Documenter: Rachel Youdelman
Here’s what you need to know:
The Board voted unanimously to pass a resolution regarding disagreements between local school boards and the state government. Per the ambiguously worded summary, the resolution supports “safe in-person instruction in schools and supports local school boards’ authority over conduct of instruction.” The disagreement spurring the resolution concerns state public-health guidelines regarding face-masks to limit viral transmission in school settings, still a critical concern with the current surge of COVID-variant infections. In plain terms, the Board expressed its support for permitting local school boards to disregard State guidelines regarding rules or guidance about mask-wearing in schools. By passing this resolution, the Board purported to remove itself from the controversy.
Thirty six written public comments were received in support of the above resolution and one opposed. One in-person proponent appeared at the meeting, and one opponent appeared. Though many of the proponents’ written comments were copies of the same sentence, the following were among them: masks in schools are “a form of child abuse,” “masks cause mental decline,” mask requirements “take our choice away,” and “exhaled air is poisonous.”
Dr Rais Vohra, Interim Health Officer, Fresno County Department of Public Health, gave a lengthy and comprehensive presentation of current COVID-19 conditions, including statistics, projections, and recommendations for limiting transmission, including vaccination for adolescents age 12+. He strongly emphasized the necessity for masks in schools. The current viral variant (“delta”) is aggressive, infecting the unvaccinated, especially younger people, and County ICUs are rapidly filling up, a trend we can expect to continue through September.
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
All Board members were present, flanked by the County Administrative Officer on the left and County Counsel and the Clerk of the Board on the right. Chairman Brandau convened the meeting at 10:00AM and requested that the Clerk take an attendance roll-call immediately following. For webcast attendees, the video/audio transmission was clear. In-person attendees, of which there were several, sat socially distanced; many were masked. None of the Board members or staff were masked, though glass partitions separate them on the dais. Magsig introduced the person giving the invocation, Chip Williams, a street-level supervisor with the Salvation Army, who along with a partner has made contact (of what sort was unspecified) with 1,434 homeless people “right here in Fresno County” (timeframe unspecified). “Everything Mr Williams does is clearly bathed in prayer,” observed Magsig; hence the invitation to lead the invocation. After some explicitly Christian religious remarks, and asserting that every unique human being is created for God’s purpose (undefined), Williams appealed to the Board: “What unique gift are you going to offer the world today?” Williams then without pause began reciting the pledge of allegiance.
Agenda Item #1 Approval of meeting agenda. Clerk notes that two items, #7 (hearing to amend fee schedule ordinance for some sections of Environmental Health) and #18.1 (conference re property negotiation for parcel near Selma) will be deleted. Agenda item #7 will appear on the 24 August agenda. Agenda otherwise approved 5-0.
Agenda Item #2 Approval of Consent Calendar, items #19-56. Brandau asked if “his colleagues” wanted to pull any item for discussion, but he looked at Magsig, who asked to pull item #20. No other items pulled by Board members or the public. Consent Calendar excluding #20 approved 5-0. Brandau then returned to #20. Magsig said that the item was an adjournment in memory of Adam Gutierrez, a long-time employee of the County Clerk’s office. County Clerk/Registrar of Voters James Kus appeared in person to talk about Gutierrez and praise his accomplishments as an employee of the elections office. Gutierrez had detailed knowledge of records management, said Kus, and always kept a box of dog biscuits in his truck so he could befriend stray dogs wherever he went. A family member also spoke, but she was completely inaudible, as she did not speak into a microphone. Magsig thanked Kus for honoring Gutierrez and emphasized the value of knowing an employee’s “backstory.” Item passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #3 Presentation of plaque to retiree Teresa Parks, Dept of Social Services. Stacey Sandoval, Finance Division Chief of DSS, spoke about Ms Parks’ service, praising her “loyalty, integrity, and kindness.” Parks said that working for the County “afforded me a nice, comfortable life.” Brandau said she was an “unsung hero” of the DSS and thanked her for her 23 years of service. A group photo was taken, which included Parks’ husband and parents, who were in attendance.
