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Staff presented the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Ad-Hoc Committee’s recommendation for earmarking and prioritizing funding proposals per ARPA guidelines for use of Fresno County’s $194,063,657 in federal ARPA funds, with a priority of investment in communities most affected by the pandemic. There is still room for more applications from sub-recipients who want to propose specific projects, and a 30-day period for submission of Statements of Interest (SOIs) and project proposals will be opened as of Monday, 7 Feb; funds are to be earmarked by May and formally allocated later in the year. All funds must be allocated by Dec 2024, and all funded projects must be completed by Dec 2026.
Supervisor Magsig insisted on adding language to the County’s federal legislative platform regarding what he called “local control” of elections.
Residents of Lanare and of Fresno’s Britten Ave appeared in person to request urgently needed infrastructure improvements in their long-neglected communities, with funding via ARPA.
Board (all present)
Brian Pacheco, 1st District, Chairman
Sal Quintero, 3rd District, Vice-Chairman
Steve Brandau, 2nd District
Buddy Mendes, 4th District
Nathan Magsig, 5th District
Paul Nerland, County Administrative Officer (CAO)
Daniel C. Cederborg, County Counsel
Bernice E. Seidel, Clerk of the Board of Supervisors
Chairman Pacheco called the meeting to order at 9:31AM, before which Supervisor Brandau was heard to laughingly say (to whom it is unknown), “You’re in the hot seat.” Roll-call was followed by invocation and flag salute; Pastor Brian Wiebe of Bethany Church in Fresno was invited by Brandau to perform both. Wiebe led a US flag salute for the first time, as he is a Canadian by birth and immigrated to the US in 2007. Wiebe’s prayer quoted Proverbs: “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy,” but rejoicing in death seemed perhaps inappropriate during a death-ridden pandemic. Other punitive impulses were expressed, such as “Censure those who seek to do us harm,” and “Ignore those who frustrate progress and prosperity.” Pacheco thanked Wiebe and announced that there was a Spanish-language translator in the room if needed.
Agenda Item #1 Approval of agenda. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #2 Consent Agenda Items #13-33. None pulled for discussion.
Agenda Item #3 Presentation on the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) by John Thompson of Public Works and George Uc of the CAO’s office. Uc gave an overview of goals, principles, and funding available. He presented the ARPA Ad-Hoc Committee’s recommended plan for the County for earmarking and prioritizing funding proposals per ARPA guidelines for the use of Fresno County’s $194,063,657 in ARPA funds. The County has received over $90 million already and will receive the remainder by May of this year. All funds must be allocated by Dec 2024; all funded projects must be completed by Dec 2026.
Uc noted that a priority was investment in communities most affected by the pandemic and explained that the Ad-Hoc Committee’s recommendations for dividing the sum were as follows:
Category A 58% Public Health and Economic Impacts
Category B 8% Premium Pay for Essential Workers
Category C 5% Lost Revenue
Category D 10% Water, Sewer, Broadband
Category E 19% Sub-recipient Ideas or Projects
As of last Friday, the County had collected Statements of Interest (SOIs) from 71 community groups (“sub-recipients”) who would like to be allocated some of the 19% ($37 million) of these funds set aside for this use. Because there is still room for more, a 30-day period for submission of SOIs and project proposals will be opened as of Monday 7 Feb. County staff will vet the applications by March, then ask for the Board’s recommendations to the Ad-Hoc Committee. Funds would be earmarked by May.
Since about $89 million has already been earmarked, as of today’s meeting, a total of $104 million was available to earmark. A detailed list of recommended projects was presented. Thompson and Uc explained that official allocation of funds would take place at a later Board meeting and that consideration of State funding would be taken into account, to avoid duplication of funding.
CAO Nerland said that $10 million had already been earmarked for surges in hospital occupancy (of unvaccinated people with serious COVID infections); funding requests from County Medical Center, Clovis Community Hospital, and St Agnes Hospital have already been received. Attorney Cederborg pointed out that money for the hospitals had already been allocated and that ratification was “in the works.” Pacheco said that he would “reach out” to the Fresno city government and request that they also match the funds from their own allocation.
Discussion followed, with Board members praising staff and one another for the work accomplished so far on this matter. Thompson reminded the Board that as of today the funds are only for earmarking and that allocation comes later, though some funds may be expedited. All recipients will receive a formal agreement. Internal projects will be back before the Board in March; for others, agreements must be drafted, subject to Board approval. Mendes noted that though all 15 cities in the County received federal funds, unincorporated areas “got nothing,” further asserting that “we’re their only pipeline for them to get anything,” though this observation seemed self-evident. Quintero asked if a representative of the Leadership Counsel was in the room and spoke about the possibility of using ARPA funds for road repair at Britten Ave east of Cherry Ave. Thompson explained that the County could not repair the road because it was privately owned. Attorney Cederborg confirmed and said that though Quintero wants to help, he is prohibited by law from doing so. Quintero said that he would meet with the Leadership Counsel about it.
