Documenter: Rachel Youdelman
Here’s what you need to know
Before the next Board meeting (date unspecified), Brandau and Magsig, without other Board members, will hold a private meeting with James Kus, County Clerk/Registrar of Voters and a group of “local people” (whose affiliations were not identified) who are “interested” in the local election process.
The County will hire new staff as needed to administer $197 million in ARPA funds.
The FY 2021-22 budget recommendation was approved but will not be formally adopted until September.
New staff positions, for management of County residents’ common chronic health problems and maintenance of biotech equipment, will be added to the Department of Public Health.
The Downtown Fresno Partnership (DFP) was given implicit approval to continue a range of services on behalf of downtown businesses, for which it will continue to receive funding of about $50,000 annually.
A building in Clovis currently used as rental office space for county staff will be purchased by the County.
Board (all present)
Steve Brandau, 2nd District, Chairman
Brian Pacheco, 1st District, Vice Chairman
Sal Quintero, 3rd District
Buddy Mendes, 4th District
Nathan Magsig, 5th District
Jean M. Rousseau, County Administrative Officer (CAO)
Daniel C. Cederborg, County Counsel
Bernice E. Seidel, Clerk of the Board of Supervisors
The meeting was broadcast live via internet, with several camera views: the full dais with the five supervisors, flanked on the left by Jean Rousseau (CAO) and Daniel Cederborg (Counsel) on the right. Close-ups of individual speakers were shown, and another camera focused on the podium for those making presentations or public comments. At the roll call, comments of welcome were directed to Supervisor Quintero, physically present, who had been attending remotely. Seeing the full view of the dais made a striking impression that all of the personnel are men, with the one exception of the Clerk of the Board. Brandau set a congenial tone in welcoming colleagues. Roll call was followed by an invocation given by a lay person rather than a religious official, Antoinette Taillac, Interim Public Defender, at Supervisor Quintero’s invitation; she also led the flag salute.
Agenda Item #1 Approve agenda. Brandau asks the clerk if there are any changes to the agenda. “Not that I am aware of,” replies Seidel. Passed unanimously.
Agenda Item #2 Brandau asks if anyone requests pulling an item from the consent calendar (items #20-75); #21 is pulled at his request. A member of the public asks about items #5 & 9, but these are on the regular agenda. Counsel suggests that the Chairman double checks that no one is present who wants to pull item #25 (regarding approval of a resolution granting claims for “excess proceeds”), but no one appeared. Items #20-75 were unanimously approved, with the exception of item #21, which was a resolution to adjourn in memory of Jay Kalpakoff, manager of a waste-management system known personally to several of the supervisors. Item #21 passed unanimously.
Agenda Item #3 Presentation of retirement plaque by Sheriff Mims to Ronald Vega, Sheriff’s Dept, where he was employed for 31 years. “If you can run a jail, you can run anything,” Mims said about him.
Agenda Item #5 (Preceded item #4, as recipient of plaque per item #4 was not yet in the meeting room.) Approval of recommended FY 2021-22 budget, including capital projects. Adoption of the final budget will not take place until September. Rousseau said that the budget is a rollover of last year’s with the inclusion of capital projects, of which the largest is for jail improvements, and allows the County to continue doing business from July until September. There is $6 million for the Agricultural Commissioner; that money was expected to be transferred to the general fund; but, said Rousseau, it will be used for a capital project. ADA improvements to the jails per the settlement of the Quentin Hall vs County of Fresno case are proceeding (https://www.disabilityrightsca.org/press-release/under-proposed-settlement-fresno-county-prisoners-will-no-longer-be-denied-adequate ).
Brandau asked Rousseau to explain to people who may not know why the budget is not being passed in June and why the County prefers to wait until September. Rousseau explained that doing so allows the County to finish the year, close the books, and have a good understanding of what carryover funds will be. Waiting until September to pass the budget permits a clear understanding of revenue as well as the impact of the State budget, which is approved by June 15.
