Documenter: Heather Halsey Martinez

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The Fresno Planning Commission spent an hour and a half debating whether an open space should be defined as a park or an easement in its review of a Type 21 alcohol permit. Ultimately, after three motions failed, the commission voted 4-2 to deny the permit, but approve an EIR that will allow a conditional use permit. 

  • After hearing several members of the public speak in opposition, in a narrow 3-3 vote, the Fresno Planning Commission denied the approval of a program environmental impact report (PEIR) that would amend the general plan’s mobility and transportation element, but it will still move forward for City Council approval.

The meeting (in full)

The Scene

The Fresno Planning Commission meeting took place on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021 at 6:10 p.m. The meeting started a few minutes late because city staff was testing out translation services so the meeting could be translated into Spanish, Hmong and Punjabi. 

Some of the commissioners met in the council chambers, while others joined via Zoom. The agenda states that public comments can still be submitted electronically or via Zoom. Meetings also continue to be viewable on CMAC and the City of Fresno’s YouTube channel.

Names of officials:

Kathy Bray, Chairperson (also owner of Denham Resources)

Brad Hardie, Vice Chair (also President of Regency Property Management)

David Criner, Commissioner (also pastor at Saint Rest Baptist Church)

Peter Vang, Commissioner (also Associate at Thiesen Dueker Financial Consulting Group)

Monica Diaz, Commissioner

Haley Wagner, Commissioner (also insurance agent for the Arthur J. Gallagher brokerage)

Robert Fuentes, Commissioner (also a staff attorney for the U.S. District Court in Fresno)

Hardie was in council chambers and led the commission in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Bray, Hardie and Diaz were in chambers, while Criner, Fuentes, Diaz, Wagner and Vang joined via Zoom with their videos initially off. Fuentes and Wagner later turned their cameras on. 


  • Approved unanimously the agenda as posted. 

  • Denied a conditional use permit for a State of California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Type 21 alcohol license for the sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits for consumption off the premises where sold for an existing convenience store and service station located at 6780 W. Herndon Ave (corner of West Herndon and West Farrington Avenues) because it is located within 1,000 feet of a public space. 

    • Supervising Planner Israel Trejo presented the staff recommendations to deny the permit because it is within 1,000 feet of public, open space. But approve an environmental assessment and approve the permit subject to the revised conditions. 

      • Site plan for gas station and convenience store was allowed in 2019. 

      • In May 2021, neighbors received a notice of action and one appeal letter was received. 

      • The neighbor was concerned with semi-trucks parking in the area and the proximity of the location to the residential neighborhood. 

      • Staff did further research on the item and property located across the street was dedicated to the City of Fresno as open space with walking paths, picnic tables, benches and exercise equipment.  

      • Since one of the requirements to obtain an alcohol license is that the location should not be within 1,000 feet of a park or public space, it could be in violation. 

    • Vang asked where the other business with an alcohol license is located. Trejo said that it is a Zippy Mart Liquor on Riverside Drive, which is a location that is within the 1,000 feet radius, but it is existing so it wouldn’t fall under the requirement. 

    • Vang asked what district the alcohol license is coming from, Trejo said it is coming from District 7. 

    • He further asked if they can get the number of licenses within District 7. Trejo said they can but it would take some time to confirm data because sometimes the census tracts can span two districts. 

    • Bray clarified that the Zippy Mart is within 1,000 feet of the open space and whether the Target is within 1,000 feet. Trejo said he wasn’t sure, but he thinks it is within 1,000 feet. He again said that since it is existing it would be non-conforming to the code. 

    • The applicant, Randel Mathias, represented the Zippy Mart store group was in council chambers: 

      • He asked if he only had three minutes and Bray said no, to which he replied, “ok, good.” 

      • He said since part of their business is selling alcohol, they go through the master plan and research to ensure they are not near schools or parks.

      • “There is no indication in your general plan that this piece is a park,” he said. 

      • Stores cost in excess of $3 million. The store in question is a  $3.5 million project. 

      • They found out at the end of 2020 that the alcohol permit hadn’t been approved and the ABC was able to approve a brand new Type 21 license and no one indicated anything about proximity to  a park. 

      • He said an extension of the, “Fresno trail,” is in front of his store. 

      • Mathias said that it appears the developer took a PG&E easement area and filled it with bark, shrubs and some amenities for the neighborhood, which gives them credit toward their park fees.

      • But, he said in the general plan and zoning map it was defined as an, “out lot,” not a, “park.” 

      • He said in the master plan there are four parks nearby with children’s play areas, soccer fields, restrooms, picnic shelters, splash parks, tennis courts, etc. 

      • “Those are parks, not dedicated open space,” Mathias said. 

    • Bray asked what other items they sell and he named different food and household items.

