Documenter: Rachel Youdelman
Here’s what you need to know:
The Board approved a resolution opposing a PG&E rate increase. In the discussion before the vote, board members asserted without details that “bad legislation” and “mandates from Sacramento” are the cause of the rate increase, while ignoring details about ownership of the organization, its payments to lobbyists, profits to shareholders, bonuses to executives, and its consequent deferring of system maintenance and repairs.
Despite the Department of Public Health’s presentation of overwhelming evidence of area hospitals operating over capacity because of high COVID-19 infection rates among the unvaccinated, board members spoke about opposition to vaccine and mask mandates, faith in the public’s voluntary compliance — minimizing the crisis as just one of many concerns they face as supervisors and deflecting the culpability for over-burdened local hospitals to the state government and the American Medical Association.
The Board approved an agreement with Fujitsu America, Inc. for a code modernization project for the Assessor-Recorder’s and Auditor-Controller/ Treasurer-Tax Collector’s Property Management Information System (also known as the Property Tax System).
All Board members present; County Counsel Cederborg was back after a brief absence. At 10:00AM, before convening the meeting, Chairman Brandau said that he wanted to acknowledge the upcoming 20th anniversary of 9/11; it is important, he said, for “all of us as Americans to really consider the great blessings we have in the country but also the many challenges.” He cited an event to be held on Saturday, 11 September 2021, at a California 9/11 memorial in Clovis (https://www.california911memorial.com/ ), on land owned by the Cook family, local real-estate developers. Brandau then asked the Clerk to call the roll. Supervisor Pacheco introduced Pastor B.T. Lewis from Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in Southwest Fresno to give an invocation. Lewis, wearing a large crucifix, promised a “one-minute sermon” but began by summarizing which Board members he had previously met. “God bless you for your work here,” he said, and thanked the Board for what he called “a great job” managing the pandemic, particularly among communities of color. Let the decisions the Board makes cause “justice to run down like water,” he prayed, and he asked that the meeting be “blessed.” The invocation was followed by a flag salute. Agenda items were introduced out of order in some instances, and as usual, the meeting was dominated by Brandau and Magsig with very little input from the other three supervisors.
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
Agenda Item #1 Approval of agenda. The Clerk noted that Item #14 would be removed from the day’s agenda and would return at a date yet to be determined. Agenda otherwise approved 5-0.
Agenda Item #2 Consent calendar. Magsig pulled #41 and Quintero pulled #27.2 for discussion. Consent agenda otherwise approved 5-0. Item #27.2 was an adjournment in memory of Harry Huey, whom Quintero wanted to note was a former county supervisor, planning commission member, a 1952 graduate of Edison High School, an alum of UC Berkeley’s architecture program, was involved in horse racing, bred Doberman dogs, and built his own pistols. Item #27.2 was approved 5-0. Presenters for Item #41 were en route to the meeting, so a vote on it was delayed.
Agenda Item #3 Retirement of David Rocha, Jr, from Dept of Public Works and Planning. “Glad to be done,” noted Rocha, a veteran of 21 years at the county DPW. A plaque was presented to the retiree and a photo taken.
Agenda Item #4 Retirement of Helen Rodriguez from the Dept of Social Services. A plaque was presented to Rodriguez, who was a county employee for 26 years; a group photo was taken. When Brandau asked her what she was going to do with her free time, Rodriguez replied, “Whatever I want.”
Agenda Item #5 September 2021 proclaimed “Hunger Action Month.” Natalie Caples, Co-CEO of the Central Valley Food Bank appeared to receive the proclamation. Brandau thanked her for her work and mentioned that he had been impressed by a recent tour he made of the facility. She noted that since the pandemic there has been a huge spike in the need for the services of the food bank and acknowledged that many people assist in its support and management.
Agenda Item #6 Proclamation of September 6-10 as “Hinds Hospice Week;” recognition of the work of Nancy Hinds on the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the hospice. Jeannie Neathery, a fund-raiser for the Hospice, spoke about Nancy Hinds’ background and work. Quintero noted that Hinds had helped him when his mother was dying. Hinds herself was not present at the meeting.