Public comment on this agenda item was opened. Isabel Solorio of Lanare spoke in Spanish, and the County staff person translated. Solorio said during the pandemic, her low-income community had suffered a lot. Their community center needs repair, there is no sidewalk drainage, and living conditions are generally terrible. Funding is urgently needed. She hoped action would be taken.
Next Grecia Elenas from the Leadership Counsel spoke. She said she was “ecstatic” to hear about proposed investments in Lanare and that other such small County communities need similar investments such as transportation services. She also hoped to see services to prevent homelessness and was reassured to see that water/sewer is being made a priority. She noted that there was also State funding for water and cautioned against duplication of investments. She understood that the road mentioned by Quintero was private and that its current owner had bought it to avoid the possibility of another owner’s preventing its use by residents. She said that she had spoken with him and that he was willing to donate the property to the County, which would then facilitate the allocation of funds for repairs.
Another Lanare resident, Andrew Hernandez, asked when the infrastructure projects would start. Pacheco reiterated that project applications would be accepted as of next Monday and that projects receiving allocations would be completed “over a period of time.” Uc reiterated that all projects must be allocated by Dec 2024 and all funded projects must be completed by Dec 2026.
Esther Espinoza, also a Lanare resident, spoke in Spanish. She appeared in support of the community of Lanare and asked that funds be used for community projects in Lanare. She cited the work of a previous speaker, Ms Solorio, who has worked hard without resources to help Lanare families come out of this terrible crisis. “Our kids deserve dignity,” she said.
Grecia Elenas returned to speak on behalf of residents of Britten Ave and read a letter from resident Rosa Depew, who requested that ARPA funds be allocated for investments in Britten Ave infrastructure: the neighborhood water is contaminated, residents can’t drink it, and the street is in such bad condition that Sparkletts water delivery, arranged by District 3, refused to enter the street, which has not been updated in 60 years. Other basic services were also prevented, such as USPS deliveries, and kids could not safely walk to school. Elenas read another letter, translating it from Spanish, from Yesenia Lopez, a resident of Britten Ave, which repeated many of the same complaints and said that residents could not even walk to the corner of Britten and Cherry to reach the bus stop, because the condition of the road was so bad. She further hoped the Board would consider Britten Ave in its allocations for community infrastructure repair.
Brandau expressed hope that a late-arriving SOI from the National Garlic Festival would receive special consideration for a funding earmark. He emphasized “economic impacts” such as local hotel and restaurant patronage and noted that garlic is a local crop which Magsig said was worth $400 million annually. Brandau asserted that even the garlic for the Gilroy garlic festival is grown in Fresno County. Pacheco said he had “no issues” with this suggestion, and John Thompson said the proposal would be vetted and brought back to the Board.
Agenda Item #4 Brief presentation by Carpi and Clay, a lobbying firm contracted to represent the County at the federal level. Carpi and Clay employees David Wetmore and Laura Morgan-Kessler appeared virtually and discussed updates on federal COVID relief funding, “Build Back Better” details, CARES Act, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, appropriations for fiscal years 2022 and 2023, and this year’s general outlook for the County. The scope of their work was outlined: advocate for County goals, help draft annual legislative platform, conduct bi-weekly calls with County staff, provide monthly federal updates, coordinate with National Association of Counties (NACo). Magsig asked if there was an opportunity to work with the Army Corps of Engineers on water issues; Morgan-Kessler replied that the Water Resources Development Act would be under consideration in Congress in 2022, that this act provides direction to the Army Corps of Engineers every two years, and that the Flood Control District should submit its request to the California state delegation in the House of Representatives. No mention was made of the fact that District 22 currently has no representative, since former congressman Devin Nunes, an ally of Brandau and Magsig, abruptly quit his job, so the delegation is missing one key member.
Agenda Item #5 Adopt recommended changes to the Fresno County federal legislative platform, which is meant to reflect the goals and priorities of the Board of Supervisors and establishes guidelines for lobbying and advocacy with Congress and federal agencies. Chairman Pacheco is authorized to write letters of support or opposition to specific pieces of legislation, and CAO Paul Nerland is authorized to work with the County’s federal Congressional delegation to support or oppose legislation. Specific goals for a variety of areas are outlined in the platform, from agriculture to criminal justice, elections, energy, public health, and the like.
Magsig requested a change under the “elections” bullet-point in the platform and demanded that the phrase “local control” be added to define how the County would manage elections. “Local control” is an imprecise, reactionary catchphrase which is often invoked when officials prefer to resist state or federal laws; considering Magsig’s alignment with those who falsely claim the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent, it is very concerning that he wants to include this language in the County’s official platform. However, no other Board member objected. Brandau said he had a similar request and asked Magsig to “review” his, to which Magsig replied that NACo’s platform included the same language (however, a review of the current NACo platform posted on its website shows that it does not). “Local control is so important,” Magsig opined, asserting without citing evidence that “DC” wants to impose voting restrictions. “They’re looking to nationalize elections,” he said with derision, likely referring to proposed congressional legislation which would actually restore or ensure voting rights nationally and prevent states from suppressing them. Election results should be “processed at the local level to the fullest extent possible” because the County registrar of voters is an elected position, said Magsig, without explaining how the process would be different from what it entails now.