Agenda Item #4 Per agenda, “Standalone Tax Sharing Agreement with City of Fresno for Dakota-Hayes No. 4 Annexation/Reorganization proposal in area bounded by W. Ashlan Avenue, N. Polk Avenue, W. Shields Avenue, and N. Bryan Avenue (240.03 acres) in an unincorporated area, of which approximately 89 acres would be developed with a 486-unit urban residential subdivision.” A presentation was given by Bernard Jimenez of the Dept of Public Works and Planning. Board had no questions, nor were there any from the public. Brandau addressed Pacheco, as the area concerned is in his district; Pacheco declared the matter “a fair deal” and expressed no opposition. He further said that this development is the first one “west of 99” since his election. Brandau, addressing Fresno mayor Dyer’s chief of staff, Tim Orman, who was in attendance, asked him to “give props” to the mayor for the year-long negotiation in the matter which had involved a landowner (unnamed) who was “set back between the City and the County.” Brandau recalled that the subject arose when he was still a member of the Fresno City Council, and the landowner spent years attempting to get “what he wants to do on his property approved.” Item passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #5 Resolution sponsored by Brandau and Mendes: “Adopt resolution supporting safe in-person instruction in schools and supporting local school boards’ authority over conduct of instruction.” Mendes asserted the resolution was a “simple” one, which would remove the Board from the conflict between local school boards and the state government, regarding public-health ordinances and measures affecting schoolchildren. The issues in dispute appear to be guidance about masks and the like, in the context of pandemic management. “Schools are an arm of the state, and they do have to do exactly what the state tells them,” he said. He went on to say that the resolution would not preclude the Board from “helping” schools in the future, but he did not specify what that help would entail. Mendes cited the recent news re the Clovis Unified School District’s disagreement with the state department of public health and said “that’s who’s supposed to be regulating them. Can’t be any simpler than that.” Brandau agreed and referred to spring 2020 when he claimed that the Board, having been “pulled into the mix” was “blamed for things we don’t feel we actually initiated.” Brandau echoed Mendes, saying that the Board wanted to be “helpful” to the County’s school boards, who may choose various “different paths,” though he did not clarify or specify about what. Implicit in his remarks, in the context of the Clovis controversy cited by Mendes, was the decision to enforce mask-wearing by school students and staff. (The Clovis Unified School District had voted to let parents of individual students decide whether their child wears a mask in school but later decided to follow the state health department guidance which stipulates that doctors, not parents, must make a determination about exemption.) Brandau reiterated that the Board’s desire was to “support” school boards but wanted to avoid being a “road bump to any of the things you’d like to accomplish.” What he meant by this statement was unclear, and his next utterance, “Really, it’s a support of local control,” seemed to contradict what was said earlier about the state health department’s authority over local school policies such as those currently in dispute. Is it local control or state control? The Board was thus plainly equivocal on this matter.
However, the full text of the resolution suggests that the Board wants to make the case to the state government that their preference is for permitting local school boards to make their own rules, “to grant or return control over the conduct of in-person classroom instruction to local school districts and their governing boards,” despite state and federal protocols, rules, or laws.
Mendes asserted without providing explanation that rural school districts “could do things that the bigger school districts can’t do” such as social distancing. He concluded “Whatever they do, it’s still between them and the State.” Magsig said “to expand on your local control concept, I fully agree that government works best the closer to the people it is” but offered no supporting logic or evidence. He said “We stand with those local school boards to make those decisions that they believe are best for those kids there,” again contradicting earlier statements about schools being under State authority.
Brandau opened public comment on the matter. Brandi Nues-Villegas appeared in person to speak. She rubbed her hands and breathed heavily as though nervous, and lowering her doubled mask, asked the Board to recognize and follow expertise re public health. She asked that the Board listen to Valley Children’s Hospital (alluding to the Clovis school controversy, above) and to the County’s health department. Next appeared Sean Burdine, election chair of a local reactionary group called “Constitutionalists for California” https://www.constitutionalistsforcalifornia.com/, who thanked the Board for their support of “local government” and for “allowing them to make their own decisions” based on “local populations,” agreeing with Magsig but without specifying that “this is when government works best.” He noted that because there are “laws” we can’t always do what we want but said that the Board does a “wonderful job” of navigating law’s “gray areas,” thanking the Board for supporting “our local governments who also try to do those things.”
