Documenter: Rachel Youdelman

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The Board approved District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp’s request to authorize the hiring of an additional deputy district attorney to help manage drunk-driver caseloads. Smittcamp appeared in person to make the request.

  • The Board debated, then tabled, a plan to provide an incentive for County employees to get vaccinated by Nov. 16, 2021 by offering them a one-time payment of $500 in the form of a contribution to the employee’s County of Fresno 457(b) deferred compensation savings plan.

  • Four public requests for land uses, all of which are in Magsig’s district, were considered by the Board in terms of how they could be integrated into the General Plan, prompting a discussion of community-specific plans for long-neglected towns or neighborhoods; Supervisor Pacheco consequently promised to propose the hiring of additional staff specifically to implement the General Plan.

The Scene

Chairman Brandau called the meeting to order at 9:59AM and turned to Pacheco to introduce the person giving the invocation, whom Brandau called “the highest of the high.” Pacheco then introduced Bishop Torkom Donoyan, prelate of the western prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, very imposing in his black and purple robes and pointed cowl (a hood worn by celibate priests), clutching a staff, and surrounded by a small entourage of other priests and dignitaries. Bishop Donoyan prayed that the meeting would be blessed by resulting in fruitfulness, success, and the fulfillment of the “noble duties” of the Board. He also wished for deeper growth of the Armenian-American relationship, especially within Fresno County, where historically there has been a significant population of Armenian immigrants and their descendants. Brandau led the flag salute immediately after the invocation. The meeting was live-streamed with very clear audio and visual transmission, including several camera angles. Meetings are usually dominated by Brandau and Magsig, but this meeting was notable also for the increased speaking time of Supervisor Pacheco. Even Supervisor Quintero spoke a bit more than he typically does.

Agenda Item #1 Approval of agenda. At the request of Rousseau, item #6 was deleted, to return on a date uncertain.

Consent Agenda Items #16-50 Magsig pulled item #19, Mendes pulled #34, and Brandau pulled #18. Remainder approved 5-0. Re item #19, adjournment in memory of Michael B. Rossi, Special Investigator for the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, Magsig noted to family and colleagues present, “We grieve with you.” Item #19 then passed 5-0. Item #18 was an adjournment in memory of Gloria Soto, an employee of the County who died suddenly; colleagues of hers appeared and spoke briefly. The item passed 5-0. Item #34 concerned an increase in health-insurance coverage for family policies of County employees, as well as a salary increase. Pacheco spoke about the unfairness of health-insurance coverage rates, with family-policy rates increasing while individual rates had not. Passed 5-0.

Agenda Item #3 Proclamation honoring the 50th anniversary of KMPH, a local broadcaster but now an affiliate of Fox. Brandau, smiling delightedly, recounted a “fun,” brief history of the station. Two current employees appeared to say a few words and accept the honor, local celebrity and TV weatherman Kopi Sotiropulos, and station manager Matt Morse. Quintero made much of a recent necktie-giveaway organized by Sotiropulos, who reportedly owns hundreds of neckties.

Agenda Item #4 Proclamation in recognition of the 30th Anniversary of Independence of the Republic of Armenia. Berj Apkarian, Honorary Consul of Armenia in Fresno, came to the podium along with Bishop Donoyan and others, including Consul General of Armenia in Los Angeles, Ambassador Armen Baibourtian; Reverend Father Yessai Bedros of St Paul Armenian Church in Fresno; and Reverend Father Ashod Khachadourian of Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic church in Fresno. Mr Apkarian said that they wanted to begin the celebration of the anniversary of Armenia’s independence in Fresno because of Fresno’s historical significance in the record of Armenian settlement in America. He mentioned that President Biden had sent congratulations to Armenia’s prime minister Nikol Pashinyan and praised the Board for last year’s condemnation of Turkey and Azerbaijan’s military aggression against Armenia. Magsig quipped, “This ‘odar’ appreciates you all very much,” using the Armenian word for non-Armenian, the equivalent of “gringo,” “goy,” and like ethnic-specific words which describe those outside the tribe, but by saying it demonstrated his insider’s knowledge. Pacheco said that he has a deep appreciation for the local Armenian community and noted that it was an honor to receive the Bishop, who represents the entire western United States. “We remember where we come from,” in Fresno, remarked Pacheco, emphasizing the nature and importance of ethnic identity. Quintero said, “You honor us,” and noted that Fresno County’s first figs, an important regional crop, were introduced by the Seropian family. Passed 5-0.

Agenda Item #5 District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp appeared in person regarding this item, which was a request to authorize the hiring of an additional deputy district attorney to help manage drunk-driver caseloads. The item also concerned some grant agreements for funding drunk-driver prosecutions. Smittcamp compared the escalating case numbers of drunk and drugged drivers to gun-violence levels. “It’s free money, Nathan,” Smittcamp said, addressing Magsig and apparently referring to the grant funding. “You had me at ‘hello’,” replied Magsig, signifying his hearty approval of the item, if inappropriately jolly.