Brandau continued in this vein, expressing his support for “local control” as well, without specifying particulars when applied to elections. He also wanted to add language describing opposition to “legislative efforts to usurp local control” in matters of re-districting. He also opposed, under the public-health platform, federal vaccination mandates, and wanted such language added to this bullet-point of the document. Additionally, he wanted language added in the transportation-infrastructure section of the platform which would allow for federal funding of maintenance of capital projects.
Magsig also wanted language added to the section of the platform which calls for emergency federal funding for fire management and re-forestation. He said that he had recently spoken with sheep farmers and “some folks who run cattle” who had complained to him about the difficulty of obtaining permission to graze their farmed animals on federal land. Hence Magsig wanted to propose permitting “grazing, thinning, and prescribed fires” in federal forests, which he said will help the animal-agriculture industry. As an afterthought, Magsig added that it would also “help the forests.”
There were no objections to any of these additions to the County federal legislative platform, and Pacheco regarded it as a consensus. He then opened public comment on this item. A young woman whose name was inaudible asked if Magsig’s comments about forests had been based on environmental studies with which he was familiar. She did not know of any evidence that permitting livestock to graze in forests was proven to be conducive to forest health. She said that while such action may benefit a single industry, it remained to be seen if it would actually benefit forests. Magsig responded not by citing studies or experts but by making claims about forest floors being full of “fuel” (presumably leaves and twigs) which exacerbate burning. He said he wanted to return to forest-management practices of indigenous peoples without specifying particulars or citing expertise which confirms that such practices will in fact be effective, especially considering changes wrought by global warming and the like. He dismissed the commenter’s question about studies upon which he based his opinions and defended himself with what he said was “just history,” speaking with confidence but citing no evidence and telling her patronizingly that “I do appreciate your comments.”
Another commenter, Heather Evans, who has come before the Board regularly in recent weeks, spoke about the addition of the phrase “local control” to the elections item in the County’s legislative platform. She reminded the Board that part of the reason there is tension between local and federal management of elections is the history of Jim Crow and voter suppression. She noted that before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “local control” allowed for poll taxes, rigged literacy tests, and the like, aimed to prevent certain populations from participating in elections. She said that she would hate to see Fresno County align itself with current attempts in other states to limit participation in voting and asked the Board to reconsider adding such language to its platform.
Pacheco, seeming to respond to Evans, noted that, despite addition of such language to the County’s platform, election matters “default to the State, so I think we’re OK.” A vote was taken to approve the platform but not before Magsig reiterated that approval was only with the additions he and Brandau made. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #6 Supervisor reports and comments.
Brandau: Said he opposed firing unvaccinated County staff, because, as he falsely stated, “Everybody is getting COVID, vaxxed or not.”
Mendes: Complained about the state water board and asserted it was “slowing down the process, rejecting all plans,” and that it was “a very dangerous deal the state is going down” [sic], without offering specifics.
Agenda Item #7 Appointments. For a variety of assignments, Mendes and Pacheco each made one appointment; Brandau made four.
Agenda Item #8 Public comments regarding items not on the agenda. Will Jackson, a Fresno attorney with a degree in creative writing, appeared to make an impassioned case for what he called “medical freedom.” He was vehemently opposed to using medicine to prevent illness and made several assertions, without providing evidence, that “careers have been ruined” because of what he considered individuals’ prudent decisions to decline vaccination. He also was upset because of his perception that Dr Vohra and Mr Lucchini of the County’s public-health department “refused to speak,” presumably about matters he wanted to hear, but he was not specific. He railed dramatically about “public-health officials who smeared the unvaccinated,” but offered no details. He angrily accused the Board of “signing agreements to put more needles in people’s arms,” something he clearly disapproved of, and he concluded ominously yet irrationally that the Board was headed down “the dark path toward tyranny.” He was inflamed about surgical masks, which he called “dirty rags on faces,” and went on in this vein until his time was up.
Heather Evans spoke again, this time in response to Jackson, the above commenter, and to Brandau’s comment that “everybody is getting omicron.” She noted that unvaccinated individuals are 40 times more likely to die or require hospitalization than the vaccinated, and that our local hospitals are asking for millions of dollars in extra funding because of unvaccinated people. Though Board members are not to respond to comments about items not on the agenda other than with civilities, Brandau abruptly interjected a provocative question to Evans: “What do you think of the phrase ‘my body my choice’?” The phrase, used by advocates of abortion rights, is often invoked by anti-vaxxers who don’t recognize a difference between pregnancy and infectious disease. Did Brandau want to debate? Evans replied only “It depends on how many people are affected,” which silenced Brandau.
Agenda Item #9 Closed session, items 9-12. Before going into closed session at about 11:30AM, Counsel Cederborg said that there would be items to report afterward. At 12:40PM, the Board reconvened the public portion of the meeting to vote on initiating litigation against property owners in two cases regarding nuisance abatement. Both passed 5-0. Brandau commented that his office hears a “massive” number of complaints about improperly dumped trash and the like, presumably matters which these lawsuits entail. The meeting was adjourned at 12:45PM.
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