Documenter: Rachel Youdelman
Here’s what you need to know:
The Director of Water and Natural Resources and a consultant contracted with the County gave a detailed presentation on the Madera County Groundwater Sustainability Agencies Rate Study. Three different rate proposals were made; the Board asked to see all three modeled for further study. The study will entail water-use policies which are very important to Madera County, where groundwater is currently critically overdrafted.
A resolution was approved which will refine several water allocation issues from the Dec 2020 Allocation Approach Resolution and the June 2021 Establishing Groundwater Allocations Resolution, removing the provision for limiting carryover use of annual water allocation to 50%, with the stipulation that it be reconsidered if any vulnerable sites are negatively affected.
Top crops in Madera County in 2020 were almonds and milk. Pistachios were number three, grapes number four, and pollination was number five.
Public Health Officer, Dr Simon Paul, reported that the COVID-19 infection rate, largely affecting younger, unvaccinated populations, has surged in Madera County but appears to be flattening. Masking is a must in schools to limit transmission among children.
There are still ample funds available in the Emergency Rental Assistance Program for potential applicants. County staff suggest applicants start at the website https://housing.ca.gov/ .
Board of Supervisors
Brett Frazier, District 1 (absent from regular meeting; present for closed session only)
David Rogers, District 2
Robert L. Poythress, District 3 (Chairman)
Leticia Gonzalez, District 4
Tom Wheeler, District 5
Karen Pogue, Chief Clerk
Regina Garza, County Counsel
Jay Varney, Chief Administrative Officer
Meeting convened at 9:03AM by Chairman Poythress. Per Agenda Item #1, always the same question: query re additions to agenda—there were none, per clerk Karen Pogue. Counsel Garza then was asked by Poythress to read into the record the matters scheduled for the closed session. There were no public comments on the latter. Supervisor Frazier was not present physically but appeared to be trying to connect via webcast. Before he could establish a connection, an attendance roll-call was taken. At 9:05AM, Poythress temporarily adjourned the public meeting, and all members went into a private room for the closed session, noted as Agenda Item #2. For virtual attendees, the audio & video transmission was as usual very clear. The Board returned to re-convene the public meeting at 10:02AM. Gonzalez and Wheeler were masked, as were most presenters. The meeting was opened and closed in memory of several people mentioned by Poythress and Wheeler; Rogers dried his eyes and his voice broke as he talked “with the greatest pain in my heart” about his mother, who at that moment was hospitalized with Covid and not expected to survive. He thanked the other members of the Board for their help and support. Agenda Item #2c Counsel Garza noted that there was no reportable action from the closed session. Poythress asked for another roll-call; it was also noted that Frazier attended the closed session remotely but was absent for the regular meeting.
Agenda Item #3 Invocation was given by Father John Warburton, St. Joachim Church in Madera. “Lord Jesus, we thank you for creating our earth and Madera County.” The flag salute quickly followed and was led by under-sheriff Patrick Majeski.
Public Comment As often happens, County employees and Board members used “public comment” time for County business or to make comments which could have been saved for the “Supervisor Comments” agenda item at the close of the meeting. First, Madera County Director of Behavioral Health, Connie Moreno-Peraza, presented two new employees to the Board. Next, a man holding a cowboy hat and wearing a shirt with an American-flag pattern approached the podium. Before he introduced himself, Wheeler was heard to say, “Hello, John.” Giving his name as John Somerville (https://israelsomerville.com/ ), a North Fork resident, he informed the Board that on 29 August at the Coarsegold Historic Village, an event would be held to honor first responders. He promised that the event would resemble similar small-town events of his childhood. A voice was heard to say “Thank you for your patriotism” as Somerville walked away, but it was unclear if the comment was directed at the flag-patterned shirt or something else. At this point, Wheeler used the public-comment time to say that he co-moderated a town-hall meeting on behalf of the California Insurance Commissioner, Ricardo Lara. Lara’s office regularly holds multiple town-halls on several specialized insurance-related areas, but Wheeler mentioned several times that Lara himself was not present at the meeting, and he emphasized his disappointment. Further, it was unclear why Wheeler spoke about the matter during the time reserved for public comment.