Agenda Item #6 This item was deleted per the office of CAO, to be re-introduced at a later date. The item concerns the appointment of David Luchini as permanent Director of the Department of Public Health. He is now Interim Director and has appeared before the Board often in recent weeks to discuss the COVID crisis and its management.

Agenda Item #7 Director of Human Resources, Hollis McGill, introduced this proposal to provide an incentive for County employees to get vaccinated by 16 November 2021, by offering them a one-time payment of $500, in the form of a contribution to the employee’s County of Fresno 457(b) Deferred Compensation savings plan. She said that about 64% of employees were vaccinated, and she hoped to reach 70% by that date. A lengthy debate ensued. Pacheco asked about state mandates and whether they would take precedence; McGill replied that mandated vaccination applies to health-care workers, behavioral-health settings, and congregate settings such as jails. McGill said that the alternative to vaccination was weekly testing, which was more costly cumulatively than the one-time $500 payment, to be funded by American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Pacheco pointed out that Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) wanted to use ARPA funds for projects such as public parks, which would have long-term and sustainable effects on communities, so he questioned the use of the funds to pay people “who should get a shot anyway.” But he seemed conflicted, because he noted that anyone in Fresno can get vaccinated for free, but those who decline it are exercising their choice; on the other hand, he said, our hospitals are full of people who have declined to be vaccinated to the point of compromising patients seeking treatment for more routine medical complaints. Still, he doubted that the incentive payments would help.

Brandau interjected that he is going to oppose the plan “out of hand” without considering any argument or anything else, because it’s “divisive” and costs too much, though how he understood it to be divisive he did not reveal.

Magsig said that he analyzed the issue and determined that it would be a cost-benefit, considering the higher cost of repeated testing. “I don’t believe in mandates,” he declared, but he believes in vaccination and noted that 86% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated. He supports incentives over mandates. He did not comment on other vaccine mandates, such as measles, mumps, polio, etc. “I’m one who believes we need to follow the Constitution,” he said without clarifying the connection.

Mendes asked McGill if there was a mandate to test employees for COVID. McGill said that there was in certain cases, such as government-run congregate entities. Mendes took the opportunity to make some of his signature pronouncements, in this case non-sequitur: “Government never makes sense,” and “Common sense isn’t very common—that applies to government,” as a long-time government employee apparently not meant ironically. 

Pacheco said it was a no-win situation, that he agreed with Brandau but he also agreed with Magsig. Pacheco then complained about inconvenient effects of government actions, such as the raising of the minimum wage, but he seemed to be expressing general frustration at the difficulty of crafting decisions.

Mendes noted that he prefers not to tell anyone to do anything. Quintero said that the ARPA money was meant to be used for these situations, so why not use it. CAO Rousseau pointed out that, yes, ARPA funds could be used for infrastructure such as parks, but its main purpose is use for COVID management. In 18 months, he said, the County has spent $100 million, and there is $200 million more to come. Quintero suggested holding the item for the next meeting. Magsig reminded everyone that this solution was proposed as a means of reducing spending on testing. Rousseau noted that more directives from the state or federal government may yet be coming, implying that decisions made today could end up being moot.

Public comments on the item were opened by Brandau. Sean Burdine, a fit and stylish young man from Clovis and the “election chair” of a local reactionary group called “Constitutionalists for California” who frequently appears before the Board to share his opinions, declared himself to be “very in touch with the community,” without specifying which segment, and assured the Board that exactly “72%” of them would rather quit their jobs than be vaccinated. “I don’t believe $500 will change their mind,” he asserted confidently. Next, Brent Burdine, a middle-aged man and also a regular in-person commenter, appeared at the podium, claiming without evidence that information, presumably that which he prefers, is “being withheld from the public,” and that “people are being censored.” Then he falsely claimed that formal exemptions from mandated vaccination include White House employees, the CDC, and “illegal aliens.”

Pacheco made a motion to delay action on the matter and to table it. Mendes thanked Quintero for first suggesting the delay. Counsel Cederborg pointed out that a vote was not in order but that all Board members must verbally assent, which they all did. Mendes was heard to say sotto voce, “We won’t be voting on a mandate.” Hence the matter was tabled.

Agenda Item #8 Department of Public Works and Planning staff, William M. Kettler, Division Manager, and Bernard Jimenez, Assistant Director, gave a presentation regarding four different requests for land uses, all four of which are in Magsig’s district. One concerns a 7,000-acre area called Harris Farms which is proposed to be a college campus with student and staff housing; staff recommendation is for future study and review of conditional-use permits. The second one concerns a request for clarification or

modification of the county treatment of conditional-use permits issued on projects within an adopted specific plan, in particular the Millerton-specific plan; the request to the board is to allow the life of the conditional-use to continue in effect as long as the adopted specific plan is being pursued (7 to 10 years)—staff recommendation is to create a provision in the zoning ordinance to focus on health and safety issues. The third request is from the 180 Corridor; this group’s focus is on commerce and developing Community Plans for the Squaw Valley and Dunlap, and staff recommendation is to continue to work with them and develop a plan based on their needs. The fourth proposal is from the Shaver Lake Citizens Advisory Committee and is a request to review planning documents relevant to Shaver Lake.

