Documenter: Rachel Youdelman
What you need to know:
At a specially scheduled public hearing, the board dismissed an outpouring of input from the public and voted to move forward with a redistricting map which generally preserves the status quo.
Time-consuming discussions regarding the height of commercial signs and the ratio of electric-car parking spaces to gas-engine-car spaces pointed to possible shortcomings in county ordinances.
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
Chairman Brandau called the meeting to order at 10:00AM and asked the Clerk to call the roll. Giving the invocation was Rabbi Rick Weiner from Temple Beth Israel, Fresno; he was introduced by Supervisor Quintero. A board member of Faith in the Valley, “Rabbi Rick,” as he is known, recited an English translation of the mi sheberach prayer for “strength and healing,” which, he said “has been on our minds for some time now.” Without mentioning any specific deity, the prayer calls for “the one who blessed and healed our ancestors” to “restore, heal, and strengthen” all of our community today. Rabbi Weiner made no extended remarks, refrained from theological remarks, and after the brief prayer, led the flag salute. Today’s meeting was held in three parts: the regular meeting from 10:00AM-12:00PM, closed session from 12:00PM-1:00PM, and a public hearing on the supervisorial redistricting maps from 1:00PM-4:30PM. All but the closed session was live-streamed.
Agenda Item #1 Approval of agenda. Brandau proposed moving Item #7 to after Item #10. Approved 5-0 with one corrected date noted by the Clerk.
Agenda Item #2 Approval of consent agenda, Items #18-43. Quintero asked to pull Item #20, and Magsig asked to pull Item #19. Remainder approved 5-0. Item #20 was an adjournment in memory of Gene “Red” Estes, a Fresno State coach who tested track shoes for the budding founder of Nike. Estes’ widow and one of his sons appeared to say a few words; his daughter was present, clad in an American-flag shirt. Approved 5-0. A group photo was taken. Item #19 was a proclamation on behalf of the Department of Social Services, declaring November “National Adoption Month.” Currently there are over 2,000 children in foster care in Fresno County, noted Delfino Neira, Director of the Dept of Social Services. Throughout the pandemic, 160 adoptions were finalized; over seven years, a total of 1,500 children have been adopted. Courts have now rebounded from the lockdown period, and adoptions are continuing to be processed. Tricia Gonzalez, Deputy Director of Child Welfare Services, also appeared in person and noted that 19 November will be National Adoption Day; in Fresno County, there are 30 families including 47 children whose adoption hearings will be held that day via Zoom, with several court venues participating. All hearings are still virtual, Gonzalez said, but they are “flowing again.” There have been staffing challenges, with Social Worker I staff performing the duties of staff with master’s degrees, because the latter are unavailable. Magsig said, “I’ll move for adoption of this proclamation,” but his quip was not acknowledged by anyone.
Agenda Item #3 Presentation of retirement plaque to Kevin C. Ernst, who served with the Sheriff’s Department for 16 years as a corrections officer. He was described as a “kind person in general.” Brandau asked what Ernst would do next; his reply was, “Now it’s time to relax.” He also commented that his wife will know he is safe “not going to the jail every night.” A group photo was taken.
Agenda Item #4 Presentation of retirement plaque to Sisca Anggreni, who was an employee of the sheriff’s department as an accountant for 21 years. A group photo was taken.
Agenda Item #5 Supervisor Pacheco introduced a proclamation declaring November “National Prematurity Awareness Month.” Shantay Davies-Balch, a colleague of Pacheco at First Five Fresno County, appeared to speak on the matter. She noted the disparities among racial groups regarding preterm births and maternal-child health and called for awareness of these issues. A group photo was taken.
Agenda Item #6 Approval of application for liquor license for a business in Supervisor Mendes’ district. Ron Alexander of the County Administrative Office (CAO) offered to show a presentation, but it was skipped. Mendes noted, “I fully support this.” Approved 5-0.
Agenda Item #8 Proposal to rezone two contiguous land parcels totaling 8.38 acres in Quintero’s district, changing from AL-20 (limited agricultural, 20-acre minimum) to an M-1(c) (light manufacturing) zone to allow a limited number of light industrial uses. Will Kettler, Division Manager, Department of Public Works and Planning, appeared to present the matter. Approved without comment or discussion, 5-0.