Poythress then introduced Dr Angel Reyna, president of Madera Community College, who also used the public-comment time to announce updates on the construction of new buildings and development of several new academic programs. The college was established only 13 months ago, he said, as the first in Madera County. Rogers commented that the college was needed in the area as “part of our economic engine,” and Gonzalez asked if there was an athletics program. Why this news was presented during the public comment period and-not included on the agenda was unclear.
Agenda Item #5 Consent Calendar. Wheeler asked that items G, K, N, P, and X be pulled. Questions re G, K, N, and X were minor; but P, which concerned grant-funded services for the homeless, generated some discussion. Wheeler asked if housing would be created with any of the grants in question. Tristan Shamp of Madera County Grant Services appeared to explain that the grant funding would be used to provide services, not housing construction. Nevertheless, Wheeler said, “We keep getting this money . . . but I haven’t seen no rooms built.” Mattie Mendez, Executive Director at Community Action Partnership of Madera County, also appeared to clarify; much of one source of grant funds would be used to hire a case-worker to work in a respite center, an extension of the Madera Rescue Mission. Not seeming to understand, Wheeler persisted in asking about housing; Mendez said that new housing would be a goal of a subsequent grant but that the current grants are for services and that some funds are for leasing existing housing. Poythress then interjected, addressing Wheeler, and said that there are monthly meetings of a Homeless Alliance which he and Gonzalez both attend regularly. Wheeler appeared to be unaware of it. Poythress elaborated and said that it was difficult to engage developers in new construction because costs were so high, but that the respite center was essential for homeless people who are released from hospital care, because it keeps them off the street. He also described some existing properties which are being used to house people through Behavioral Health Services and assured Wheeler that they were getting “the maximum from the minimum” regarding space for treatment and housing. Poythress described the subject as “top priority.”
No public comment on any consent-calendar item. Vote passed 4-0.
Agenda Item #7a Delinquent utility fees, an annual item: water and sewer delinquencies for term 1 July 2020 – 30 June 2021 were just over $400,000. “It’s not like it’s a couple of bucks,” noted Wheeler. Andrea Saldate, Deputy Director of Public Works, gave a presentation. She said that property owners were sent notices and asked to pay or appear at the public hearing. Poythress asked how other jurisdictions handled delinquent fees. Matt Treber, also from Public Works, said, “We’ll work with Counsel on solutions.” He added that unpaid and unresolved fees would be attached as liens on the associated properties. Poythress commented, “It’s amazing what happens when someone gets their water turned off,” perhaps implicitly suggesting this method as a solution. Wheeler saw fit to quip, “Or their sewer,” and laughed. Treber said that there were potential “legal issues” if service were ceased. Poythress then suggested that punitive action should be taken, because, he said without offering evidence, that some people simply take advantage of the lack of sufficient punishment. He further asserted that loans from the general fund cover the unpaid fees, but Treber corrected him and said that the coverage comes from road funds. A public comment was made online by Madeline Harris of the Leadership Counsel https://leadershipcounsel.org/ ; she asked if Poythress could cite data regarding his claim that people took advantage of the lack of punishment for unpaid water/sewer bills. He did not reply. Harris said that the residents she talked to say that the current utility assistance program via Community Action Partnership of Madera County (CAPMC) excludes undocumented residents; she asked if the Board could work with CAPMC to reach a solution. Poythress ignored her question and asked if there were more public comments on the matter. Vote passed 4-0.
