Here’s what you need to know:

  • Despite his own claim that elections in Fresno County were unproblematic, Supervisor Brandau voted against funding for upkeep of voting-system hardware and software, based on false claims of election fraud.

  • Led by Magsig and Brandau, the entire Board rejected the Department of Public Health’s proposal for grant-funded research into adverse health effects caused by global warming, because Magsig and Brandau inappropriately demanded ideological alignment from potential science researchers.

  • Neighbors in a rural-residential zone of Fresno prevailed after presenting objections to an appeal by a property owner to build a strip-mall in the neighborhood.

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

Also Present

Paul Nerland, County Administrative Officer (CAO)

Daniel C. Cederborg, County Counsel

Bernice E. Seidel, Clerk of the Board of Supervisors

The Scene

Chairman Pacheco called the meeting to order at 9:31 a.m. Roll call (all present) was followed by an invocation given by Janet Grimson of the County Sheriff’s chaplaincy. She was introduced by Supervisor Brandau, who said that he thinks of chaplains from the sheriff’s office as typically helping victims, but they also “minister” to deputies in the department. Grimson, whose voice was tremulous, prayed to “him who sits on the throne” [sic] and made a string of generally unrelated points, such as that “there is no legacy richer than honesty.” However, the meeting was dominated by the voices of Brandau and Magsig, who used some benign agenda items to exhibit their extreme ideological viewpoints.

Agenda Item #1 Approve agenda. Approved 5-0.

Agenda Item #2 Consent agenda, Items #19-58. Brandau asked to pull Items #27 and #50 for discussion. These items were discussed later in the meeting. All others approved 5-0.

Agenda Item #3 Proclamation: March 2022 is “Professional Social Worker Appreciation Month” in Fresno County. Maria Aguirre, Interim Director of the Department of Social Services, and several other members of the staff were present to accept the honor, and Pacheco thanked them for being “dedicated to improving the lives of others.” A brief presentation of statistics—numbers of employees and numbers of County residents served—was made; for example, DSS receives over 18,000 calls about child welfare annually. The adult-services section employs 93 social workers, and the department receives about 600 job applications per month; 24/7 emergency services are available. Services for youth include case-management for pregnant and parenting teenagers, such as enrollment in Cal-Learn, a program which encourages graduation from high school. Staff has worked throughout the pandemic, sometimes incorporating remote services. Brandau himself revealed that “In the lives of my personal family and friends, I have never seen a greater need” for services provided by the DSS. He asked how many County residents receive services annually—the reply was that half the County population (about 500,000) receives some kind of service annually from the staff of 2,600, the largest department in the County. Pacheco thanked them for their “top-level” service and told them “You have the full support of the Board.” Approved 5-0. A group photo was taken.

Agenda Item #4 Adopt resolution in recognition of Carter Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church’s 140th Anniversary. Pastor Dominic Holland was present with a small entourage. “I greet you in the joy of Jesus Christ,” he declared. He went on to acknowledge others of the same religious denomination who were also leaders in the civil-rights movement, such as Rosa Parks. In recounting the history of the church, he noted that it was founded “on the basis of social injustice.” He then introduced “Brother George,” an elderly man in a Tuskegee cap who mentioned that Michelle Obama had once attended a wedding at the Fresno church. He also talked about the church being one of the first groups to advocate for public housing in west Fresno, on the site of a noisy racetrack. Supervisor Quintero thanked the group “for the history lesson.” Another member of the group, Ray Wallace, spoke briefly, and Pacheco remarked that it is often said about him that he resembles the “Shaft” character from the movies. The resolution passed 5-0. As they approached the dais to have a photo taken, Supervisor Magsig could be heard saying to Mr Holland, “Pastor, thank you, I’m the son of a pastor.”

Agenda Item #5 Proclamation: February is Teen Dating-Violence Awareness Month. Nicole Linder, Executive Director of the Majaree Mason Center was present to speak briefly about this initiative (the “Know More” program). Representatives of County agencies, including Sheriff Margaret Mims and Chief Probation Officer Kirk Haynes, with whom the Marjaree Mason Center has working relationships, were present as well. Two student “ambassadors” of the program spoke briefly about “healthy-relationship education.” Supervisor Mendes thanked them: “This doesn’t go away,” he noted. Passed 5-0. A group photo was taken. Mendes then asked, returning to the previous agenda item, if “Brother George” had been a Tuskegee Airman, perhaps because of the hat he wore, but he was not.

