Documenter: Rachel Youdelman
Here’s what you need to know:
With a 4-1 vote, the Board advanced a draft redistricting map (“County map D”) which will require a 4/5 vote at the Dec. 14 meeting to become the County’s supervisorial map for the next ten years, despite strong public objections to the Board’s decision-making process.
Fresno County was the top 2020 agricultural producer in the USA with gross production reaching $7.98 billion, despite the pandemic and the Creek Fire.
County Administrative Officer Jean Rousseau has retired, attending his last Board meeting today.
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. All present. This meeting was CAO Rousseau’s last before he retires. Perhaps coincidentally, giving the invocation was his replacement-to-be, Paul Nerland, who also serves as a “shepherd” at one of Clovis’ many churches. Nerland required that everyone bow their heads, appealed to a “father” to whose authority “we are stewards,” and concluded by framing leadership as a need of this father. The room was fairly full with a variety of visitors, and the meeting was a long one which spanned a range of important agenda items. The first portion was from 10:00AM-12:30PM, followed by about a 45-minute closed session, then a single public-hearing agenda item which drew a big crowd of public commenters from 1:15PM-4:00PM.
Agenda Item #1 Approve agenda. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #2 Consent agenda, items #9-62.1. Supervisor Quintero pulled items #21 and #22. Item #21 concerned a “Toys for Tots” toy-collection drive, a project of the US Marine Corps. December 2021 was proclaimed “Toys for Tots” month. Lt. Colonel Jessica Montano appeared in uniform to accept the proclamation and speak about the toy drive. Clerk Seidel read the proclamation aloud, repeatedly mis-pronouncing the word “corps” as “corpse.” Lt. Colonel Montano said that 50,000 children in Fresno County were served by the program, and she thanked the Board for their support. Item #22 was adjournment in memory of Mike Cavallero, a former member of the Fresno Police Department. “He was a warm individual,” noted Chairman Brandau, joining Quintero in his praise.
Agenda Item #3 Proclamation congratulating the Sierra Gateway Trust and author James M. Spitze regarding publication of their coffee-table book, Treasures en Route to Sequoia and Kings National Park. Author Spitze and several members of the Trust appeared in person to accept the proclamation.
Agenda Item #4 Annual Fresno County Crop and Livestock Report (for 2020), Department of Agriculture. A presentation was made by Melissa Cregan, Agricultural Commissioner. Fresno County was the top agricultural producer not only in California but in the country. Gross production was $7.98 billion. Almonds were the number-one money-generating crop, followed by grapes, then pistachios. Peaches displaced mandarin oranges in revenues, and most exports went first to Japan, then Taiwan, Korea, Mexico, and Canada. Ryan Jacobsen, CEO of the Fresno County Farm Bureau also spoke, affirming that the County was the food-supply capital of the world. Another County official asserted that throughout the pandemic, safeguards such as masks and administration of vaccines were provided to farmworkers, citing the efforts of former Director of Public Health Dave Pomaville, though at the beginning, outreach was difficult and results were poor (see https://www.fresnobee.com/news/coronavirus/article247327124.html ). Several of the speakers noted that next year’s report may not be quite so impressive, because the lack of water will likely take a toll. Cregan noted that the farm workforce “got us through these times.” Supervisor Magsig lamented that “now we’re seeing inflation; prices are through the roof,” but Cregan replied that “farmers don’t set prices.” Mendes complained that fertilizer prices have “doubled or tripled.” Quintero asked Cregan about the impact of COVID “on crops and employees,” to which she replied that such data was not tracked for this report. She also noted that the farmworker shortage was a pre-COVID problem but asserted that farmworkers “knew” they were “essential workers” and did not have to be told. Supervisor Pacheco agreed that though we “celebrate today,” next year will be challenging because of water scarcity. Brandau joked to Pacheco, a dairy farmer (as is Mendes) that on page 22 of the report was a note that “milk production is up.” Mendes wondered aloud if a vote was necessary for this agenda item and noted that he always looks in Clerk Seidel’s direction for such questions, to which Brandau anxiously interjected, “That’s not always reliable,” a comment reflective of the tension often observable between the two. No vote was needed to accept the report.
Agenda Item #5 Public hearing under the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA)
regarding bonds to finance of health-care facilities operated by Community
Hospitals of Central California and Fresno Community Hospital and Medical Center. Greg Reinke of the CAO’s office gave a very brief presentation. Pacheco noted that the funds will be “a huge investment for Valley health care.” Passed 5-0 with no further discussion or comment.