Agenda Item #8a Update on Madera County Groundwater Sustainability Agencies Rate Study. Very important to Madera County, where groundwater is critically overdrafted. Detailed presentation by Stephanie Anagnoson, Director of Water and Natural Resources and Kevin Kostiuk of Raftelis, a consulting agency for the County’s GSA rates. Anagnoson began by outlining the several engineering pieces of the rate study:
Strategic agricultural land conservation (land resting, repurposing and retiring)
Recharge (on-farm and in dedicated basins)
Her department has been figuring potential costs for each of the above, and she asked the Board for guidance on fee structure at the end of the presentation. Anagnoson explained the rate-study objectives as follows:
Develop fees for service for each of three County GSA subbasins
Identify all costs for each subbasin project and management
Evaluate funding/financing options
Develop long-term financial plan for GSA self-sufficiency
Document the process per Proposition 218 requirements
Kevin Kostiuk explained the rate-study process, which began with a rate-setting framework that considers pricing objectives, moved on to a financial plan considering financing and cash-flow, then to a cost-of-service analysis, and finally to a final rate adoption. The latter would entail public notice and a hearing. Kostiuk emphasized that the County GSAs are “new entities” and as such have no existing revenue sources; hence they will have “significant capital and operating costs.” An aim, he noted, is to minimize use of County general funds. He discussed recommendations re long-term financial reserves and debt-funded capital. The study recommends debt to finance the recharge projects because of low interest rates but despite the actual cost “in real dollars.”
Moving to fee-structure options, Kostiak explained that this aspect of the study aims to find a way to recover the cash needed to operate, per the financial plan. Three possibilities were described as follows:
Irrigated acreage (costs recovered on an area basis; dollars per acre)
Volumetric rate (costs recovered on variable rate based on allocation; dollars per acre-foot)
Hybrid: irrigated acreage and volumetric rate (partly recovered based on irrigated acreage and partly from volumetric water allocation; dollars per acre plus dollars per acre-foot)
Considerations such as policy objectives, evaluation of fee structures, and special considerations associated with fee structure (eg, treating all agricultural crops the same or taking into account differences in crop types when allocating) were also discussed.
Wheeler called the presentation “thorough.” In response to a question from Poythress regarding sources of capital and citing reliance on Proposition 218, Anagnoson replied that, alternatively, they would have to find revenue elsewhere—for example, from grants—and without new water, her office would become simply an “allocation agency.” Rogers added, quoting “four professors” whom he heard speak on the subject at a recent conference, that “headwaters to groundwater will save us,” and that the only way to do that is through groundwater recharge projects, enlarged delivery systems that allow the rapid movement of sufficient volumes of water coming, for example, from Friant Dam, to improve the groundwater conditions. Getting that water, he continued, from the “headwaters” of Friant to designated areas for groundwater recharge, but without funding, without the passage of Proposition 218 “isn’t going to happen,” he said. He said that delivery systems must be enlarged to achieve sustainability. He asserted that it is “not our system” but “the State’s” system, suggesting that he found it inadequate. Rogers went on, lauding dairy farmers who have proposed replacing water-intensive crops used for silage with crops using less water, though it can’t be used for lactating dairy cows, only “replacement heifers.” Nevertheless, he praised their attempts. He feared losing industry if money were not available to fund the projects to make adequate water delivery possible.
Poythress asked for public comment on the matter. Norman Allinder of the County Planning Department spoke briefly about providing irrigation documents to the Board. Next, Tom Coleman from the Madera Ag Water Association said that his organization was in support of the adoption of the allocation refinement resolution, with two minor modifications: first, usage of carryover water should not be limited to 50%, but they were open to changing the terms in the future if necessary. Second, he encouraged a longer time period between meter calibrations. Poythress interrupted to tell Coleman that the topic was the subject of the next agenda item. Next, Igal Treibatch, a Madera farmer and representative of South East Madera County United (SEMCU), a non-profit, appeared to say his organization is applying for a grant to build 200 recharge wells throughout the County. He asked the Board for a letter of support. The last public comment came from Madeline Harris who gave support for the volumetric rate (described above), because it will curb groundwater over-pumping and as it is based on allocation, will be fair. She said that a long-term County goal for implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is to ensure that agriculture remains a thriving industry in Madera County. Using the volumetric rate would position the County best for that, she noted, and that implicit in the rate method is the acknowledgement that though some crops are too water-intensive to remain sustainable in Madera County, other kinds of crops can replace those. She further said that those who are over-pumping the most would contribute to domestic-well mitigation at a larger rate, highlighting the “equity and fairness components” of this rate method.