Agenda Item #9 Will Kettler appeared again to present this item, an appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of permit application proposing development of a restaurant, convenience store, and gas station within Interstate Freeway Interchange Area in AE-40 zone (exclusive agricultural, 40-acre minimum). The appeal concerned parking at the facility and whether there were too many spaces designated for electric vehicles and whether there were sufficient charging stations. Pacheco remarked that “he had to applaud” Kettler as he spoke for “rattling off” so many state regulations from memory. When public comments were called for, Jordan Freeman appeared and seemed to be preparing for a very lengthy presentation, so he was taken aback when Chairman Brandau told him he had three minutes to speak. That limit was not imposed, however, when Freeman said he was the applicants’ attorney. A detailed exchange ensued, with Freeman claiming he had not received written copies of parking conditions. Pacheco asked Planning staff to provide a transcript of the hearing to Freeman and copies of mailings which should have been sent to the applicant. Some discussion on computing the required number of parking spaces required by law based on square footage followed, with disagreement on inclusion of kitchens, restrooms, etc, in figuring the square footage. Magsig joined this discussion, asking questions, and wondered if property owners could “police” their own parking lots, regarding gas-engine cars parking in spaces reserved for electric vehicles. Freeman noted that the state wants to encourage use of electric cars. “Can I park my gas-guzzling SUV in an EV space?” asked Pacheco. Kettler said that the applicant agreed to allowing gas-engine cars to park in EV spaces. Brandau interjected, “The state says you can’t park there!” The discussion continued at length with no indication of ending until Brandau, noting that he could not feel confident voting on the item today, interrupted—“My mind says I need to learn more” [sic]—and asked Pacheco to continue the item at a subsequent Board meeting. Counsel Cederborg was consulted, and he confirmed that the item could be continued later. The item will be continued to 14 Dec.
Agenda Item #10 Appeal of Planning Commission’s denial of a variance to allow a 75-foot-tall sign in place of the 35 feet maximum permitted, in a shopping center 400 feet north of Highway 180 on Kings Canyon Road. The applicants who hoped to get approval for the over-sized sign appeared in person to make their case. They claimed that the height was “necessary for traffic to see” [sic] from the highway. A very lengthy discussion followed, with some supervisors recalling a 1950s Fresno business called “Bruce’s Lodge” on old Highway 99 which had an airplane on its roof. Kettler remarked that “standards were different” then. Magsig (the property is in his district) supported the denial and suggested the applicants work on changing the ordinance, which has not been updated since 1976. Pacheco appreciated a compromise to 55 feet. Magsig read aloud the “four findings” which are requirements for justifying the variance, but the applicants did not seem to understand and continuously repeated that they needed visibility from the highway and that their neighbors approved. Magsig reiterated that he had not seen the “four findings” evidence required for approval of the variance. However, Magsig said he would accept a “line of sight” study to prove the need for height and proposed continuing the item to 14 Dec. Vote 5-0 to continue the item on 14 Dec.
Agenda Item #7 Because time had now run out, Brandau proposed continuing Item #7 to the next meeting, 16 Nov. “If this were baseball, we’d have struck out,” quipped Mendes.
Agenda Item #11 Supervisor comments. None.
Agenda Item #12 Board appointments. Mendes made two appointments: Alma Beltran to Commission of Status of Women; Rosemary Holatis to Foster-Care Standards Commission; rescind appointment of Karen Foster to Selma Cemetery District (she did not reside within district boundaries). Approved 5-0.
Agenda Item #13 Public comments , items not on agenda. Two people appeared in person to comment. First, Heather Evans, a young woman with blue color in her hair, described herself as a County employee and in a furious and forceful tone excoriated them for granting an employee a $22,000 per year raise on top of a six-figure salary (she did not specify which employee), while rank-and-file County employees live on poverty wages. She was there, she said, because “some of you are unclear on the concept of a wage.” She said that some work performed by County employees was not valued because their salaries didn’t reflect it. County employees live in poverty and can’t afford the necessities of life, she asserted. She noted that Fresno County, the 10th largest county in the state, is fourth in the poverty rate. Fresno County for years has had the highest rate of domestic violence calls and has 135% of the state rate of child abuse, she said.