At this point a vote was taken, and the item passed 5-0. Neither Pacheco nor Quintero made a comment.
Agenda Item #6 Presentation of report from the Fresno County Foster Care Standards and Oversight Committee, made by Wilma Hashimoto (Executive Director of CASA, Fresno and Madera Counties and Co-Chair of Fresno County Foster-Care and Oversight Committee), Pamela Hancock (Director, Fresno County Foster & Homeless Youth Education Services), and Tricia Gonzalez (Child Welfare Services, DSS). Statistics and data from Jan 2020-June 2021 regarding the 2700 children currently in the County foster-care system were discussed, such as rates of graduation and homelessness. The presenters encouraged the Board to increase support for programs such as housing and asked that the social-work staff be increased along with salaries. Magsig asked about the age range of current foster children; 60% are 0-5 years old, though CASA also serves young adults up to age 21. Numbers of kids in foster care have gone up during the pandemic, Gonzalez explained in answer to a question from Brandau, because of economic pressure and intrafamilial conflict. Stabilizing families is a priority, she said, so the children who do enter the system are there because of unambiguously unsafe situations at home. Reunifications have been delayed because of the pandemic and court suspensions. Brandau said it was “sobering and sad” that in tough times, “more families were moving their children into foster care,” although that conclusion did not exactly reflect what Gonzalez said. Magsig wanted to know if there was an increase in suicide rates among foster children—what about drugs and isolation, he asked, appearing to have an idea of circumstances before getting any information. Gonzalez said that though there is suicidal ideation, attempted suicide, and involuntary psychiatric hospitalization, there has been no suicide. The situation was similar pre-pandemic and continues, she said. Hashimoto added “it’s not just suicide” they were concerned about—human trafficking, homelessness, “everything” are also concerns. Quintero said that he has been working to make rural families, including those with foster children, aware of the public transit system, so they can commute to medical appointments, etc.
Agenda Item #7 Removed from the agenda.
Agenda Item #8 Amend funding agreement with Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission for the COVID-19 Equity Project—African American Coalition. David Luchini, interim director, Fresno County Department of Public Health, spoke. The matter was postponed from the previous Board meeting; it concerned some of the Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) contracted by the County to manage pandemic conditions. Luchini said that discussions had taken place with unspecified Board members after the last public meeting, and it was agreed that certain changes were in order, such as a 10% withholding when reporting (by the CBOs) is incomplete. Further, a contract would end with 30-day notice if incomplete reporting continued. Also, Luchini’s department will provide monthly data updates, including average cost per client, to the Board, including percentages of funds used. This extension will be the last under the current agreement; new requests will entail the Request for Proposal (RFP) process. Luchini emphasized that the CBOs “fill the gap” and engage populations the County struggles to reach, providing vaccines and education. Fresno County has the highest vaccination rate “in the Valley,” he said, though we don’t compare to the Bay Area, which is a “different demographic” with “a lot more resources.” Magsig said that he and Brandau met with Luchini’s colleague, Joe Prado, and expressed concern about the three lead CBOs which, per Magsig, were not meeting a financial threshold he felt was necessary. Quintero said that he liked the amendments and the new reporting requirements and asked for elaboration on the 10% withholding plan for incomplete reporting by any CBO. Luchini clarified, and Quintero concluded, “They don’t report it right, they don’t get any money.” Brandau explained that he had not supported the concept initially and had voted against it, because he felt that “good” and “bad” CBOs were contracted in bulk. He asserted that some of the CBOs were advocacy groups, not service groups. Hence, he said, the “good” service groups quit, but he offered no details. He said that he still will not support the plan, even with amended terms. There were no public comments. Vote passed 4-1 (Brandau voted “no.”)
Agenda Item #9 COVID-19 updates from County Dept of Public Health. This very detailed presentation took over an hour. David Luchini, showing slides of statistics, noted that as of 8 August, hospitalizations in Fresno County have increased many times over since mid-July. On 4 July, there were four patients in ICU; as of 8 August, there were 43, for example.