Magsig said that the General Plan is so far along now that it is difficult to incorporate these plans into it. He recommends meeting with Fresno Local Agency Formation Commission

(LAFCo) about the third and fourth requests. As for the first and second requests, he felt these were reasonable, so he supports them.

There was a detailed discussion regarding a number of related issues. Mendes asked if Squaw Valley had special districts—Shaver does but not Squaw, said Kettler. Magsig said that as for future development in Squaw Valley, there really is not enough water. 

Kettler spoke about prioritizing community-specific plans, but Mendes noted that the General Plan must be completed first. 

Brandau opened public comments on the matter, and Mariana Alvarenga, a policy advocate from the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability spoke about communities in unincorporated areas, such as Tombstone, Lanare, Cantua Creek, etc, which she said were established by people who were not permitted to live elsewhere because of racial discrimination. There has not been sufficient planning or investment in these communities, she noted. She asked that the request for the new 7,000-acre community be denied and noted that public funding should not be used to subsidize private-sector development. Funds should be used for communities such as Tombstone, Cantua Creek, etc, which are in great need of attention. She asserted that by approving public funds to finance private development, the Board would be violating the law. She then asked the Board to create community-specific plans for Cantua Creek, Tombstone, Lanare and some other communities. She said by investing in these communities, the Board would be improving the communities and assuring the general health of generations to come in these areas and would also reach climate goals. 

Pacheco said he would like an answer to the question Alvarenga raised regarding the towns of Lanare, etc—do they have community plans? Kettler said that Lanare has one and that Cantua Creek is noted as a “area of interest” in the General Plan. Pacheco asked, “How does the County handle those communities?” Kettler said that there are policies specific to each area. Tombstone, he said, is a “neighborhood.” “What designates a community getting a plan versus a mention?” asked Pacheco, to which Kettler replied with a laugh, “Direction and money.” Mendes said that Lanare has a community-service agency but that it is in bankruptcy and is under the protection of the State. Kettler said that there is “economy of scale” and “critical mass,” as these communities “see ebb and flow” in population. He said that Lanare is “two streets that intersect,” that it has a plan, though a small one. To make changes, “it would come down to direction and funding source,” he added. Pacheco asked about Cantua Creek; Kettler replied that it is listed as a “rural settlement” in the General Plan, for which there are policies and zoning standards, he said. “I’m a little surprised that this Board recently authorized looking into an industrial area; how come that wasn’t one of the dots listed on here? Why isn’t that in our General Plan?” He said he realized it was “late in the game” but wondered why the industrial-park area was not on a par with the current land under discussion. Another staff person said that these four requests came from the public, and that adding the previously discussed industrial park would have been redundant. Pacheco asked when “this” would be done, presumably referring to the General Plan; the reply was the second quarter of next year. Pacheco, acknowledging the over-worked Planning Dept staff, proposed that the Board authorize hiring extra staff to complete the General Plan, adding all of the “nuances” currently under discussion. He will request adding the proposal to hire staff to the next agenda, adding he was “tired of getting criticized” for delays. He also noted that the Board has not done a very good job of implementing General Plans over the past several decades, emphasizing the need for additional staff to incorporate the many nuances necessary to make implementation of the Plan possible.

Quintero commented that when he was on the Fresno City Council, they had community plans for each Council district which were specific to given areas and were added to the General Plan. He asked if there were community plans for smaller areas in the County. Kettler replied that the County has equivalent community plans and that regional-specific plans within the County General Plan will have to be updated. Most updates, he added, come from requests for amendments by private-property owners or developers who want to change something.

Magsig made a motion to approve staff recommendation but added that he would like information about additional costs for both the Shaver and Squaw Valley requests as well as information for the other Supervisors who want funding for smaller communities. Passed 5-0.

Agenda Item #9 Supervisor comments.

  • Magsig said that he participated in the 20th  9/11 commemoration in Clovis on the Cook Land property.

  • Mendes said that he would work with Pacheco to form a subcommittee focused on adding items to the General Plan.

  • Pacheco assented to Mendes’ suggestion.

  • Brandau noted that 22 Sept was the State of the County address, which he would make.

  • Quintero had no comment.

Agenda Item #10 Magsig appointed Jeff Meacham to the Fresno Arts Council. Passed 5-0.

Public Comments for Items Not on Agenda. None.

Closed Session. Cederborg anticipated no announcements out of closed session, so adjournment was at 11:24AM.
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