Consent Agenda Item #41 Approve agreement with Fujitsu America, Inc. to perform a code modernization project for the Assessor-Recorder’s and Auditor-Controller/ Treasurer-Tax Collector’s Property Management Information System (also known as the Property Tax System). Assessor Paul Dictos and Oscar Garcia, Auditor-Controller/Treasurer-Tax Collector, both appeared to answer questions. Magsig expressed concerns which seemed to stem from a previous attempt to modernize the code and was a costly failure, per Pacheco’s clarification. Robert W. Bash, Director of Internal Services/Chief Information Officer, also appeared and noted that his department would lead the process. Mendes, typically observed making sweeping pronouncements, interjected that it was “amazing that in 2021 we still have a program that runs on COBOL.” No public comments on the matter. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #6.1 Brandau introduced a resolution in opposition to a PG&E rate increase. Rates are scheduled to increase 22% by 2025. Brandau asserted that PG&E utility rates were 80% higher than in other areas of the U.S. A quick check reveals that the difference is indeed higher than the national average. Magsig chimed in with an authoritative air, citing legislation which he asserted had an influence on the rates charged to consumers by PG&E, AB32 (which calls for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions) and SB375 (the Sustainable Communities Act of 2008), though he did not explain how this legislation was tied to PG&E rate increases. Though he began by noting that PG&E was a publicly traded company, he quickly dropped the matter before bringing up the legislation he blamed for the high rates. In fact, just as Magsig hinted, PG&E is owned by private investors, and the company pays lobbyists, profits to shareholders, and bonuses to executives, while deferring system maintenance and repairs. Could there be a connection to rates charged to consumers? Magsig claimed, however, that “Rate increases are because of mandates from Sacramento.” He also lamented the loss of nuclear and hydro power. Mendes took the opportunity to interject another blanket complaint: “Tell me one thing the state of California does right; I’m still waiting for an answer.” State laws were “running businesses out of the state,” asserted Mendes, attempting to engage his quiet colleague: “I think Pacheco would agree,” but silence ensued. The resolution passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #7 Hearing and resolution to approve bonds for financing various healthcare projects. Per agenda, “Public hearing under Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (“TEFRA”) and the Internal Revenue Code regarding the conduit issuance of tax-exempt revenue bonds in amount not to exceed $19,600,000 to finance certain new projects and refinance certain bonds for previous projects of Valley Health Team, Inc., located in Fresno County; adopt resolution approving the conduit issuance of the Bonds by the California Municipal Financing Authority (“CMFA”) for the benefit of Valley Health Team, Inc. which adoption is solely for the purposes of satisfying the requirements of TEFRA and the Code.” Presentation by Greg Reinke, CAO analyst. No discussion, no public comment. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #8 A group of three members of the Sons of the American Revolution in period costume presented a “Flag Appreciation” certificate to the Board. They were joined by four Daughters of the American Revolution in street clothes who stood behind the men and did not speak. Magsig said that September was “Constitution month,” but there is no such official designation. 17 September is Constitution Day, commemorating the day the Constitution was signed in 1787. Magsig also noted that he used to “play football” with one of the presenters, Randy Dhindsa. A group photo was taken, and Quintero proposed that the certificate be displayed in the building lobby.
Agenda Item #9 Very brief presentation by Steve Johnson, Human Resources Risk Manager, regarding a hearing for approval of an amendment which would resolve management of worker compensation claims. No discussion, no public comment. Passed 5-0. Second hearing set for 21 September.
Agenda Item #10 First hearing to amend fee schedules in certain sections of Environmental Health code. Rates and cost recovery have been affected by the pandemic, hence the need to re-examine now. Brief presentation by David Luchini, Assistant Director, Fresno County Department of Public Health. No discussion, no public comment. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #11 Update and direction from Public Health staff on COVID-19. David Luchini spoke first, giving the latest data on infection, hospitalization, and death rates. He noted that the San Joaquin Valley currently has a very high transmission rate of about 42 cases per 100,000 per day. He did say that the severity of the infection rate has provoked some people to “get off the fence” and get vaccinated, adding, however, that “we need more people vaccinated.” Of those aged 12-17, only 40% have had at least one dose so far. No vaccine has yet been authorized for the 0-11 age group. Dan Lynch, Emergency Services director, said that hospitals were now at over-capacity; Clovis hospitals, for example, are operating at 135%. Throughout the County, there are no available ICU beds, and patients are being held in ERs, which are overwhelmed. Ambulances wait between two and six hours to turn over a patient. Staffing is a problem, as about 350 healthcare staff are now out with COVID themselves. The state government last winter could supply out-of-state healthcare workers but at this time, such traveling emergency workers are engaged in other crises, such as hurricane relief in other parts of the country, Lynch noted. ICU patients are being sent to areas where there is bed availability, such as Sacramento, Stanford, and Watsonville. Rest homes are doing quite well at this time, likely because of the comprehensive vaccination efforts preceding the current surge. Elective surgeries are being postponed, and people are not able to freely visit hospitalized family members. Lynch further said that the healthcare system is in crisis, but he applauded nurses, doctors, EMT workers, and other workers who “show up every day to go to work.”