Consent Agenda Item #27 Pacheco returned to this item, which had been pulled for discussion by Brandau. The item concerned authorization to purchase polling location hardware and an election management server, and because both Brandau and Magsig have aligned themselves with those who promote false information about elections, the item was a subject which both of them publicly discussed for the purpose of maintaining circulation of falsehoods about election practices. James Kus, County Clerk/Registrar of Voters, was present. Brandau asked him “Is this the Dominion issue?” referring to the Dominion brand voting equipment. It was. Brandau then declared that he wanted to “register” a “no” vote on the item, because he “has a little bit of trouble with the Dominion system,” alluding to the false claims made by right-wing reactionaries questioning the accuracy of the voting machines. He quickly added that “Everything is going great in Fresno,” perhaps because the election outcomes have been agreeable to him, but he made an unfounded claim that “50%” of the voting population is “distraught about voting,” which did not logically explain why he would vote to withhold funding for voting equipment which he acknowledges is working fine. Magsig took the opportunity to both chime agreement and offer a somewhat contrasting point of view, noting that Brandau “brought up a great issue.” However, attempting to point out to Brandau how logic works, Magsig said that using the same reasoning, there would be many other issues “you’d have to vote ‘no’ on” as well. He continued, “Here in Fresno County, elections are tighter with fewer re-counts” with the Dominion system, which is “operating as designed.” There was no public comment on the matter. Passed 4-1.

Consent Agenda Item #50. This item had been pulled by Brandau for discussion. David Luchini, Director of Public Health, was present to speak about the matter – a proposal to accept grant funding to commission studies about how climate change is affecting public health among county residents, especially that of particularly vulnerable populations; how to develop resilience to effects of climate change, develop a network of collaborating agencies, and develop outreach and advocacy programs to engage various county communities in managing climate resilience, as a part of a working group within the Health Dept called C6 (Central California Climate Change Clinical Collaboration). As noted in the agenda, the Central Valley “ranks the highest for burden of pollution from multiple sources that are exacerbated by climate change, including PM2.5 and water contamination. Central Valley communities that already experience health disparities based on race, income, neighborhood, language, immigration status, and other factors are particularly vulnerable to climate-related health threats while also having more limited access to resources necessary to protect themselves. In addition, the County’s topography makes it particularly vulnerable to other climate extremes, and these vulnerabilities with relation to health impacts will also be part of this assessment.”

Brandau demanded to know “who controls the studies,” to which Luchini replied that the Health Department would control them. Then Brandau wanted to know “who would write the questions,” which presumably would determine the subjects and direction of the studies. Luchini said that local universities with which the Health Dept would work would contribute questions. Now Brandau wanted to know if universities would manage the outcome of the studies. Luchini replied that there would be no implementation of study findings at that point, that they would be “building knowledge” before making decisions on implementation. Grant-funded studies will help in making informed decisions about what remedies or actions are appropriate in making vulnerability assessments of rural populations, based on projections of increasing severity of heat projected over the next 20 years, effects of smoke coming from fires in adjacent areas, and other severe weather changes.

But Brandau objected, unaccountably asserting that “universities will study anything,” as though the proposed studies were a whimsical fancy and universities are staffed with idle people randomly looking for ways to occupy time. Rather than rationally approach the issue based on the needs of people affected by severe climate change, Brandau exclaimed, “If people want a cooling center, they should just come before the Board and ask for one,” he said, irrationally dismissive of the project. He then asserted without providing evidence that some of the agencies proposed for participation in the studies “have sketchy résumés.” He repeated his unfounded claim that universities will accept grant money “to study anything,” revealing what appeared to be an anti-intellectual distrust of higher education and scientific method. “I don’t need to spend $175,000 to know that if it’s hot, you need a cooling center,” he stated in a hostile and bombastic manner.

Magsig chimed in, repeating the unfounded claim that “half the people want one thing and half another,” in a move to justify declining to approve this agenda item. This position appeared to be a matter of convenience, as previously with re-districting Magsig simply concluded that he was elected to make his own decisions, regardless of what any percentage of his constituency wanted. Both Magsig and Brandau are climate-change deniers; hence, there can be little doubt that their vociferous yet irrational objections to this agenda item are ideologically based. Indeed, Magsig made the declaration of ideological positions a condition of his approval of the item—he asked if the proposed partners supported such actions as “forest thinning” and like activities advocated by climate-change deniers; potential partners need to endorse commercial logging, he insisted, asserting without citing evidence that “even UC Berkeley” supports commercial logging. “Did the partner groups have a different agenda?” he asked, fearing that they may use results of the studies as a “wedge.” He added without evidence that he had “just heard” that 50% of County farmland will soon be “fallowed because of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA),” suggesting that SGMA was arbitrary, critical water shortages notwithstanding. He concluded, without logic, that if project partners “don’t support ag” he can’t support the proposed studies. Luchini appeared a bit nonplussed and simply answered that no grant had yet been awarded and he had not heard that any of the proposed partners are “against ag.”

No other Board members commented, except for Pacheco who very briefly said without offering detail that “if we can’t keep it in-house, I won’t support it.” Quintero was silent as was Mendes. Rejected 5-0, which means that the grant application will not be made.

Agenda Item #6 Very brief presentation by Fabiola Gonzalez, Director of First 5 Fresno County, on fiscal report for Children and Families Commission of Fresno County. Funding for First 5 is derived from tax on tobacco, which is declining annually. “Too bad funding isn’t based on alcohol,” quipped Mendes. Pacheco noted that Gonzalez will be the Vice President of California First 5 for a term of two years.

Agenda Item #7 Proposal to add two staff positions to the Behavioral Health department. Both Magsig and Brandau expressed support. Approved 5-0.