Agenda Item #6 Chief Kirk Haynes of the Probation Department spoke on behalf of several budget items requested for his department, in particular the addition of staff positions. Magsig wanted to know if the state of California passed laws which instead of managing juvenile offenders within the criminal justice system simply places them in “homes.” Haynes said that there has been a reduction in the number of group homes, or STRTPs (Short-Term Residential Therapeutic Program), as they are known, and that was enough for Magsig to persist in his thread of questioning: “The State [of California] limits our options,” he asserted. He appeared to think that “homes” meant unscreened private homes and went on to say that some youthful offenders have mental-health issues or tendencies to violence. Are “families” prepared to handle these youths? Haynes calmly clarified that before placement in a group home is made, the County attempts to place the youth in a relative’s home or a foster family’s home. The Probation Department and the Department of Social Services offer continual support to foster families, which they vet and affirm fitness for accepting such youth. The first choice, Haynes said, is always a relative’s or foster home, and a group home is the next choice. Violent offenders always go to STRTPs. The State’s requirements are “good,” said Haynes, because they ensure safety. Not satisfied, Magsig asked “Is this an ‘unfunded mandate’?” Haynes replied that effectively it was but added that now the expertise of the proposed new staff members is urgently needed, effectively framing the hiring as an investment. Mendes interjected to Haynes, “You’ve got an incredibly difficult job,” but like Magsig appeared to want to find something to pin on the state government: “It’s incredible what the State expects the County to do,” he added. Mendes expressed a sweeping but unwarranted anxiety: “Next step is no more state prisons.” Haynes responded that the Probation Department is “doing a great job with adults.” Quintero asked how many group homes there were in Fresno County; Haynes said he would get the number later. He did say that there were now about 30 adolescents in group homes. Quintero then wanted to know what happened to the “boot camps” for youthful offenders; Haynes replied that the program was discontinued, because it was not effective—graduates did not “stay clean” or refrain from committing crimes, so the “boot camps” were replaced with other, more effective programs. Haynes thanked departing CAO Rousseau for his help over the years. Passed 5-0
Agenda Item #7 Public Health Department Director David Luchini (appointed on 5 Oct; had been interim director since May 2021) spoke about budget requests for hiring new staff to support public-health goals. He noted that costs may be offset by funding to come via anticipated state legislation. There were some public commenters about this agenda item. First was Sean Burdine, a young Clovis resident who regularly appears before the Board in support of reactionary causes. He was a proponent of “local control,” he said, and declared that vaccination should be “an individual choice.” He cited what he thought was a call for a vaccine mandate in the agenda text and objected to it. He presumed to “assure” the Board that people do not want to be forced to be vaccinated, citing false numbers of “adverse effects” and “deaths” caused by vaccines. He vociferously claimed that people were “deeply divided” on the issue but offered no credible data of any kind, other than his own thoughts. Next a County employee named Heather Evans, a young women with blue color in her hair, followed to refute Burdine and say that the “reports” he cited were a collection of unconfirmed comments. “I am tired of seeing people die,” she noted, adding forcefully, “Fund the department!” A third speaker who did not identify herself, a middle-aged women with long, curly hair, said that “the first speaker” (referring to Burdine) does not represent the majority. She said she supported a vaccine mandate and asked the Board to follow Health Department guidance. Next an older man who did not identify himself spoke: he said that he blamed some members of the Board for not supporting mask mandates and said that some of them were “going out with members of Proud Boys” (https://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/marek-warszawski/article251042919.html ). He said it was “disrespectful the way the Board rams through” resolutions through the consent calendar and finally, referring to Burdine, permits “whack-job anti-vaxxers” to speak before the Board. He asked that the Board support the budget proposal. Brandau scowled and did not thank him, as he typically does for all commenters, regardless of opinions they express. Another older man in a black cap spoke: The best way to protect children is through a vaccine mandate, he said. Brandau then addressed Burdine (as “Sean”) and clarified in a reassuring tone that what Burdine thought was a “mandate” was a mere “goal.” The item passed 5-0. “There you go, David,” said Brandau, addressing Luchini.
Agenda Item #8 Request for approval to amend the Master Schedule of Fees to revise existing fees based on actual Department of Public Works costs. “The fees are used to reimburse Department staff costs for projects requested by County departments and outside public agencies. This item is countywide,” per agenda. A department spokesman appeared and noted that the “main driver” of the request is a reduction in retirement contributions. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #9 Dawan Utecht, outgoing Director, Behavioral Health at Fresno County, made a presentation on the state of mental health and substance-use disorder services in the county. She gave a brief history of her tenure and noted that the Affordable Care Act had allowed her to expand staff with budgeted positions; she built partnerships with police departments and established housing for severely mentally ill people. She addressed persistent funding issues and expressed a preference for an integrative approach to managing mental-health issues. She said that demand for services was up for a variety of reasons, including the mental stress of the current political climate. She noted that there is a workforce shortage and that the Central Valley has the lowest qualified staff for behavioral health in the State. Other persistent problems affecting behavioral health she noted were high rates of pre-term birth, poor access to public transportation, bad air quality, high rates of COVID cases, limited affordable housing. She said that we can acknowledge uncomfortable truths while celebrating accomplishments. She quoted Clovis City Council member Lynne Ashbeck: “If any one system could do it alone, all problems would be solved.” Brandau said, “The Board is appreciative of your honesty,” and Magsig added, “Your passion is important,” comments which appeared patronizing, considering the very substantive and comprehensive analysis she presented of her tenure as Director of her department. Then Magsig unaccountably asserted that “government” only wants to treat symptoms and that “Sacramento” exacerbates problems. Pacheco thanked Utecht for her service and acknowledged work they had done together at First Five Fresno County (https://www.first5fresno.org/ ). A group photo was taken. No vote was called for.