Next, a middle-aged man who identified himself only as “Dale” spoke. He said he represented his fellow County office assistants. He too complained about the low pay for County employees. He asserted that he and fellow employees do not receive cost-of-living raises, yet increasing deductions for health insurance, etc, are taken from their paychecks. He said that as an observer of Board meetings, he sees merely “a lot of picture-taking and handing out of proclamations” and little if any response to people speaking about the conditions of their lives. He was applauded by the few people then in the room.
Last, a young man named Sean Burdine appeared “in regards to” [sic] an Auberry town-hall meeting held by Magsig, concerning growing trees in areas damaged by wildfires. It was a “very tremendous” [sic] affair, he said. Burdine appears often to comment at Board meetings and is a member of a local reactionary group, “Constitutionalists of California.” He claimed to be doing “work” on the “history of forestry and the family” but did not clarify.
At 11:55AM, Brandau noted the Board would move into closed session and return at 1:00PM for Agenda Item #17, a public hearing. Cederborg noted he did not anticipate any reporting from the closed session.
Agenda Item #17 At 1:01PM, Brandau re-convened the meeting specifically to conduct a public hearing “to receive public input” regarding the re-drafting of supervisorial district maps, a procedure repeated only once every 10 years, following the census. Brandau asserted that the “number-one goal” of the meeting was to “hear from everybody” and, perhaps anticipating friction, asked everyone to be “gracious and respectful.” He prohibited clapping as well as signs inside the building. He noted that speakers could provide their own translators if needed, but that the County’s staff Spanish translator was also available. Online translators could not be connected, so in-person translators provided this service.
Brandau explained the meeting agenda: First, the County overseer of the 2021 Advisory Redistricting Commission would speak. Next, the Chair of the Redistricting Commission would make a presentation. Map-makers would have 10 minutes each to speak. Finally, members of the public were invited to speak, two minutes each. The Board would consider draft maps recommended by the 2021 Advisory Redistricting Commission, hear a presentation from National Demographics Corporation, consider public maps, and hear public comment on all draft maps. By the end of the meeting, the Board would select “a draft map(s) and/or consider alterations to draft maps recommended by the Advisory Redistricting Commission or any preferred alternative draft map(s) for further consideration at the November 16, 2021 public hearing; provide direction to staff and National Demographics Corporation to prepare and analyze any amended or preferred alternative draft maps,” per the meeting agenda. The Board would then establish a schedule and give staff direction for adopting a final map.
This portion of today’s meeting took 3 ½ hours, ending at 4:36PM.
First, John Thompson of the Public Works and Planning Department, who oversees the 2021 Advisory Redistricting Commission, gave a presentation on draft map recommendations. Thompson explained that COVID had reduced the time for preparing the draft maps but that 15 Dec is the deadline for adoption of a final map. He asserted that the County was “proactive” in response to community requests for input and received comments from 130 community-based organizations (CBOs). Ken Abrahamian, Chair of the Redistricting Commission, said that the Commission had recommended three maps but that all maps under consideration would be submitted to the Board.
Next, Kristen Parks, a consultant from National Demographics Corporation (NDC), a private company hired by the County to manage the map redrawing process despite its record of drawing maps which allegedly favor incumbents, gave a presentation on the draft maps recommended by the Advisory Redistricting Commission. She said the current map was not “population balanced” and asserted that the three recommended maps—Public Map 101B, NDC 120, and NDC 121—-corrected this issue. She reiterated the challenges in meeting deadlines—COVID, late census results, etc—and presented a slide outlining federal and state requirements for redrawing maps.
