Documenter: Rachel Youdelman
Here’s what you need to know:
$4.2 million dollars has been granted by the California Natural Resources Agency as of a week ago to build flood-prevention infrastructure on Naples Street.
A grand-opening celebration for the newly completed Mowry Bridge will take place on Sept. 30.
Under the supervision of the city attorney, a lawsuit against a property owner of a crime-ridden property is proceeding in Fresno County Superior Court.
Rolando Castro, Mayor
Jesus Mendoza, Mayor Pro Tempore
Jose Alonso, Council Member (left about 7:30PM, one hour before meeting ended)
Joseph R. Riofrio, Council Member
Oscar Rosales, Council Member (attended remotely)
Cristian Gonzales, City Manager
John Kinsey, City Attorney
Celeste Cabrera-Garcia, City Clerk
Michael Osborn, City Engineer (attended remotely)
Nancy M. Banda, Finance Officer
Kevin Smith, Chief of Police
The Scene: The meeting was called to order at 6:05PM by Mayor Castro. Roll call was taken; all council members were present. Flag salute ensued, followed by an invocation given by Arturo Montejano, who prayed, “I ask you to bless this committee that you placed in this place.” Addressing the Council, he said, “The Lord has put you guys here to help the city of Mendota.” About 8 people attended remotely, including council member Rosales. Lice-streamed via Zoom, video transmission was fixed, with a single view of the dais. To remote attendees, the only visible people were Alonso, Castro, Mendoza, and Riofrio, though other people present in the chamber could be heard when they spoke. Audio transmission was generally poor, and some of the proceedings were on the unintelligible side. Agenda items were addressed out of order.
Finalize Agenda The city clerk requested to move an item, Public Hearing Item #1, for discussion after the Citizens’ Oral and Written Presentations. Approved 5-0.
Citizens’ Oral and Written Presentations (Public Comments) Members of the Porras family appeared to bring the issue of a now-deceased family member’s name being removed from a soccer field after a park was reconstructed, the field having been named for him—Daniel “Gordo” Porras—per a city resolution of 1997. Council members repeatedly said that they had no knowledge of this history and apologized over and over for the oversight. Tearful family members related how they contacted Rosemary Martinez, the city clerk at the time, and asked her to find a copy of the 1997 resolution. Martinez, appearing in person with the family to confirm the terms of the resolution, not only had found it but said that in fact she had written it herself. Council member Rosales, in a defensive mode, said “We don’t get every resolution that we can see it” [sic], though he added that it was “very embarrassing.” Martinez said that the Council should have had the archived documents and offered to give more information if needed. Over and over, each council member said that the issue would be resolved in some to-be-determined way. Mayor Castro said that they could not respond specifically since the item was not on the current agenda, but he assured the family that the item would appear on a future agenda so that they could formally address it. Other family members including a sister and the deceased man’s father, Israel “Eddie” Porras (“I always stand for justice, and that’s what I want from you guys”), appeared to speak about the matter, as did former council member Joseph Amador. Repeatedly, as the discussion seemed to be drawing to a close, another council member began apologizing anew, repeating what was previously said, and introducing tangential topics, such as mutual friends and foods they all enjoyed. The discussion lasted about an hour.
Public comments closed at 6:59PM.
Public Hearing Item #1 A presentation was given by Chief of Police Kevin Smith about the chain of events and formal process leading to imposition of a fine to a property owner for neglect of an order to abate weeds on her property, an empty lot. Notices were sent to the owner by certified mail, for which she signed receipts, yet she claimed to have never received the notices. City attorney John Kinsey noted that not receiving a letter is not a defense admissible in court. Through a translator, the property owner, who appeared in person, said that she received at least one of the notices, which she said her husband misplaced. A sign was posted on the property, but she claimed not to have seen it. Again attorney Kinsey explained that not seeing the sign is not a legal defense. The property owner repeated that the error was her husband’s and asked how and when the bill could be paid. The city clerk said that the deadline for payment in full was August 2022, after which if unpaid, a lien could be placed on the property. Whether interest could be charged before or after that date was a matter to be resolved by attorney Kinsey. Council members spoke in English for the most part, with a translator for the Spanish-speaking property owner, but near the end of the discussion, Castro spoke Spanish, directly addressing the property owner. Resolution 21-68 to authorize special assessments on the 2022-2023 tax roll for nuisance abatement costs passed 5-0.