Agenda Item #10 Presentation made by several members of the Public Works Department regarding capital projects: a sheriff’s substation, an animal-control facility, a jail annex, recorder’s office. Other projects discussed were an agriculture department building and a Board of Supervisors/CAO building. A public commenter asked that employees have input on decisions regarding the planning of these projects. Regarding a new building to accommodate the Board, Magsig said that the current building had historical value but was “sub-par” for the current population of Fresno County. Pacheco disagreed: he said that to preserve history, we must use it. Preserve the historical building, but expand and retro-fit it. Quintero raised the issue of housing for foster children, which was not on the table, but he wondered why it was not a priority, given its urgency. After some discussion about continuing the item to another date, Magsig suggested that he and Pacheco form an ad-hoc committee to discuss the Board of Supervisors building project, since they disagree. A motion was made to allow for it; passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #11 Supervisors’ comments. Magsig said that he has written a letter in opposition to the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to designate about 550,000 acres in the southern Sierra Nevada as critical habitat for the federally endangered fisher, a medium-sized, plush-fur mammal, under the Endangered Species Act, because, he said, it would limit the County’s ability to “do forest-thinning projects.” Pacheco thanked CAO Rousseau, as this day was his last meeting before retirement. Mendes, whose remarks often seem inappropriate, noted that “We should have started this meeting at 9:30AM.” Quintero congratulated the Public Works department for having received some awards, though he did not elaborate. He also praised the Public Health department employees for managing a charitable coat drive.
Agenda Item #12 Board appointments. Magsig appointed Kylene Hashimoto to the Board of Behavioral Health.
Agenda Item #13 Public comments regarding items not on the agenda. Burdine appeared again to thank Brandau for “clarifying” the issue regarding his previous remarks. Next, eight individuals appeared to ask that the name of Squaw Valley be changed. Most of them were residents and referred to the town as “S” Valley. They said that the word was vulgar, an insult which “hurts us.” “Names send a message,” said one commenter, and another asked that the matter be added to a future Board agenda. One brought sympathetic comments from 25 neighbors who could not attend. They held signs which said, ”Do the right thing. Change the name.” Indigenous advocate Roman Rain Tree abruptly walked around the speaker’s podium and turned his back to the Board, revealing a strikingly long, single black braid, while almost shouting, “This is how you treat us [you turn your backs on us]”—Brandau immediately ordered him thrown out (“Let’s get this guy out of here!”), and two security guards removed him. One person supported keeping the name. Heather Evans, the young woman with blue-edged hair, appeared again to complain about wages for County employees. She displayed a chart showing costs of living relative to wages and spoke in an angry tone with high volume. When she exceeded her two-minute limit, Brandau thanked her, and she said firmly “We’re not done!” to which Brandau replied, “Yes, we are.” Security guards approached but she left the podium voluntarily.
At 12:30PM, the Board went into closed session (agenda items #14-17). They returned at 1:16PM. There was no report from closed session.
Agenda Item #18 Public hearing to receive input on re-drawing of the County supervisorial map. Brandau reconvened the meeting with his collar and tie loosened and with a grim facial expression. He said that John Thompson of Public Works would make a brief presentation, next National Demographics Corporation (NDC) would present, supervisors would ask questions, and public comment would follow. “No bizarre demonstrations,” he warned. John Thompson spoke briefly, outlining the meeting process, and said that as per the previous meeting, six variations of maps (County maps A, B, C, D, E, and F), based on map 101B and Board comments and suggestions, had been prepared by County staff and NDC and would be presented for review. There was also map 101B, recommended by the Advisory Redistricting Committee and map 125, submitted by the Equitable Map Coalition. He said that all eight maps met federal and state legal criteria. After close of public comment, he said, the Board would decide on a particular map to advance. Jeff Tilton of NDC then spoke, reiterating the state and federal criteria and rules for re-drawing the maps. He complained about what he felt was the lack of sufficient time in the deadline schedule to prepare the maps, because, he said in a dispirited tone, state and federal laws were “difficult enough.” He also complained about receiving data from the state “in the wee hours” and discovering what he called “abnormalities” then complained about waiting another week while those were allegedly corrected.