Map-makers were next. Lori Pesante from the Dolores Huerta Foundation spoke about the map they produced, the “equity coalition map,” Public Map 116. Pesante asked everyone in the room to stand if they supported this map—most people in the crowded room stood up, and Brandau interjected, “Let’s not do that again.” Pesante went on to note that the map was designed to be equitable, community-driven, to focus on the next 10 years, and that it included input from COI surveys and a demographer. The map complies with the California Fair Maps Act of 2019, Pesante said. The Fresno County Equitable Map Coalition, consisting of hundreds of COIs and other groups, gave input to and endorses this map; nevertheless, Magsig spoke unaccountably about fears of one group “supplanting” another per the re-drawn map. He seemed particularly concerned that the interests of farmworkers were drawing the attention of civic leaders with whom he had spoken. Pesante replied that based on the legal requirements of creating the new maps, farmworker communities were paired with urban populations who shared similar interests; she also noted that ¾ of the population of Fresno County consists of people of color. Magsig asked repeatedly about Clovis and said that he met with Mayor Flores, not known for his deliberative or critical faculties, who is “happy” with Brandau’s representation of District 2, a comment which seemed to shift the focus of the map-redrawing away from general equitability. Pesante noted that in response to a survey question—“Is your elected representative responsive to your needs?”—residents of District 4 (Mendes’ district) almost unanimously replied “no,” which could have provoked Mendes to call map #116 “a bad map.”
The next map-maker to present was Alex Tavlian, who introduced himself as chief counsel for the Fair Representation Coalition. Tavlian, whose map was Public Map 101B, asserted that the goals in producing this map were fairness, legality, and allowance for growth. The group spent only 6 weeks on creating this map, while other map groups took months or years. The map allows for anticipation of the most growth in District 5, Magsig’s district. He summarized the goals of the map by stating that it preserves historically drawn areas while allowing for growth. Tavlian, a Republican strategist who owns a right-wing media company, made comments which were relatively terse; he did not offer much detail or speak to any community input in the creation of the map. Magsig asked if Tavlian had spoken with “stakeholders” from the area of District 2 in Clovis which the map proposes would be subsumed by District 5. Tavlian replied only that he had met with “municipal leaders” from the area, then reiterated his points about minimizing deviation while allowing for future growth. There were no more comments or questions from the Board.
Presenting Public Map 118 was Kaya Herron, Deputy Director of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce. In contrast to the group creating map 101B, who spent six weeks creating the map, Herron’s group began initial work on their map in 2018, engaging a variety of state-wide groups representing interests of Black communities and soliciting testimony from residents, to shape decisions. Herron was a chair of the Fresno County Complete Count Committee, a volunteer committee which worked to ensure that all of Fresno County’s residents were counted in the 2020 census. She emphasized the work that she and her committees did in soliciting information from community residents regarding their needs and interests, which informed the creation of the map. The map was developed, she said, by the Inclusive Fresno Families Coalition. She noted that the map prioritizes COIs which have been divided over the last 20-60 years, including the Hmong community in Sunnyside residing in previously redlined areas, while connecting them to other areas where Hmong immigrant families have moved as they acquire capital, despite having to split Kingsburg. District 2 (Clovis and foothills) is currently 65% white, while overall the white population in Fresno County is 30%, she noted. She added that map 118 is designed to allow for representation across ethnic and racial boundaries. Magsig complained that Clovis is “carved up” among three districts. He noted that Selma, Kingsburg, and Fowler share one sewer plant and that splitting the sanitation district between two supervisors would be problematic. But he said that he “appreciates” the thought brought to the map. No other Board members commented.
At this point, Brandau moved to the public-comment portion of the meeting. The room was full, and 46 people appeared in person to comment, many of them quite eloquently and persuasively. Except for two in support of Public Map 101B and six for Public Map 118, all public commenters present supported Public Map 116.
Among the commenters was former supervisor Juan Arambula, who spoke in support of Public Map 116 as the best to keep communities together and guarantee the future. In his day, there was no Fair Maps Act, he noted. Others complained that Public Map 101B was created by “a right-wing operative” (referring to Tavlian) and that the Advisory Redistricting Committee is biased as they are “mostly Republicans.” It was also asserted that the NDC “ignored months of public testimony.” Several individuals spoke in Spanish and a translator interpreted what they said—among the comments were these:
“We want better representation.”
“Do what’s right.”
“I ask you to touch your hearts and do what is just.”