    • Bray said she would be inclined to deny this and approve the appeal because the sale of alcohol is incidental to the larger use of the store as a food mart. 

    • Bray asked if they could agree to keep alcohol at less than 20% of their sales. He said that he could take that to his business partner for discussion. 

    • Planning Manager Will Tackett said that when this subdivision was approved it was not required that the open space be a park, it was approved as an easement. Although the requirements of today’s code would require a pocket park/open space. 

    • Vang asked how they would track and manage what percentage of sales was alcohol. A member of the staff said it would be difficult. Bray went on to say that projects have been approved with that as a requirement previously. 

    • Vang asked about a license for a location on Belmont Avenue and Mathias said they would cancel that license. 

    • Bray opened the item for public comment and reminded those on zoom that they can comment by clicking on the raised hand. 

      • Lisa Flores spoke via Zoom. She said she has 30 years experience as a transportation planner and that she has to agree with the land owner and developer. 

        • She also said what percentage of the square footage can be dedicated to alcohol sales. 

        • She went on to say the city would not put a park underneath the power lines because there are no trees. 

        • “I would grant the applicant’s request,” she said. 

        • “Nothing can be built under it or else there would be homes underneath it,” she said. “There is a difference between a park and an easement and this is an easement.” 

    • Fuentes said he would support the idea of limiting alcohol sales to a certain percentage or square footage. 

    • Tackett said that if the commission determines the area is not a park then there is no need to make an exception finding. 

    • Vang said he is comfortable moving forward since they are moving the license from an area that is oversaturated to an area that is not. 

    • Bray made the motion to deny the appeal and approve the license with the stipulation that the developer will work with city staff. 

    • Talia Kolluri, supervising deputy city attorney, clarified if Bray wanted to make that a condition of approval and Bray said it wouldn’t be. 

    • Diaz said she would like it to be a condition of approval. 

    • Bray then withdrew her motion so they could determine whether they feel this open space should be classified as a park. 

    • Wagner made a motion that the green space should be viewed as an, “output not a park.” 

      • Fuentes voted no

      • Criner absent

      • Wagner voted yes

      • Diaz voted no

      • Vang voted no

      • Hardie voted yes

      • Bray voted yes

    • Fuentes then asked for clarification that there has been no determination that it is a park because it was a tie vote. Kolluri confirmed that the motion was denied meaning the area was not confirmed that the area is not a park. 

    • There was some confusion by Bray and the commission about how to move forward. 

    • Vang said he doesn’t feel comfortable saying it isn’t a park because he doesn’t want to set that precedent for the future. 

    • Mathias said the store is built and boxes are in. He said to stay under 20% would create a hardship because the revenue is shared between gasoline, alcohol and food items. 

    • Fuentes said he was sympathetic to the applicant’s position after investing such an amount, then being told at a late date that there is a park nearby. He made the motion to uphold the appeal then approve the conditional use permit application. 

      • Fuentes voted yes

      • Wagner voted no

      • Diaz voted no

      • Vang voted yes

      • Hardie voted yes

      • Bray voted no

      • Then Hardie clarified his position and said he was a no vote because he was confused by the motion. 

    • Fuentes then restated that the vote was to deny the appeal and approve the conditional use permit:

      • Fuentes-yes

      • Wagner-no

      • Diaz-no

      • Vang-yes

      • Hardie-no

      • Bray-no

    • Diaz then made a motion to approve the environmental assessment, but deny the appeal:

      • Diaz-yes

      • Fuentes-no

      • Wagner-yes

      • Vang-no

      • Hardie-yes

      • Bray-yes

    • Approved environmental assessment and denied the appeal. 

  • Hardie commented that he had to leave council chambers at 7:30 p.m. and would call in on Zoom. 

  • Denied in a split 3-3 vote a program environmental impact report (PEIR) that would amend the general plan’s mobility and transportation element to include vehicle miles traveled requirements and greenhouse gas reduction plan updates. 

    • Planning Manager Sophia Pagoulatos presented the item. 

      • She said there are three basic types of environmental documents: exemption, negative declaration and an environmental impact report (EIR). 

      • Three types of EIRs: project EIR, Master EIR and Program EIR. 

      • They need to amend the program EIR to include vehicle miles traveled (VMT) as new CEQA metric. 

      • Also, includes updating the baseline from 2014 to 2019 and conform with new state law, including SGMA, VMT legislation, tribal consultation or wild fire analysis. 

      • Also updates the greenhouse gas reduction plan. 

      • Changes have been required which avoid or lessen the significant environmental effect. 

      • 45-day public comment period has passed 

      • She said the city received a letter yesterday and if necessary, any responses will be prepared in advance of the city council meeting. 

    • Lisa Flores was on Zoom and said she is on the AB-617 committee and they never came to them to discuss this item. 