Public comment on this item was opened by Brandau: Grecia Elenes from the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability appeared. She said that she wanted to make sure that the budget process was participatory, that people have a “direct say” in what projects and investments are being undertaken and stated that the City of Fresno had enacted such a process. She said that there may be “long-deferred projects” about which, if constituents don’t have a chance to tell their Supervisors, will be ignored and not receive needed funding. She referred to several neighborhoods or communities, particularly in rural areas of the County, which could use cooling centers, road improvements, and the like, and expressed the need for residents of these communities to be encouraged to engage in the budget-planning process with their own input. She also called for proactive work on the part of the Supervisors to make the budget understandable to the average resident. Brandau thanked her and said that “we are all available” to members of the public and that “they can address us at any time on these issues” and that “we would love to hear from them.” He seemed to suggest that the Board would not take pro-active measures to engage the public but would wait for them to approach the Board. With that, a vote was taken and the recommended budget was passed unanimously.
Agenda Item #4 Presentation of retirement plaque to Walter Tucker, after 31 years with the Department of Public Works. “I enjoyed my work and what I did,” he said. “Right on,” said Brandau (an oft-used phrase), who praised Tucker’s “old-school work ethic.”
Agenda Item #6 Approve purchase & sale (PSA) document for purchase of an office building in Clovis at 333 Pontiac Way. The building, in Quintero’s district, has been rental office space for Fresno County for some time. Bryan Burton, staff analyst for the Dept of Internal Services, called the purchase an “investment in the workforce.” Passed unanimously.
Agenda Item #7 Internal Services staff asks the Board to provide direction regarding the Petition to the City of Fresno to Renew the Downtown Fresno Property and Business Improvement District (“P-Bid”) for 1 Jan 2023 through 31 Dec 2032. Supervisor Pacheco asked why the term was so long. Bryan Burton of the Internal Services Dept explained that the longer term would save money, which is required to renew more often (a renewal costs about $80,000). Pacheco also raised a concern about the $50,000 annual cost to taxpayers and asked what that investment represented—he mentioned other, more needy areas which could better use the money. Jim Cerracchio, President and CEO of the Downtown Fresno Partnership (DFP), appeared on behalf of the DFP and said that his group picks up trash, provides security, keeps out homeless encampments, “reaches out” to homeless people to advise them of available services, communicates with police to promote safety, provides support of economic development, helps with marketing and attracting new businesses, and manages public events downtown. Pacheco agreed that those were worthy actions but that the City should be providing those services and that perhaps some of the services by DFP were duplications of work done by County staff, so he found it hard to justify spending the money. Pacheco also pointed out that the Board has never explicitly voted in favor of the DFP’s involvement, but in fact they have not voted at all and have remained neutral, so the money is granted by default. Cerracchio said that the City and the County have a baseline of services they provide and don’t go beyond that; but, he said, his group does. Downtown is the site for major incidents of vandalism and like crimes, and “someone needs to go above and beyond” so the area can thrive, and that someone “is us,” he said. Pacheco reiterated that he feels there is a duplication of payment, since the County already provides services. As a “courtesy,” to encourage team-building, the Board has not voted against it. Quintero said that the area is in his district, and that the weekend public events attract families who spend a significant amount of money, implying that Cerracchio’s points were justified.
Brandau asked if a vote was necessary. Someone, perhaps Counsel, replied off-camera that direction only was required. Public comment was not required, but Brandau asked “as a courtesy” if any members of the public would like to comment. Cerracchio read a letter of support from a downtown property owner; there were no other public comments. Brandau said that Cerracchio’s defense of the P-Bid was the best the Board had ever heard; Pacheco agreed. Discussion ensued about how to proceed. Magsig agreed that remaining neutral would be a good idea since it would limit the impression that “government” was exercising undue authority. Pacheco said he could accept that and would justify the expense to taxpayers by noting that he did not endorse duplication of services. Consensus was thus reached. Mendes, seeming to parrot Brandau’s earlier comment, remarked to Cerracchio that his “performance” was by far the best he has seen.
Agenda Item #8 Add 4 (“net 3”) staff positions to the Public Health department: a Division Manager, Public Health Services position; a Senior Staff Analyst position; a Staff Analyst I/II/III position and an Office Assistant I/II/III-Confidential position; removing one vacant Office Assistant I/II/III position. David Luchini, Interim Director of Public Health, said that the Division Manager position, which will help people manage chronic diseases, is considered especially necessary after Covid revealed that those with chronic diseases were the most vulnerable to infection. Obesity prevention, health literacy, and other initiatives will also be managed by this position. The other positions will involve managing biotech equipment and laboratories. He said that about $70 million of grants and “Covid money” is forthcoming over the next two fiscal years and requires staff to manage its disbursement. There is no cost to the County for funding these new positions. Passed unanimously.
