round of applause, before the board invited her for a picture with them and to receive her plaque.
Regarding item 3, the board recognized Sheriff Deputy Jonas Motter for receiving the Director’s Award, an award given to two people in the nation, for his work in apprehending fugitives that commit crimes. Specifically, he was a part of the task force that tracked the “mastermind”, as described by the marshall honoring Motter, behind the Mongolian Boys Gang plot to assault a house gathering. The incident killed 4 and injured a dozen. The fugitive fled to Minesappols, where Motter was part of the team that arrested him without incident.
This award is usually given in D.C., but because of the pandemic it was given locally instead.
Chairman Brandau said he remembers that specific incident and is glad to have seen justice brought to it, and Supervisor Magsig said he appreciates the dedication of everyone around Motter for supporting him.
Regarding item 4.1, Supervisor Mendes explained how the letter is intended to let the state and federal government know that people need water right now. He said it is an attempt to “reshuffle the deck” to get water to people here more quickly. He noted how many in state politics have asked Governor Newsom to declare a water emergency.
Supervisor Pacheco said 5% is a “paltry amount but it is better than 0” and that hundreds of thousands of acres will be idled.
Regarding item 5.1: (in sum)
Chairman Brandau said it was bad governance to continue this local state of emergency.
Supervisor Magsig said he wasn’t aware of the current benefit of the local state of emergency being in place, noting that Fresno would still be under California’s state of emergency. He also noted that with vaccines out now there is reason to lift the state of emergency.
Supervisor Mendes said he doesn’t just want the theatre of lifting the state of emergency, but wants actual change, such as having public-interfacing offices of government reopened.
The majority of the public members who commented – some identifying themselves such as Blance Projas, Eric Rolands, and “Billy” – criticized the board for “not defending the constitution” and demanded the state of emergency be lifted. Porjas criticized the board for taking pictures with people in meetings without being masked and distanced, saying that the board is treating citizens like sheep and forcing everyone else to be masked unnecessarily. Rolands cited the closing of churches as a line crossed. An unidentified member cited false and misleading data from “Freedom to Breathe Agency” about masks’ harm to health. “Billy” said the board is “violating their rights and that’s treason against you guys”.
Only one public member voiced opposition to the state of emergency being lifted, saying to please listen to Director of Public Health Pomaville and Dr. Vohra’s guidance on the issue.
Chairman Brandau then cited an email sent recently by Director Pomaville on why to keep the state of emergency in place, noting the reason that “the optics of lifting the emergency will undo a lot of hard work that we’ve done”. Brandau called this “sheer emotionalism”. He suggested going further to direct the entire Fresno County Department to reopen business as usual.
Supervisor Magsig pushed back a little on this suggestion, saying for those who have made it work well by being remote should stay remote if they want, and for those who interface with the public should re-open.
Brandau then thanked the Public Health department for their terrific work on vaccination efforts.
Brandau, Magsig, Mendes, and Counsel Cedorberg discussed the legality and strategy of directing the entire department to re-open. Specifically about the Assessor/Recorder Office, Chairman Brandau said he’s willing to engage him as a supervisor if he’s unwilling to open “by means of his budget”.
Supervisor Pacheco summed up their discussion, saying that they will encourage all departments to re-open but those that don’t legally have to won’t have to. He then specifically thanked Director Polmaville and Dr. Vohra for their public health work.
Supervisor Quintero said that we have to understand how this decision is going to affect the health of our overall community.
Supervisor Mendes commented that the church closing was a travesty, but hopes people get vaccinated.
The livestream of the meeting cut out (Brandau apologized later) during item 5.
Regarding item 6, there were many public members who commented in support of establishing an independent commission to oversee Fresno County’s redistricting process. Benancio Goana and Micheal Evans of Central California for Equitable Realignment, Elizabeth Shields of League of Women Voters, resident Paul Price, Simeone Cranston-Rhodes of the Central Valley Progessive PAC, and Eric Payne of the Central Valley Urban Institute all called for the independent commission because of fair and transparent redistricting, prompting trust in local government, and reflecting diversity of constituents. Shields said that the staff recommendation was released less than a week ago, but this decision will live for 10 years. Evans called it one of the most important things the board will do as supervisors, brought the suggestion of increasing the commission membership from 5 to 11, and brought to the board’s attention that the board’s current consultant for redistricting, National Demographics Corporation (NDC’s), has been accused of denying adequate representation for minority groups.