“Pay attention to map 116—that map holds the hope of my children.”
“We are a majority represented by people who don’t care about our future.”
“Latinos are tired of never being taken into account—we are not afraid to stand up anymore.”
All of the Spanish-speaking commenters supported Public Map 116. Hugo Morales, a member of the Advisory Redistricting Commission, appeared to say that he was there as an individual. He noted that he had attended all workshops and meetings, the only member of the Commission to have done so. He emphasized the importance of the COI input and said that he was a supporter of map 116. Another commenter implored the Board, “Let us change semi-feudal Fresno County.” The Tavlian map was called an “incumbent protection” map and the Advisory Redistricting Commission was charged by others with having recommended three “status-quo” maps, “deeply disappointing” some commenters.
Some commenters also asserted that the three Commission-recommended maps violate the Fair Maps Act. One commenter suggested leaving Clovis “in their own island,” if that’s what they prefer and reiterated the view that the Commission was led by “right-wing partisans.” She concluded, “Got any questions, you can find me anywhere.”
A Cantua Creek resident complained that she felt she had no representation on the County level and asked how it happened that there is no clean drinking water in her area. Jesus Garcia, the draftsman of Public Map 116 emphasized that the map is community-driven and its data is accurate, reflecting the work of a demographer and a statistician as well. One man of the two who appeared in support of Tavlian’s 101B map asserted that “all supervisors are trustworthy,” though their trustworthiness was not at issue. He stated that “equity maps” are “partisan” though he did not clarify how.
The other 101B supporter was Sean Burdine, the young man who had just made a public comment praising Magsig and the Board in the morning session of the meeting. This time he seemed to be irritated and spoke loudly and angrily, unaccountably defending the Board but not commenting on the issue at hand, redistricting maps. “I have tremendous confidence in the Board,” he shouted. To all who criticize the Board’s representation of the public, he continued in a nonsensical vein, “I ask: Do you represent yourself?” He then railed about the mention of “skin color.” “We cannot continue this racial divide,” he intoned, seeming to not recognize the difference between racism and confronting it.
Public comments closed at 3:48PM. Thompson let the Board know that they should now discuss which maps they will choose to move forward for the next step, when on 16 Nov there will be a final public meeting and a map for final approval on 14 Dec.
Discussion ensued. Magsig, unmoved by public comment, asserted that the Commission “really applied the law.” Quintero brandished a stack of papers he said were emails with comments from constituents in support of map 116. With a wistful expression, he said he was impressed by the phrase often repeated regarding this map, that it was “community-driven,” and he said that 116 should be considered as one of the Board’s final choices. It was evident that as Quintero spoke, Brandau was missing from his chair.
Mendes asserted without proof re 116 that “they didn’t look at school-district boundaries.” Brandau then returned to his seat and asked his colleagues how they should direct the staff. Quintero told him that he suggested consideration of 116 while Brandau was out. Brandau looked momentarily stunned. Mendes asserted “It’s not a good map.” Magsig, struggling to appear reasonable, said that “my concern” is introducing maps not recommended by NDC, which made the presentation of other public maps moot and gave the impression that Magsig had made a decision long before the meeting commenced. The Board is not required to accept any recommendation.
Brandau “had to be very honest” and said that he would not support 116, but that “this is just Steve Brandau,” oddly referring to himself in the third person. Pacheco, giving up quickly, merely said that it was a “waste of time” to consider 116, because there would not be four votes to support it. Quintero said nothing in response.
“I don’t mind going down in flames,” if a vote was taken, Brandau noted. Cederborg pointed out that the vote of this day was only for giving direction to staff. The Board decided on map 101B with amendments and asked John Thompson to create three amended versions of the map: 101Ba, 101Bb, and 101Bc, with some specific suggestions for moving a few boundaries. Magsig reiterated his view that 101B had been “vetted” and that he would support it with minor modifications.
The amended versions of the map will be back on 16 Nov for a final public meeting, and the final map will be approved on 14 Dec.
Adjournment was at 4:36PM. The following day brought news that the Board is now the target of potential litigation by some community groups for allegedly violating tenets of California state law regarding redistricting.
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