Business Item #1 Presentation via remote by city engineer Michael Osborn about a local road-safety plan initiated by the Fresno Council of Governments (COG). COG has hired a consultant, Kittelson & Associates, to manage the work. The project is multi-jurisdictional and includes Mendota. Council members have been invited to a workshop (“focus group”) on the matter. The purpose of the plan is to identify safety issues and develop solutions to them. Enactment of a local road safety plan will be a requirement for receiving funding from the Highway Safety Improvement Plan (HSIP), a federal program. Osborn is drafting goals and solicited input from the Council. Rosales interjected a question to Osborn, asking if he engineers roads only or if he does “structures,” to which Osborn replied that his firm does structural engineering. Rosales then began talking about building “a gym or something” for use by youth, which had nothing to do with the agenda item under discussion. “I need you guys to start collaborating more, man” he demanded, then he thanked Osborn “for all your services” [sic]. Osborn was tactful in responding and said “as a side-note” that an application has been submitted to build an indoor-outdoor gym. “That’s what I’m talking about!” said Rosales, sounding pleased.
Riofrio suggested that certain roads need “safety things” [sic]. Rosales broke in again and asserted that the local police do not enforce “no parking” rules in bike lanes. Castro discussed the need for more walking paths. Riofrio raised the issue of lighting and noted that “a lot of places are poor lit” [sic]. Castro suggested that Osborn study the roads “before and after tomato season,” at which Osborn laughed. When Castro impugned his laughter, Osborn noted he was laughing “in empathy, not in jest,” and Osborn asked him to take a photo if a tomato truck spills on the road.
Further suggestions were building a bypass at Highways 33 and 180 so big trucks won’t drive through Mendota. Osborn mentioned a current CalTrans roundabout project in this area which would reduce traffic. Then the mayor suggested that if “they wouldn’t give so much money to Fresno and Clovis, maybe we could get some,” but he did not specify who “they” were. Osborn asked all Council members to attend the COG workshop if they have been invited. No public comment. A vote was taken but there was nothing to vote on.
Finance Nancy M. Banda reported on the County Community Development Block Grant (CDBG): she requested Fresno County that funding include three fiscal years, 2019-2021, and that the allocation is $575,222.00 for all three. The City will submit another application for funding in 2023-2024. Funding will be used for the Rojas-Pierce Park expansion project. Funding for the Mendota Internet Connectivity remains open and must be dispersed by November 2021. A problem is that recipients must be a US citizen or have legal immigration status. Since $60,000 of this fund remains, the Finance Director’s staff is considering other ways to spend it, such as stocking food pantries. Castro then complained that the food available in food pantries was “expired.” Next Banda mentioned two bigger projects, a community center with an outdoor gym, a grant to cover rental and utility assistance, adult dental care, and water storage. An application for a grant from the Statewide Park Development and Community Revitalization Program (SPP) for a new community center, outdoor fitness court and inclusive playground was submitted in March; awards have not yet been announced.