Agenda Item #9 A Public Works staff analyst who said her name was Erin Higginson gave an extensive presentation about the Road Improvement Program (RIP), highlighting various road and bridge improvement projects of FY 2020-21, as well as proposed projects, across the County. She said that Public Works makes such a presentation every 2 years, but they would like to change that to every 3 years. Magsig pointed out that Fresno County maintains more than 500 bridges. He seemed to be making a point about numbers of bridges and roads requiring regular funding for maintenance, comparing Fresno County to other places, but it was unclear whether he was talking about the City of Fresno compared to other cities in the County, or something else. He said that a significant portion of “our budget” went to “roads and infrastructure” but it was unclear if he meant the County budget as a whole; he also said that “we are different from cities,” the meaning of which was also unclear. However, Ms Higginson said in response that unincorporated cities (presumably within Fresno County) don’t have a tax base, so finding funding for projects in those areas was “challenging.” Mendes pointed out that Fresno County has the most road miles of any county in the state. He then laughed and called his statement a “useless fact.” Brandau said that last week’s Fresno City Council meeting “devolved into fighting” over a similar agenda item, as individual council members claimed their districts were under-represented.
Public comment: Grecia Eleanas from the Leadership Counsel again spoke. She thanked the Public Works Dept for their presentation and the Board members for their comments. Then she pointed out that sometimes 100-year-old neighborhoods receive less attention to long-deferred road improvements and other infrastructure projects than does a 30-year-old area. She asked for a chance in the future to discuss prioritizing projects based on need, and she also talked about successful past applications for grant funding. She expressed the wish to “partner” with the Board; presumably was referring to the Leadership Counsel. She mentioned small communities such as Tombstone Territory where residents have lived all their lives with patched and poorly surface roads, where repair projects are urgently needed but neglected. She reiterated that her group is willing to partner with the County to apply for grants and affirmed that the need in general was far greater than the available resources allowed for, but she emphasized that not perpetuating inequities should be a main goal. Brandau responded in a defensive mode and asserted that there is already a “robust process” in place for prioritizing projects, citing Magsig’s comment about Fresno County having 500 bridges as confirmation, but the logic of this reasoning was not clear. (How does the number of bridges affect the prioritizing of their repair and maintenance?) However, he did say that Public Works would “meet” or “have communication” with Ms Eleanas about the matter. Passed unanimously.
Agenda Item #10 Expand an existing fertilizer manufacturing and storage facility; entails partial Cancellation of Agricultural Land Conservation Contract No. 2093 filed
by True Organic Products, LLC. Presenter from Public Works, referred to as “Will;” he did not identify himself otherwise.
Public comment: Dirk Poeschel appeared on behalf of True Organics in support of the measure. Pacheco said the facility was in his district and that there was no opposition. Passed unanimously. “Will” was teased by Brandau for his appearance, which apparently was different from what the Board was accustomed to. He was called a “wolverine” and was asked where his cowboy hat was. Brandau suggested that Will was in competition with Magsig to which Magsig replied “I’m your huckleberry,” alluding to the cowboy novel Tombstone. Will simply left and said nothing.
Agenda Item #11 Brief presentation by the Social Services department, concerning changes to the CARES Act. Director Delfino Neira read a short prepared statement.
Magsig said he had an extremely serious question: “Is tomorrow your birthday?” to which Delfino replied, “Yes, I’m 19.” The Board continued in this jocular manner for a moment, then Brandau called for public comments, as this item was a public hearing. There was little discussion among Board members, aside from a procedural question from Magsig, so the import of this obliquely worded agenda item was not crystal clear. To an average constituent, the meaning would not be obvious. It appears to involve decisions regarding uses for funding received under the CARES Act. Passed unanimously.
Agenda Item #12 Board of Supervisors’ Committee Reports/Comments.
Quintero reported that the previous Friday he received a call from a community advocacy organization regarding a fire at Cedar and highway 99 (at the Carts recycling facility), asking for help from the County. He called Mr Luchini from Public Works, and County “folks” quickly addressed the problem. The smoke was affecting residents of a nearby trailer park.
Magsig asked everyone to exercise caution with fireworks, mentioning another fire at Sky Harbour Road near Pincushion, which was caused by fireworks.