Dr Rais Vohra, Interim Health Officer for the County, began his presentation with this formula: “High vaccination rate, low case rate,” emphasizing the logic of this rule. The
vaccination rate in Fresno County remains low, hence the current critically high case rate. The unvaccinated are driving the surge, he said. He reiterated that vaccination prevents death and hospitalization, despite the rare breakthrough case of infection. Remaining unvaccinated makes “normal activity” such as shopping or going to work “high risk.” One infected person can transmit the disease to many, he said. Every hospital is stretched to its maximum capacity, and “we feel paralyzed,” he said. He emphasized the necessity for building “layers of protection,” including masks, vaccination, social distancing, hand-washing. “We need to intensify indoor masking,” he said, noting that “counties with masking mandates are seeing declining infection rates.” He suggested innovations such as “Masking Mondays” when office workers would without fail wear masks on Mondays, following weekends when people are likely to have socialized, increasing exposure, and could possibly infect co-workers on returning to the office. He suggested leading by example: “More could be done by Fresno County,” for example, testing, masking, requiring vaccination. “Good science suggests this is the way forward,” he said. He mentioned that healthcare workers were exhausted and that appreciation for them should be demonstrated publicly.
Brandau asked for Board comments. Magsig, appearing to minimize the critical nature of the current surge, looked at his phone and asserted that the newest data showed that the numbers of hospitalized and infected have plateaued and are beginning to “possibly” decrease. He wanted confirmation from Dr Vohra, who noted that hospitals will nevertheless likely be stretched to capacity through mid-September, but Magsig persisted and called the slight decrease a “silver lining.” Dr Vohra conceded that this surge will end “sooner or later” but the reality is that hospitals are now forced to turn people away from basic life-supporting treatments and procedures because of the huge number of unvaccinated COVID patients taking all available healthcare resources. Hence, he said, people with illnesses other than COVID, such as heart attacks, appendicitis, or an overdose of prescription medication are out of luck. Magsig, unimpressed, conceded that the data do point to the effectiveness of the vaccine, as though this idea was new to him, but he unaccountably insisted that he is not a supporter of “mandates” and that people should have what he termed “liberty and freedom.” He minimized the Sacramento mask mandate, erroneously citing what he now termed Fresno County’s definitive “declining numbers,” suggesting that a decrease in infection rates happen spontaneously, regardless of mitigation efforts. He implied that a vaccine mandate makes little difference in outcomes and further that he has “full faith” in Fresno County residents to make “the best decisions,” although he cited no evidence that this faith, particularly doubtful considering the statistics cited only minutes before, was warranted. Dr Vohra declined to argue.
Mendes pursued the earlier mention of the lack of state assistance in arranging for supplemental healthcare workers to help manage the current crisis, as had happened previously when the state government deployed teams to the area. Lynch explained that in the winter months, before vaccines were available, the state health department could anticipate infection rates and thus plan for deploying extra healthcare staffing, implying that the availability of vaccines and a sufficient vaccination rate were expected to have precluded crises such as the current one. Nevertheless, Mendes declared that the state government “failed to plan,” not acknowledging that a vaccine requirement could have thwarted the present predicament, per the data presented by the County health department. Though Lynch minutes earlier had said the state government would not provide extra staffing this time, he now said that some help from Los Angeles had been “found” and that some traveling nurses were arriving that day. Mendes remarked that it was good to see the vaccination rate increasing, however slightly. “I like using the carrot approach to get people to do stuff,” he said, presumably meaning using an incentive of some kind to inspire people to get vaccinated, though he did not elaborate. “People have choices; people are free. If you work in the cattle industry, the cattle aren’t free. Anything you vaccinate against, you’re always at 100%; you don’t vaccinate 98% of the herd,” he said, attempting to make a point but raising doubts. He then asserted without evidence, “I’m sure that delta came through the Bay Area and Southern California to get here,” shifting responsibility away from the County. To that remark, Dr Vohra joked that there should be a “swab checkpoint on Highway 99,” to laughter.
Brandau seemed to implicate the Latino population for failing to get vaccinated, without citing any evidence or concerns, and asked what efforts were being made to encourage the Latino community to this end. Joe Prado, Community Health Division Manager, said that there are new radio and TV ads which encourage vaccination, and his department is studying which census tracts are under-vaccinated. Prado also noted that younger age groups, of no particular ethnicity, were under-vaccinated.