Next Dr Rais Vohra, Interim Health Officer, Fresno County Department of Public Health, presented the bulk of the information under this agenda item. “We’re in for a very challenging August and early September,” he began. Models project the current surge will abate by about mid-September, he said, and our hospitals are currently “challenged.” He explained that the new variant is “more contagious than ever.” “Who is at highest risk?” he asked. “The unvaccinated. That’s the bottom line. They are the ones landing in the hospitals.” Over 90% of Fresno County/Central Valley hospitalizations are unvaccinated people, per data from State epidemiologists.
Children under 18 are contracting and transmitting COVID at a higher rate than earlier in the pandemic, because the new mutation is so aggressive. The 18-50 age group is also experiencing infection at higher rates. COVID is “no longer just the elderly showing up at hospitals,” Dr Vohra said. In fact, the elderly are doing comparatively well now, he explained, since the campaign to vaccinate them was so thorough.
Dr Vohra said that various mitigation efforts must still be followed, such as social distancing and “definitely masking” for the unvaccinated, but he recommends masking for everyone, as small breakthrough infections can occur. Other “common-sense” measures are recommended, such as hand hygiene, limiting one’s time in crowded areas, and testing in schools and other congregate settings. In a chart depicting layers of Swiss cheese as “layers of pandemic protection,” a half-hidden mouse gnawed at the cheese. Dr Vohr said that the mouse represents misinformation, such as conspiracy theories and the like. “While we are fighting a pandemic, we seem to be fighting a pandemic of misinformation as well,” he said.
Joe Prado of the Dept of Public Health explained that some rural areas in the County have high vaccination rates because of efforts the County has made to ease access to vaccines by bringing them to rural areas for administration. Dr Vohr asserted that not all unvaccinated people are “anti-vaxxers” and may simply require some explanation from a medical professional or an advocate. The CBOs are helping in this area, since they understand the affected communities, he said. School outbreaks are likely, but using masks will help limit transmission, he noted, and he advocated enforcing this and other “layers of protection.” There is low chance of return to state-wide lockdowns, however, he said.
As of 9 August, workers at health-care facilities will have to show proof of vaccination and must be masked indoors. Dr Vohr suggested that these measures are cost-effective and efficient—“well-established strategies that can keep people safe.” Aside from health-care facilities, other organizations are likely to adopt these measures as well, he said. Dr Vohr explained that the County Health Dept will continue to encourage vaccination with the help of CBOs and promote it also for adolescents aged 12+ to keep school settings safe. “School-based masking will be critical,” he strongly emphasized and appealed to the Board for their support in this and other measures. It is not clear if Dr Vohr was in attendance when the Board voted for a resolution to permit local school boards to oppose or permit masking, as they see fit, despite his or the state health department’s guidance..
Mendes asked if a booster would be “just another shot,” to which Dr Vohr replied “Yes.” Mendes asserted that he was “shocked” by vaccine “hesitancy.” Brandau had asked Dr Vohr if infected people had immunity; Dr Vohr said the vaccine cuts the risk of re-infection, and previous infection is no guarantee of preventing another bout of the illness. Magsig said he appreciated Dr Vohr’s expertise but he wanted to “throw out” some issues, such as how many people have died as a result of being vaccinated and suggested that “the government has fallen short” in circulating that information. “Some of that information was available,” Magsig asserted, “but it seems like the state has stopped providing that information.” Not giving Dr Vohr a chance to respond, Magsig continued that he wanted to “throw out” some more “things,” such as comparing Fresno to San Francisco and Los Angeles. He asserted that infection rates in Fresno were lower despite having fewer restrictive policies and lower vaccination rates. “Why is that?” he wondered. Again, he did not give Dr Vohr an opportunity to respond but continued talking at length. In fact, unaccountably, he told Dr Vohr he did not expect answers. Magsig went on, claiming that COVID will never go away and without clear logic said that failure to wear a seatbelt is far more dangerous than a child being infected in school. He said that it was very important that the public learn to “live with the virus” though he did not suggest how. Though without much clarity, he continued and said that “the media” is not talking about “everything,” hence many people are “skeptical,” and that the news presented information about the virus that “frightened” some people but that others were simply “not frightened.” Dr Vohr tried to reply a couple of times but Magsig talked over him. When he did get a chance to address Magsig’s concerns, Dr Vohr, appearing to be conciliatory, merely said that “even statisticians” have trouble making themselves understood to one another. Finally, Magsig said that he, as a supervisor, needed to look beyond the simple pandemic to a far bigger area of County management, implicitly minimizing the work of the Health Dept, but that he “appreciated” Dr Vohr being there.