Mendes noted that “me and Steve” went to a “water summit” which he said was hosted by State Senator Borgeas and Congressman Costa. “I don’t think we got much out of it,” he said. “It was a kind of a bloviation contest.” It was good that officials from the state water board were there, he said. However, “No solutions were offered, isn’t that true, Steve?” he added, addressing Brandau, who laughed and said “For sure.” He complained to a reporter after the meeting, “Never in my life have I seen direct questions answered so indirectly.” He continued, “Some of these people [have] wild religious beliefs—that humans are causing climate change . . .” He talked semi-coherently about snowpack, dams, deltas, and so on, then complained that these issues, which he was struggling to describe, were not presented at the water roundtable because they were “against some people’s religious beliefs.” Perhaps these remarks were meant jocularly, as he then concluded, “I still believe we should not have a state religion, but apparently we do.” Notably, these remarks did not align with his and Brandau’s comments appearing in a press release of 18 June, published on the Board’s website: https://www.co.fresno.ca.us/Home/Components/News/News/777/1557?backlist=%2F .
Brandau noted that he sat next to “Buddy” at the aforementioned water roundtable and that he agreed with his assessment. Brandau proposed an “A” for effort on the part of Borgeas for organizing the event, even though Borgeas was only one of several organizers. Changing the subject, Brandau then announced that he and Magsig would be meeting with a group of local people (whose affiliations he did not identify) interested in the local election process, along with County Clerk James Kus. This private meeting will take place before the next Board meeting. He hoped to “move the ball forward” in this area, he said, without specifying how or for what reason.
Brandau, initiating a discussion on yet another topic, next mentioned recent meetings about the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the $197 million the County is due to receive. So far, the planning for spending the funds is at the conceptual stage, but he did discuss the deadline schedule for submitting plans for use of the funds. He and Magsig have discussed a plan for submission and review of projects. Yet because of the anticipated large volume of work within the limited timeframe, he proposed adding staff analysts in the CAO’s office to oversee the ARPA funding. Magsig asserted that rules for using the funds were still not final and would not be until July but agreed with Brandau otherwise. Mendes asked about staffing in the CAO’s office, and Paul Nerland, COO of Fresno County, spoke to the issue of numbers of employees and emphasized that there will be 5 years to spend the ARPA funds. Mendes replied that he thought the department was short-staffed, and then asserted that politicians suffer from a disease called “Santa Claus syndrome,” as though to indicate anxiety that the funds would simply be given away to curry favor or perhaps used inappropriately. No one responded to his comments. Brandau addressed Magsig and said that in their meetings (apparently with others aside from the two of them, but no other Board members), people are already presenting very good ideas for projects which will have long-term benefits for the County. Mendes interjected, “That’s the cure to the Santa Claus syndrome.” One idea, said Brandau, was an integrated data-sharing system to be used across County departments. Pacheco said that all analysts should be based in the CAO’s office; Paul Nerland said that could be arranged. Vice Chairman Pacheco asked Brandau to keep the Board apprised of developments, because he is often asked about ARPA but is reduced to replying that Brandau is “working on it.” Brandau assured Pacheco that after a few more meetings (presumably excluding Pacheco) he would be able to make a more “robust presentation” at the next Board meeting in July. Counsel interjected that Brandau should refer the matter to the CAO’s office who should make a formal request for additional staffing and present it to the Board. Quintero was in agreement generally but wanted to see plans on paper. Pacheco said he was getting a lot of questions from advocacy groups about the ARPA funds which will be strictly administered, not handed out per Supervisor Mendes’ “Santa Claus routine.” Rousseau suggested that a public-outreach meeting re the ARPA funding would be in order. Mendes responded with a non-sequitur about the nature of the word “bandwidth,” a colloquial term for “capacity.” Summarizing the discussion, Brandau told Rousseau and Nerland they now have direction for one new hire in the CAO’s office, and if more staffing is needed, they will resolve that in the budgeting process.
Agenda Item #13 Board appointments: Several routine re-appointments by Magsig and Brandau. No public comment. Passed unanimously.
Agenda Item #14 Public comment for items not on agenda. None.
Closed Session(Agenda Items #15-19) Counsel noted that there would be nothing to report from the closed session, so the meeting was adjourned at 11:36AM.