      • “This questions my faith in the competency of the planning department,” she said. 

      • She said she was concerned about the adequacy of the public engagement period. 

      • “This PEIR fails to fully franchise the community in the rights because everything is such a minimum and incidental implementation in mitigation,” she said. 

      • “The City of Fresno has a history of oppressive land use policies…this is just another step in that direction,” she said. 

      • “The planning process should not be a process in which toxins are released…it basically gives the keys to industry…you’re going to hold some folks in hostage in Fresno,” she said. 

      • She asked the commissioners what their legacy will be…”Will you have blood on your hands by increasing death rates in some communities,” Flores said. 

      • She went on to say AB-617 would have appreciated it if they came to their committee to talk to them about this when they have such problems with air pollution. 

    • Terry Hirschfield, superintendent at Orange Center School District, spoke in opposition via Zoom. 

      • She said she was in opposition because the city has failed to reach out to the public and school district in regards to these specific types of plans that impact the kids and people that work at the school district. 

      • “We are significantly impacted by the warehouses that are approved around the school district,” she said. 

      • She said this specific PEIR fails to address the safety of pedestrian and bicycle riders. 

      • “These plans and types of changes in the EIR significantly impact people of color and people that don’t speak English,” she said. 

      • She asked them to really look at the people of Fresno that will be impacted by this. 

    • Ivanka Saunders, policy advocate with Leadership Council, spoke in opposition via Zoom. 

      • She said they have submitted a letter to the committee that explains why this shouldn’t be approved as it is written:

        • Lacking public engagement 

        • Did not consider future impacts of more industrial land uses

        • Undermines process for the south central specific plan and its EIR process

        • Fails to address poor land use zoning

        • Does not include zoning industrial parcels to include buffers between sensitive uses and neighborhoods as a mitigation

      • “You are setting a precedent for the whole city’s general plan to be founded on incomplete data because not all of the environmental impacts have been analyzed with specific and enforceable measures,” she said. 

      • “This current general plan environmental impact report confirms the patterns of racial inequities that we have seen throughout the city’s history and it confirms what structural and environmental racism looks like in 2021,” Saunders said. “If you pass this plan tonight as it stands you are saying that it is ok to protect the citizens that live in the north of Fresno while completely disregarding the communities of color that reside in the south part of Fresno.” 

    • Kimerly McCoy, project director for Building Healthy Communities, asked the commission to pause the report and perform community engagement activities. 

      • She said it fails to mitigate health impacts on neighborhoods surrounded by industrial zoning. 

      • She said it also prezones neighborhoods for industrial development. 

      • She said she is a resident and grew up in South Fresno and was asthamatic and put in an oxygen bubble as a child. She said it has been shown that it takes 20 years off your life living in these neighborhoods. 

    • Panfilo Cerrillo also spoke in opposition. He said he has been involved in the 30-year plan update but the pandemic stopped that and the commission needs to pick it back up.

      • He commented on the City of Fresno adding more businesses that impact his wells and cause them to go dry. 

      • He said he has seen the fire department pumping water out near the Amazon plant and said it should be put to better use. 

      • He asked the commissioners to consider what role the drought and water will play in future development. 

    • Pagoulatos responded to some of the comments saying they did reach out to some of the specific groups mentioned. 

      • She said the EIR does acknowledge that air quality is a concern and it mitigates it as much as possible, but since this is a program EIR when project specific EIRs come forward the air quality mitigation could be analyzed more closely. 

      • She said this would not have a negative impact or land use changes on other neighborhood specific plans. 

      • She said the county has been part of the process. 

      • She also introduced people from the city’s consultant, LSA.

    • Diaz said she appreciates the work that has gone into this and she moved to approve and Hardie seconded. 

      • Fuentes-no

      • Wagner-no

      • Diaz-yes

      • Vang-no

      • Hardie-yes

      • Bray-yes

    • Kolluri said this was a technical denial, but would still move forward to the council. 

Secretary Mike Sanchez asked the commissioners if they have their badges to enter city hall and if they have picked up their laptops. Wagner said she would be picking hers up this week. 

Bray then opened the meeting for public comments. Lisa Flores asked what the planning commission’s opinion when the EIR moves to the city council. Bray said she believed it wouldn’t have an impact on the specific plans. Flores said that Pagoulatos has said things in the past that, “aren’t necessarily truthful.” She went on to say that staff knows about her concerns and nothing has been done. “I would expect honest and truthful communication from the commission,” she said. “And we did not receive that tonight.” 

Cerillo also commented and thanked those commissioners that voted no. “I really felt there should’ve been a lot more dialogue for something so important,” he said. 

The meeting adjourned at 8:14 p.m. The next meeting is scheduled for August 18 and they usually occur on the first and third Wednesdays of the month.

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