Brandau asked Dr Vohr if it was true that the delta variant was not long-lasting. Dr Vohr said each variant “has its day” but that giving the virus more chances to mutate is dangerous. The worst-case scenario, he said, would be a future mutation against which a vaccine has zero effect. Seeming to not hear or understand Dr Vohr, Brandau said that he agreed with Magsig that living with COVID, “much like we learn to live with the flu,” is a reasonable decision. “I have close contact with a lot of folks who are skeptical,” said Brandau, and that it would be difficult to “bring them back into the fold because government itself so over-reacted, and the media in our country has got such an agenda of hyperbole that people see that things have been told them have not come to pass, and that creates a skepticism” [sic]. He claimed that he “deals with dozens and dozens” of unvaccinated people and “only one” is an “anti-vaxxer.” Dr Vohr did not then address issues of misinformation, though he had strongly raised it in his presentation, but only said the subject was “nuanced.” Brandau pointed out that shaming the unvaccinated is not a good persuasion technique and that it “pushes people more into the area of their mind” [sic].
Mendes made one more comment, and stated that “Brian” (Pacheco) would “get where I’m coming from”: On a dairy farm, “herd immunity” is reached when 100% of the herd is vaccinated. Pacheco remained silent except for a one-word correction of the age at which cows were vaccinated: “four” (age four months, not two).
None of the Board seemed to address any of the recommended measures or data presented by Dr Vohr, most glaringly the urgent need to require masking in schools. Pacheco and Quintero were silent, and Magsig dominated the Board’s response to Dr Vohr’s presentation.
Agenda Item#10 Public hearing to consider protests made re annual assessment for park maintenance costs in County Service Area No. 2, Tenaya Estates. Brief presentation by Julie Zimmer of Public Works. No discussion, no public comment. Item passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #11 Public hearing to consider protests made re annual assessment for street-lighting services, open-space maintenance and public right-of-way landscape maintenance costs in County Service Area No. 34, Zone D, Renaissance at Bella Vista. No discussion, no public comment. Item passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #12 Public hearing; adopt required findings and resolution approving vacation of certain drainage public service easement, that portion of easement dedicated in Map of Tract No. 4197 at 21872 Eastmere Lane, Friant CA 93626. Tumas Bagdasarian from Public Works gave a brief presentation. Magsig praised the County staff for the resolution of the affected homeowner’s issue. No public comment. Vote passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #13 Supervisor reports.
Quintero: Thanked Public Works staff for clearing trash from an alley in his district.
Pacheco: No comment.
Magsig: Toured the new Health Dept lab and was impressed with its COVID testing capacity and biohazard-event testing facilities. There are “high-powered” individuals employed at the lab as well as millions of dollars’ worth of equipment, reported Magsig.
Mendes: Noted that Mike DelPuppo, a former law-enforcement official, died.
Brandau: No comment.
Agenda Item #14 Appointments. Quintero, Pacheco, Mendes, and Magsig all made or renewed several appointments to County staff. Vote passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #15 Public presentations for items not on agenda. Mariana Alvarenga of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability appeared on behalf of residents of several unincorporated areas in the County to ask that the Board prioritize American Rescue Plan funds in several areas, such as parks, mobile clinic, housing, water, etc., and noted that residents could not attend the Board meeting in person because they are working and can’t travel to downtown Fresno. Next Brandi Nues-Villegas again appeared and addressed some of the comments made by Magsig about numbers of COVID-infected individuals in San Francisco compared to those in Fresno: she said that context was a factor and alluded to the higher population density in San Francisco. She also voiced support for Alvarenga’s remarks.
Agenda Items #16-18 Closed session. Board went into closed session at 12:02PM, returning at 1:23PM. Attorney Cederborg reported that re item #16, the Board voted 5-0 to authorize litigation against Faraz Gill and Firdose Gill for violations of various County ordinances. Board also voted 5-0 to authorize litigation for violation of County ordinances against EVC Homes, LLC.
Adjournment was at 1:26PM
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