Anagnoson then asked the Board to clarify which rate they wanted the consultant to model, noting that she didn’t hear any preferences other than the volumetric. Rogers said he wanted to see all three, to which Anagnoson assented.
Agenda Item #8b A resolution to refine several allocation-related issues from the Dec 2020 Allocation Approach Resolution and the June 2021 Establishing Groundwater Allocations Resolution. Issues include
Acreage amounts for allocation (water budget of “sustainable yield” and “transitional water”—total will decrease from 2020 to 2040)
Resting and retiring land
Carryover of annual allocation (not more than 50%)
Credit for recharge with calibrated flow meter
The refinements are designed to provide incentive to farmers to meet sustainability requirements of SGMA.
Commenters were fixated on the 50% limit of carryover water. Rogers commented that using only 50% of the transitional water from the subsequent year “doesn’t help” sustainability. He called it a “penalty” for not using it in the previous year. He said he wanted to enforce the law but also wanted “flexibility” and reiterated the desire to eliminate the 50% limit on carryover use of an annual allocation. Anagnoson again pointed out that there is a provision which permits changing the limit if it is found to be necessary.
Poythress then opened public comment on the subject. Geoff Vanden Heuvel, Director of Regulatory and Economic Affairs at Milk Producers Council, appeared to speak. He too disapproved of the 50% limit of carryover of transition water. He said that farmers would be in a “use it or lose it” position. He also said that if the water has been paid for, there should not be a limit on its use and called it “backwards thinking in regards to that” [sic]. He emphasized that the resolution gives the GSA the authority to make adjustments. If farmers use less than their annual allocation, there should not be a limit on how much they use of what is left of that annual allocation the following year. Next Igal Treibatch appeared again to say that “many of us” were not heretofore aware of the proposed resolution changes and he was not aware of them until today. He asked for more public input and said it would be “unconscionable” to pass the resolution today. He also cited what he called “unfairness” in the representation of the number of acres of range land. The next public comment was from Madeline Harris who said she agreed with what Treibatch had said about more time for public input on the resolution and asked that the Board delay the vote. She said that people who would be affected by the decision should have a chance to weigh the proposed changes and that the first she heard of it was when she received the agenda packet on the previous Thursday. Wheeler asked Anagnoson to confirm that there had been public hearings already, to which she replied that there had been a workshop on 2 August with 25 people attending in person at the Farm Bureau and 65 attending via Zoom when the issues and concerns were thoroughly discussed. Feedback from the workshop was integrated into the current meeting, she said. Madera Ag Water Association (MAWA) also sent an email “blast” about the matter the day before the present Board meeting.
Poythress asked Anagnoson what she thought about the suggestion to eliminate the 50% limit on carryover use; she replied that the people who will be more likely to have flexibility in usage of allocation will be dairy farmers. She said that the volume is not the issue; it’s that pumping could be concentrated, which could result in lower groundwater levels, subsidence, or water quality effects. In the western subbasin of Chowchilla where some dairy farms are located, there is a lot of subsidence already. She said she would approve removing the provision with the stipulation that it be reconsidered if any of the sites are affected. Rogers reiterated what he said earlier on the subject, and Wheeler expressed agreement. He added that the matter was “new” to everyone concerned, and regarding “Igal and Madeline talking about more public comment” on the subject, “I can’t help it if we have public hearings and people don’t show up. We gotta move forward with this.” More discussion about removing the section (6d) of the resolution limiting carryover use of water to 50%; Anagnoson agreed to its removal. Treibatch commented again before the vote was taken; he said that he was aware of the workshop meetings but felt the final resolution itself warranted more public input. Gonzalez was silent throughout this discussion. Vote passed 4-0 with removal of section 6d.