At this point, the public-comment portion of the meeting was opened. 52 people showed up to comment in person, and the majority were not pleased with the direction the Board was taking in having favored map 101B which had been drawn and submitted without public input quite late in the process by a man who manages publicity and advertising for local Republicans. The comments, at two minutes per person, and twice the time for Spanish speakers and a translator, took over two hours. Among the commenters were former supervisor Juan Arambula; Angelica Salceda, a staff attorney with the Northern California ACLU; Amy Arambula, a member of the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission Board of Commissioners; and Marianne Kast, President of the League of Women Voters of Fresno. Alex Tavlian, who drew map 101B, appeared to comment and advocate for the variant County map E. He thanked everyone as though he had won something.
Of the 52 commenters, only seven expressed support for the Board’s decisions and direction. Among the majority’s comments, some made in Spanish, were these:
“The Board failed to recognize citizens’ concerns.”
“We poured our hearts into the project, but the decision was made in private.”
“The Board missed an opportunity for a community-driven map.”
“All we hear is ‘Clovis’ and ‘Fig Garden.’”
“Public engagement and testimony were ignored.”
“Rejection of our hard work is problematic and unsustainable.”
“A growing majority of people are telling you they are not happy.”
“Map 101B is an ‘incumbency protection’ map.”
“You don’t listen to us.”
“We wasted our time attending workshops.”
“It’s not just about Clovis.”
“As ag workers, we are not included.”
“Mendes rejected our map over a cemetery district.”
“We need an independent redistricting commission; you chose appointees who’d support you.”
The small number of supporters of the Board’s decisions said, for example, that others had called map 101B “illegal,” and that was a “nonsense narrative;” however, no one actually said that. One man said that it was “appalling and deeply concerning” that people were talking about “race,” but no one had made any racist statements. A woman, in defense of the Board, stated, “We’re all people.” Another woman noted that she gets along with her Mexican neighbors, so why doesn’t everyone else? A man said that hearing “constant race accusations” was “uncalled for.” Another said, puzzlingly, “I like the status quo,” because “we are not a democracy.”
After public comment ended, the Board discussed the matter. Magsig, Mendes, and Brandau, each made defensive comments based on what they had just heard. They were “offended” and “annoyed.” Magsig said that those who appeared before the Board may have opinions, but he and other Board members were elected by all of the voters, so they will make the decisions. He did not seem to realize that his logic suggested that participants’ input ultimately was not of concern. He said that he had been “elected twice,” perhaps as justification for taking this position, adding that if there were 22 maps and only one could be chosen, that 21 people would be “disappointed.” He said that he “takes a little offense” at the claim that the Commission did not represent the County fairly. “At the end of the day,” the Board will decide on the map, because “the public elected us to do it,” he reiterated. But this logic likely only raised the question of why the public was invited to participate.
Mendes said that he “gets very annoyed” when he hears constituents say that he doesn’t visit certain areas of his district—one commenter said that she had never observed him in the part of his district where she lives. He then, responding to a comment about mostly “white guys” comprising the Board, said, “I’m not a white guy, just pass for one.” He appeared to be serious. As a general defense, he said that Alma Beltran, mayor of Parlier, was “a good friend of mine” and declared that he lived in a “poor unincorporated community.”
Brandau, appearing haggard and scowling, stated that he “heard a lot of real bizarre things today [sic].” He said, taking issue with one woman’s comment about poor attention paid to farmworkers when COVID initially hit, that “worse than that” were comments about “Buddy” (Mendes) never being in Parlier. He agreed with the minority commenters’ observations about “the amount of discussion on race today,” not distinguishing between racism and identifying racism. None of the members addressed any of the actual concerns raised, other than to defend themselves, though later Pacheco and Quintero acknowledged them briefly.
Pacheco, joining in the defensiveness, agreed with Magsig, saying that “we were elected, so we pick a map.” He added “there is no perfect map” but did note that the west side deserves two supervisors, just like Clovis.
Quintero thanked “everybody who showed up today to comment,” and rationalized that “at the end of the day, someone’s not going to be happy.” Still, he said he supported map 116, the Equity Coalition Map, which he said gives everyone an “opportunity at the table.” He said that other Board members may disagree but that they must work on finding common ground.
Brandau asked John Thompson about procedure; he replied that on 14 December, a 4/5 vote would be needed. Brandau motioned to forward County map D. Pacheco preferred B but said D was OK. He added that he did not want 101B in light of the testimony just heard.
Map 125 was a modified version of 116 but was submitted on October 31 after a deadline. Amy Arambula approached the podium to say that 125 was a “placeholder” and that it meets all requirements.
County map D won the vote at 4-1, and Counsel Cederborg said that formal adoption would take place at the 14 December Board meeting.
Brandau adjourned the meeting at 3:59PM.
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