Engineering Osborn returned to give a general report, including news about the grand opening of the newly completed Mowry Bridge on 30 September, status of relocation of Well #10 and water main (delayed), topographic survey, and alley-paving project. $4.2 million dollars has been received from the California Natural Resources Agency as of a week ago to build flood-prevention infrastructure on Naples Street in Mendota. Rosales blurted out to Osborn, “How pumped are you?” Osborn appeared startled and replied, “How pumped am I? Pretty pumped up.” Rosales asked “Do you got any specs yet” [sic] to which Osborn replied that there would be a new basin and a pump system. After describing some additional hoped-for plans, Castro told him “You’d better start taking some people out to dinner,” to laughter. Rosales blurted out that “for all we know he’s already taking them to dinner, right, Mike?” Osborn soberly noted that he had not “wined and dined” anyone but he did spend a day speaking to city officials and carefully observing the layout of the affected streets. Osborn reflected that “all in all,” to reach this point, the project has taken five years.
City Attorney Kinsey gave an update on a currently pending lawsuit in which the City of Mendota is the plaintiff and defendants are a Mendota resident on Lolita Street who is identified by name, plus 50 others. The complaint as filed is summarized as follows:
“For more than two years, the City has received continual complaints from neighbors in the vicinity of the Subject Property, including, but not limited to, complaints regarding the accumulation of trash and other debris, the presence of exposed human waste, illegal camping violations, animal control violations, and dangerous, controlled-substance-related activity.” (https://publicportal.fresno.courts.ca.gov/FRESNOPORTAL/DocumentViewer/Index/CWLYhSQ2aK0O-Do1ylZ-S4TYSPgOtU9M2IMD0nT5kQPqXTcL1dHVXQ4WRBiwjxkex8duGmZKak9e6c48WewyGNHjr9z54XqeKtoc5b6VwzKR6w8qGQ_iG3dwy6psy8-H0?p=0 )
He did say that landowners were served but that they defaulted. Receivers are “lined up” and Kinsey will appoint them as needed. He asked for names of neighbors for the purpose of asking them to sign a declaration which would support the city’s lawsuit and give the court a picture of the impact of the criminal activity. Apparently in connection with this property, arrests are being made “out of there” weekly, noted the chief of police, Smith, but he didn’t specify what crimes were being committed.
At this point, Rosales once again interrupted and blurted out, addressing Smith, “Chief! I got a question! What about bringing back the baton?” Castro replied, “Those days are done, buddy.” An unidentifiable voice said “Don’t forget, we’re talking about California,” to which another voice answered, “Today we vote, today we vote!” (referring to the gubernatorial recall election). Rosales seemed to be advocating for police violence in place of due process. There was some cross-talk and laughter. “OK, it was just a thought, you know, if we could bring back the baton and enforce it once in a while” [sic], Rosales said, sighing. “Does that conclude your report?” Castro asked Kinsey. “It does,” he answered.
City Manager Parts of Cristian Gonzales’ report were unintelligible because of poor audio transmission and ambient noises. He mentioned a waste-water project. The director of public utilities will begin joining the Council meetings starting with the next one, he noted. Castro asked him about the remaining federal relief money and when budgets would be amended; Gonzales replied it would be sometime in November, when budget items should be identified, but he was not more specific.
Mayor and Council Reports
Rosalio: No comments.
Riofrio: Mentioned the troublesome Lolita Street area which came up earlier; there was a murder there a month ago, he said. People are “discharging” guns there, and neighbors are afraid. He also mentioned the death of Cora Martinez, a former member of the Mendota school board, from COVID.
Mendoza: Asked about a carnival, which would be held next week, others confirmed, but there were no more details given.
Castro: Asked about “our cannabis people,” possible referring to a marijuana farm which has broken ground in Mendota (https://www.yourcentralvalley.com/news/marijuana-farm-breaks-ground-in-mendota-a-first-for-the-city-2/ ). The site plan for the farm may be modified, and attorney Kinsey said that the Council would have a chance to weigh in on “the final disposition” and that “they need approval from us to get what they want.” Rosales again loudly interjected, “I got a quick question. Can we get a briefing on this? I don’t want to get burned. Cannabis has not been good for us.” Kinsey assured him the matter would come back to Council for a full briefing and for approvals. Rosales then announced, “I got to go to work.”
Castro adjourned the meeting at 8:32PM.
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