At this point, 11:58AM, Rogers stated that he just received urgent notice from the hospital that his mother was in the process of dying; his voice broke as he excused himself from the remainder of the meeting. Poythress announced a break and a reconvening at 1:30PM.
At 1:30PM, the meeting was re-opened.
Agenda Item #6a 2020 Madera County Crop and Livestock Report; presentation of yields and values of agricultural commodities by Rusty Lantsberger, County Agricultural Commissioner. Gross value of production in 2020 was $1,949,532,000 (a decrease of $52,033,000). Top crops were almonds and milk. Pistachios were number three, grapes number four, and pollination was number five. Madera County is the number one fig-producing county in California. The full crop report is available online: https://www.maderacounty.com/home/showpublisheddocument/27986/637648058775790889 . Poythress remarked that no one would likely guess that “pollination” would be among the top ten crops. Prices for everything except for milk and pollination were down. Finally, fires and consequent air pollution seem to have affected “values” in grapes, Lantsberger said. No public comment.
Agenda Item #6b Adopt ordinance amending Chapter 2.04 of Title 2 of the Madera County Code pertaining to the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors. Per agenda, the proposed amendment adds language that will help facilitate the clerk of the board with guidance and direction on administrative services from the county administrative officer. No discussion. Vote passed 3-0.
Agenda Item #6c Brief update on COVID-19 and vaccination administration status for Madera County. Presenter: Dr Simon Paul, Health Officer, Madera County. Dr Paul discussed the current surge, citing some statistics, and said that the infection rate had “flattened out” lately, same as in other California counties. Why? Because vaccinated people lower the number of potential infections, but the delta variant is more infectious than earlier variants. The highest case rate is in the 30- to 39-year-old age group. Unvaccinated people are six times as likely to be infected; hospitalization and mortality differences are also far greater. San Joaquin Valley hospitals are stressed with patients “piling up” in emergency rooms. Hospital staffing is an issue. Moving patients to hospitals with room is difficult in the San Joaquin Valley, because of overall lack of available beds, and moving patients far from family is stressful. It’s too soon to know if conditions will get worse or better, despite the current flattening rate of infection. School is in session; one infected child can have 60 or 70 contacts in a day. If they are wearing masks, they can be in school and not quarantine at home, if asymptomatic. Testing, a “giant challenge” for schools now, takes place twice weekly. Additionally, unvaccinated staff will be tested regularly. If kids are wearing masks in school, there is very little transmission.
There are mobile vaccination sites. “A lot of people are becoming interested in vaccination” now, Dr Paul noted, about 2,000 per week. Kids age 12 and up are realizing that if they want to play school sports, they won’t miss so many games if they are vaccinated. People who want to get vaccinated can check the Health Dept website https://www.maderacounty.com/government/public-health/covid-19/covid-vaccination , as vaccination sites change. Booster shots are currently recommended for the immunosuppressed. Dr Paul noted that it would likely not be long before booster shots were recommended for everybody.
Wheeler asked if all the current cases were caused by the delta variant. Dr Paul said we can assume everything is delta; everything that is sequenced is delta, but the point is to make sure there is no even newer variant. Wheeler asked “Why don’t we make a rule that all County employees must be vaccinated or tested weekly?” He said he was tired of wearing “this stupid mask” and “people that don’t get it, that pisses me off.” CAO Varney said that mandatory vaccination or testing has already begun. Wheeler remarked, “These lazy suckers don’t want to get a shot, stay home.” Dr Paul pointed out that vaccination is now mandatory for all health-care workers in the state. A discussion about school environments ensued, and Wheeler talked about a woman who was “not smart enough” to keep her symptomatic eighth-grader at home, causing the school to send 40 children home. Dr Paul reiterated that masks in school will limit transmission of the disease and discussed instances when symptomatic children would be required to stay home and test before returning; Wheeler however commented, “You can’t fix stupid,” referring to the woman he cited earlier. Gonzalez asked Dr Paul about testing, mentioning a call from a constituent whose child was apparently tested without consent of the parent. Dr Paul replied that it could have been an error, since consent is required and schools are “pretty good” at getting consent. No public comment.