Brandau then took a moment to publicly thank Dr Vohra and his staff for doing excellent work; he added that if he were in their position, he would be advocating for the same things. However, Brandau then abruptly asserted that the entire healthcare system needed to be re-evaluated, and he compared the American Medical Association to PG&E, unaccountably asserting that “bad policy decisions” were responsible for the great influx of COVID patients, stretching the capacity of the hospitals and staff, and that the AMA “needs to figure out” extreme staff shortages and “release more doctors” [sic]. He did not seem to be aware that the AMA does not manage hospitals or deploy physicians. He continued, bafflingly accusing the AMA of pecuniary interests: “They never look at that because they want to control the value and the money part of that game, but maybe we can look at that when this pandemic is out of our system.” The three vocal Board members—Magsig, Brandau, and Mendes—appeared to look for spurious sources of culpability for the current surge, while possibly avoiding the obvious solution of mandated vaccination. “But you guys are doing a great job,” Brandau abruptly concluded, addressing Dr Vohra and colleagues. He somewhat dismissively promised to look for “ways to show appreciation” to the entire heath department staff “in the next couple of months or so.” Then seeming to retreat from the urgency of the public-health crisis, Brandau took a defensive posture and claimed that there was “a lot of other stuff going on” and “like Supervisor Magsig, I’m not really inclined to look at the mandate side of these issues, although I understand the case for it. I really do.” He then said, waving a piece of paper in the air, that he would “look at your list” of steps of recommended ways to ameliorate the surge, and referring to himself in the third person said that “maybe having Steve Brandau make a pitch” for “some” of these items could be helpful. Brandau then asked if there were final comments from the Board, and only Mendes spoke, addressing Dr Vohra, half asking and half stating: “There will be another variant.” Dr Vohra replied that there likely would be, that we need to get through the current surge and as suggested by Brandau, look at the system as a whole and prepare for crises via prevention. He repeated what he said at a previous meeting, that he hoped there would not be a variant which was resistant to a vaccine, emphasizing the urgent need for greater vaccination coverage now. Pacheco and Quintero were silent throughout.
Agenda Item #13 Appeal regarding the denial by the Planning Commission of Classified Conditional Use Permit No. 3706 (Applicant: 3B Development, Inc; Appellant for Applicant: Rabie Mekideche). Issues are 50% use of lot where 40% is permitted and a 15-foot setback where a 20-foot minimum is required. These specifications are for 133 lots in the Tract Map No. 6189 (Phase 2 of Vesting Tentative Tract Map No. 4968). The property is located on a 38.78-acre parcel south of Millerton Road, west of Marina Drive, and east of the unincorporated community of Friant (Millerton New Town), in District 5. Developer Darius Assemi from Granville Homes appeared to make the case for this appeal. The development is referred to as a “master-planned lifestyle community” on the Granville website. No other public comment. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #12 Award contract for slurry seals to preferred bidder. Brief presentation by Erin Higginson from Public Works. Agreed on lowest bidder. No Board/public comments. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #14 This item was eliminated from the agenda.
Agenda Item #15 Adopt specifications for a contract for recycling the existing surface of 8 miles of Lincoln Avenue, adding paved shoulders, traffic striping, and shoulder backing. This road is heavily used by trucks during peak farming season. A bid protest from a low bidder was to be heard but appellant was not present, per County Counsel Cederborg, who said it was at the Board’s discretion if they chose to entertain just the written portion of the protest. A representative from Yarbs Grading and Paving appeared and used the opportunity to complain about what he termed PG&E-type paperwork which would ensue if the bid protest were successful. Magsig asked some clarifying questions of Cederborg, and Pacheco said that his district has been waiting two years for this project and since the protesting party did not appear, he thanked Public Works and moved that the current low bid be accepted and the project moved forward. Passed 5-0. Pacheco then reiterated his appreciation of Public Works.
Agenda Item #16 Supervisor reports. Magsig complained that national forests are closed to the public until 17 September, which he felt was an annoyance in light of Dr Vohra’s suggestion that people should socialize outside. He did not mention the reason for the emergency closure is high risk of wildfire. He also reported that there was a one-year commemoration of the Creek Fire on 4 September at Shaver Lake. He publicly thanked various County departments for giving priority to helping the fire victims.
Quintero thanked Public Works for clearing trash from a house in his district and for managing a homeless encampment on a canal bank between Millbrook Ave and Maple St, also in his district.
Brandau said that budget hearings will begin 13 September and there will be a State of the County meeting on Wednesday 22 September to be held at the Chaffee Zoo. “I think I’m going to be outdone by several other animals there,” he quipped.
No reports from Mendes or Pacheco.
Agenda Item #17 Board appointments. Mendes made one appointment to the Selma Cemetery District. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #18 Public comments regarding issues not on agenda. None.
Agenda Items #19-24. Closed session. No public comments. The Clerk said that there would be nothing to report from the closed session and that adjournment would follow. At 12:00PM, Brandau asked the public to leave chambers so the closed session could begin. Video and audio transmission ended at this point.
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