Supervisor Magsig publicly stated that his district will probably change the most, and said he would love for his district lines to stay where they are because of his love of representing his district. He also asked why the public members that represent organizations, who are asking for dialogue and transparency, didn’t invite their opposing organizations in order to have dialogue about this.
Supervisor Pacheco said he wasn’t aware of the claims against NDC and asked if they wanted to say anything. The NDC representative said that “redistricting leads to contentious discussions” and that when people don’t get the map they want, they “blame the consultants.” The representative then outlined NDC’s qualifications.
Supervisor Pacheco then commented on how inadequate it was to have only four public outreach meetings, and voiced her support for the 11 members on a commission.
Supervisor Magsig said “the buck stops with us” because we are a representative democracy, and that an advisory board with 11 members would be a good compromise.
Chairman Brandau agreed. While the board discussed how appointing the advisory board would happen, a public member accused the supervisors of not knowing how the appointments work and that they can just choose someone from their party. Brandau said, “No, that’s not how it works,” and told her to sit down.
After discussion amongst Magsig, Mendes, Brandau, and Pacheco, the board agreed to have each supervisor elect 2 members for the advisory board, with the 11th board member picked by the Chief Administrative Officer and confirmed by the board.
Regarding item 7, Ron Alexander of the Administrative Office gave a quick presentation on the alcoholic beverage application of the owner of “Jack’s Gas”. Supervisor Pacheco asked if there were any sheriff complaints – there were none.
Regarding item 8, there was no discussion.
Regarding item 9, there was slight confusion on presentation. The 2nd bidder of a contract didn’t show up. Chairman Brandau asked if anyone in the lobby waiting was for this item – they were all waiting for public comments (item 15). Because the 2nd bidder didn’t show up, there was little discussion and the board went ahead with staff’s recommendation.
Regarding item 10, Magsig went over the history of the item, including that the State Supreme Court identified a flaw in air quality impact regarding CEQA. Counsel Cedorborg clarified that of several challenges to the project only the issue of air quality was upheld by the State Supreme Court.
Operating manager for Friant Ranch Dennis Paccopulous highlighted that 19/20 sections withstood “legal tests all the way up to the Supreme Court”, and reaffirmed his commitment to seeing the project’s completion. “We see today’s action as another hurdle in the process and committed to working and comply with the court request.”
Supervisor Magsig tweaked some of the language before motioning to approve that the board adopt staff’s recommendations.
Chairman Brandau emphasized that the Friant Ranch Project will be completed. “My message to everyone paying attention is that we are committed to this project,” he said.
Regarding item 12, a public forum about U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Brandau was amazed that there was no public comment. Marlow Jenkins of the public then came up and said “thank you for working with ICE” and clapped for the board.
(Note: later in public comments someone did address this item).
Regarding item 13, the only board comment was from Chairman Brandau, who said that the Central Valley Coalition for Energy and Jobs took note of the board’s letter of support for oil and gas at the last meeting and drafted their own letter that complimented the board letter. CVCEJ wanted to have the board sign it, to which other board members voiced their approval.
Regarding public comment:
One public member read in a message from a friend, who criticized ICE’s decision to suddenly and recently transfer 47 members as dangerous and a very dramatic shift of data. The public member herself then said their response to their public health officials was very dismissive.
Roman Raintree and another public member advocated for the renaming of Squaw Valley, citing the history of the harmful and derogatory meaning of the word “Squaw” and Fresno County’s mission to represent and respect ethnic diversity. Later Raintree asked how to get this item agendized. Supervisor Magsig said for him to seriously consider this he needs to see what the residents of Squaw Valley feel, and pushed back against Raintree’s comments on white settlers being exploitative.
The same members that voiced their anger towards the COVID-19 state of emergency (item 3), as well as a few others, voiced their frustration at the lack of electoral integrity, some citing misinformation, some asking for an independent audit of the electoral process, and some asking for voter IDs to be issued.
Some public members were prepared to speak for 3 minutes, but Chairman Brandau changed it to 2 minutes.