Agenda Item #6d Discussion and direction on implementation of Proposition 218 to add a Consumer Price Index (CPI) increase on sewer rates for Oakhurst. Andrea Saldate of Public Works gave a brief presentation. She explained that a rate study would be conducted and will take a few months to complete. A CPI will be the best remedy now to “get some cash into the district.” The current CPI is 3.9%; the rate would change from $52.66 to $54.71. With direction from the Board, Proposition 218 notices re a public hearing would be sent this week, and a hearing would be scheduled for 5 October. The Board consented.
Agenda Item #9 Pending legislation. Chairman Poythress skipped this item.
Agenda Item #10 Supervisor and staff reports.
Gonzalez: Nothing to report.
Wheeler: Reiterated story of insurance commissioner’s town hall, which he had earlier in the meeting used public-comment time to talk about. He repeated that the commissioner “didn’t show up,” and appeared to be experiencing lingering disappointment about the matter.
Poythress: Raised issue of changing older photos of supervisors displayed in entrance of building to pictures of the current supervisors. He wanted to “open it up to his colleagues” to discuss what to do with the older photos. Wheeler suggested a simple change to current supervisor photos and Poythress agreed. Gonzalez was silent. Poythress looked to his right and asked “Do you have direction?” but it wasn’t clear to whom he spoke.
Varney: At the 3 August meeting, the Board (actually Gonzalez) had requested details re the Emergency Rental Assistance Program; Varney said that Mattie Mendez, Executive Director of Community Action Partnership of Madera County (CAPMC, and others would make a brief presentation on the matter. Jessica Leon from County Administration spoke: the County contracted with the Madera Coalition for Community Justice and with CAPMC to provide outreach to the community and assist residents with the application process. Mendez introduced her staff and gave a presentation including program statistics. Flyers about the program, provided by the state and with local phone-number stickers added, were put in the hands of residents, and the program information was also posted on social media. Funding allocation is based on local population and is determined at the state level. Madera County was allocated $11.2 million. Renters or landlords work with CAPMC, an approved network partner, to receive assistance locally. The state received 408 applications for Madera County; $3.2 million has been requested; 43 households have been served; average amount of assistance is just over $8,000; total funds paid is just over $350,000. Updates can be found at https://housing.ca.gov/ . Mendez explained that there would be more outreach, because the rental assistance will continue until the funds are exhausted.
Gonzalez, who had requested the information about the program at the last Board meeting, asked for a copy of the PowerPoint presentation and said that with the information provided, she could now promote the program, as there was still “so much need out there.” Baldwin Moy of Madera Coalition attended remotely and tried to make a presentation; though his video transmission was fine, his audio was not functioning. Wheeler took the opportunity to quip, “We can see your ugly face but can’t hear you,” and laughed, though no one else did. Wheeler wanted to ask Moy how many people in the community he has spoken with, but the audio connection could not be made. “I know he does a good job out there of getting all this stuff,” Wheeler said. Poythress suggested that Moy be invited to the next Board meeting to present his information.
Varney asked Mendez why there were so many applications and so few grants completed at this point. Mendez replied that there is only one route for applications and if all elements are not submitted in a timely manner, delays ensue while applications are stuck in the “pending” file. Another staff member stepped to the mic to offer an explanation, but she was inaudible. Mendez suggested that if there were a way to release the money to the County, and to the other 30 counties in California with populations under 200,000, it could facilitate the process. Poythress said that he would attempt to request it.
No public comments. It was unclear why this presentation was not added to the agenda as a regular item but was instead appended to the concluding staff reports.
Pogue: No report.
Garza: No report.
Poythress adjourned the meeting at 2:13PM.
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