Documenter: Matt Taylor


  • The Governing board of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District met to review and comment on the Fiscal Year 2021-2022 Budget.

  • More money would go toward educating the public and promoting the incentive programs offered by the county, as well as spending more time and money to get the message out that progress was being made by using television, radio, newspaper, social media.

  • Costs would further be saved by using more temporary workers in roles.

  • Staff emphasized that spending more to research and create science-based strategies would save money in the future, and this sensibility to spend now and save later included investing in locomotives.

The Scene

The Special Public Hearing of San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District 2021-2022 Budget Review started with members tuning into an online Zoom conference from different physical locations. A limited number of the public was allowed in each public office, but the meeting took place over Zoom conference due to the ongoing Covid-19 precautions. All three offices, the Central Region Office in Fresno, the Northern Region office in Modesto, and Southern Region office in Bakersfield, showed video of several board members at each office. Some masked, others not.

And because the Governing Board controlled the zoom conference visibility, all attending public were muted and could not be seen unless the board allowed it. So the camera was fixed on whichever official was speaking at an office, or if a member was zooming in from home or another office.

Craig Pederson, Chair of the governing board, opened the meeting. After a brief reminder of the meeting’s guidelines for public commenting, Pederson asked for a roll call. Attending members of the governing board were:

Craig Pederson – Chair

Drew Bessinger – Councilmember

Vito Chiesa – Supervisor

David Couch – Supervisor

Christina Fugazi – Vice Mayor

Deborah Lewis – Mayor Pro Tem

Tania Pacheco-Werner, Ph.D

Buddy Mendes – Supervisor

Lloyd Pareira – Vice Chair

Alvaro Preciado Mayor City of Avenal

Monte Reyes – Mayor City of Porterville

Robert Rickman – Supervisor

Alexander C. Sherriffs, M.D.

Amy Shuklian – Supervisor

Tom Wheeler – Supervisor

After the pledge of allegiance, Pederson officially started the public hearing by skipping right to Item 5 on the agenda, public comments, due to the expected length of today’s meeting.

Several commenters introduced themselves over zoom. The first commenter, Connie Young, urged the governing board to directly address and research climate change, Claire Statham and Janette Dietzkamay commenters spoke of their concerns about air quality. Statham shared that wood burning is as much a health concern as second-hand smoke from cigarettes.

With no further public comments, Pederson moved to item 4, review and comment on the recommended district budget for 2021-2022.

Item 4: Budget

Samir Sheikh, Executive Director Air Pollution Control Officer (APCO), introduced and led the review of the budget, starting with a look back on the previous years’ accomplishments and challenges.

According to Sheikh:

  • If the wildfire impacts were excluded from 2020, the San Joaquin Valley spent less time at its most dangerous air quality levels than in the years before. He claimed more efficient ag machines like lower-emitting nut harvesters, and more environmentally friendly boilers, steam generators, and process heaters as helpful for this, as well as further agriculture burning prohibitions. Incentives for these methods are working. 

  • Yet, wood burning is still making progress hard, and he stressed the importance of education programs to inform the public and local businesses of the risks of poor air quality and how to address it.

Other challenges included getting funding last year. Because of Covid-19, it was difficult, says Sheikh, to advocate for more funds. Despite this, he and his team were able to secure the largest Federal award yet — $37.1 million in federal funds for agricultural tractors, electric yard trucks and low dust nut harvesters.

Sheikh said that electrifying vehicles was a large part of last year’s efforts, electrifying school buses, replacing diesel yard trucks with electric trucks, and offering incentives to Valley growers to replace utility vehicles with electric models.

On the residential side, gas burning lawnmowers could be replaced with electric mowers via rebates, and residents could upgrade to cleaner vehicles, too.

Sheikh showed the work and progress of last year’s budget, even touting more investment toward locomotives. Aside from investments and rebates, Sheikh stressed the importance to further invest in educating the public, using TV, radio, newspapers, and any media outlets, as well as holding press events about achievements to highlight progress.

This progress was made despite Covid-19, which sapped a lot of resources in public health research.

In looking forward, Sheikh says that they are making progress and air quality is getting better. More efforts can be made to address, include, and educate disadvantaged communities. Sheikh expresses how important it is to tell the public that our air is the best it’s been, and there is still a long way to go.

Sheikh then recommends a 2021-2022 budget that is a total of 2% higher than last year’s. This points toward a stronger public education and outreach program and allows for adequate reserves and contingencies.

Sheikh then stepped away from the camera and introduced Morgan Lambert, and later Ryan Hayashi, both Deputy APCO’s, who delivered more details about how they planned to utilize the future budget and its 2% raise.

Lambert focused on expanding the community air monitoring plan, with hopes to acquire the best available control technologies to provide science based air quality analysis to the public and the Air Resources Board (ARB), while also implementing the 2018 PM2.5 plan to develop new control measures.

Ryan Hayashi spoke about streamlining and efficiency, keeping the budget and spending tight. The Air Pollution Control team would keep costs down by intentionally using temp employees, using electronic documentation for internal and applications for the public, such as bus or wood burning incentives. With more web-based applications available, the more access the public has to them.

Hayashi introduced Sheraz Gill, Deputy APCO, and stepped away from the camera. Gill spoke about strategies to use the funds and make sure that no money goes wasted. Being more effective in bringing money to disadvantaged communities, and using cleaner, more efficient vehicles would go far, said Gill, in saving money against future spending. Investing in making communities more environmentally friendly, as well as funding locomotive projects, can cost more up front but are very cost effective in the long run.

Gill finished up and stepped away from the camera. Mehri Barati, Director of Administrative Services and Ryan Buchanan, Accounting Manager for the Central Region, took turns speaking on the administrative costs in the budget. There was a rise in salaries benefits by 3%, and fall in money spent on overtime, unemployment, Retirement, and Worker’s Compensation.

Spending on mobile communications, vehicle maintenance & operations, and postage was all brought down because of more efficient electronic alternatives. Yet, computer costs rose in order to purchase software, and insurance costs were projected higher because of district requiring more monitoring.

Spending on Multilingual Marketing and Outreach Contract was set to $878,000

This concluded the budget presentation from the APCO team. The Governing Board all congratulated them on a job well done. Dr. Sherriffs emphasized that he hoped the APCO team would set a goal to pursue all zero-emission vehicles.

Sheikh responded to Sherriffs that they had set a goal for zero emissions internally, and would respond to the board later with a more robust comment.

Chair Pederson added that finding new vehicles is more difficult right now because of the chip shortage.

Pederson opened the meeting back up to any further public comments.

A Janette Dietzkamay spoke about the Ford F-150 electric truck and said she was happy for the number of air quality sensors that let her know the air quality around her. She has to stay inside most days in the Winter.

Other commenters expressed concern that Fresno is still among the worst air quality cities in the major U.S.

After public comment concluded, Christina Fugazi, Vice Mayor of Stockton, said she wants to develop a climate program, and that she teaches her students about climate change, and she supports education and outreach to inform the community.

Then, several board members took turns thanking the APCO team for their hard work on the budget, and to the community for their public comments.

Just before the meeting ended, though, Dr. Sherriffs said that he found this district had a model response to Covid-19, that the last year has been remarkable. But, Covid is not over, he said, and as kids go back to school, the progress could be reversed. Look at India, he said. “That is something that is waiting for us to lower our guard.”

Sherriffs thanked the board and APCO team again.

Chair Pederson then concluded the meeting at 11:43 am.

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