Agenda Item #8 Appeal of Planning Commission’s denial of a conditional-use permit to build a small strip-mall on the northwest corner of W. Belmont and N. Cornelia Avenues. Will Kettler, Manager of Development Services, was present to say that the denial was based on planning inconsistencies. Appellants were also present and gave a brief defensive statement. Seven neighbors of the property were present to give detailed and colorful accounts of the neighborhood history and reasons why they strongly objected to the proposed development of the property. One of them, Curtis Zsiba, was opposed to the development because he anticipated water pollution among other consequences, and suggested that the current property owners build two houses on the property and sell them, if profit is their motive. Six further neighbors testified in vivid detail; all were opposed to the development and most cited trash, unabated weed growth, and two unoccupied mobile homes parked on the property. One neighbor asserted that the mobile homes were unpermitted and that he didn’t want to pick up trash on the property because “who wants to be a free garbage man for somebody else?” In his view, the “final solution,” as he phrased it, would be for the property owner to subdivide the property, build two houses, and sell them.

Magsig mentioned the “four findings” which would be necessary for the planning department’s approval of the proposed development; finding number four was inconsistent with the county’s General Plan, hence approval was not possible. The property owners appeared confused about the matter and made some defensive statements but did not address the legal inconsistencies.

The matter of illegally parked mobile homes was a tangential issue and was briefly discussed. Kettler said that he had not seen any records of permits for the mobile homes on the property. He said that temporary storage of a mobile home was permissible without a permit, but whether that was the case was unclear. Mendes lamented that the County did not employ a “gestapo” to enforce such codes, and further, that he sometimes sees similar cases on his “ranches” when he has occasion to visit them. Brandau said that staff was needed for code enforcement and added that he agreed “wholeheartedly” with the neighbors who testified, not neglecting to note that he “wishes well to the owners.” He clarified that the property which is zoned rural-residential could have conditional approval for a use such as the one proposed, but this specific case does not comply with the General Plan. Pacheco confirmed that Kettler would look into the possible mobile-home violations and noted that though he is a big believer in owners of private property doing what they like with it, that they must comply with the rules. “Neighbors should have the greatest say,” he concluded. Appeal denied, 5-0.

Agenda Item #9 Bernard Jimenez from Public Works was present to make the case for a resolution to “adopt the Pleasant Valley Subbasin Groundwater Sustainability Plan for portions of Fresno County in the Pleasant Valley Groundwater Subbasin where the County serves as Groundwater Sustainability Agency.” First he introduced his colleague, Glenn Allen, a Water and Natural Resources Manager, who will be retiring soon. Mendes declared that the County’s Water and Natural Resources group was “the greatest team in California.” Other counties “don’t understand” water issues, or perhaps they just don’t agree with Mendes. Approved 5-0.

Agenda Item #10 Supervisor reports.

Magsig: Dominated this section of the meeting with lengthy statements on his attendance of a National Association of Counties (NACo) meeting in DC, which apparently impressed him very much, as he spoke of not only an address to his group by President Biden, but of his many conversations with “senators and representatives,” not mentioning that Congressional District 22 has no representative because Devin Nunes quit, abandoning the district before his term was up. Magsig went so far as to advocate support for HR5735, a bill to permit flexibility in the use of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Magsig attended a national-security briefing, he said with some alacrity, after which, he concluded ominously, “and now I’m really worried.” Magsig continued, turning to the subject of trash haulers in “mountain” areas who are insisting that residents take their trash bins to the main roads for collection, where there is insufficient room to temporarily place the bins. Haulers’ contracts should be “nuked,” he said, if they are violating their terms. He offered no solution. Magsig then asked Bernard Jimenez when the General Plan would be ready, to which Jimenez replied “December” and that release would be April-May. Then Magsig had other business to discuss with Jimenez—Millerton Road needs to be widened, there are traffic accidents there, including a recent one which killed five people, and it should be a “top priority.” Another Public Works employee, John Thompson, explained that projects such as that one take time, and he can’t simply pull engineers off one project to work on another. Mendes complained, “Projects are taking too damn much time!” and Thompson noted that the recent fatal accident on Millerton Road was caused by an impaired driver, something they can’t design roads to avoid. At this point Counsel Cederborg interjected that it was a good idea to bring the subject back to Board as an agenda item.

Quintero: He couldn’t agree more with Mendes that enforcement of violations of illegal trash dumping should be a priority and said that more staff should be hired, otherwise the process for taking action is quite slow: write a letter to offending property owner, if no compliance, initiate litigation, sometimes as much as a year later. “All we do is talk about it,” so “let’s start hiring” more Public Works staff, he said. Brandau agreed: “It’s really crazy,” he opined. Quintero asked CAO Nerland for follow-up or addition to a future Board agenda for a proposal to hire Public Works staff.

Brandau: Said he would have a “conversation” with Luchini and Nerland on how to “move on” from the pandemic and focus on other public-health issues, such as fentanyl use. “I have some thoughts I will share,” he promised. He then reminded everyone that the Board, early in the pandemic, had voted to support local school districts when they made decisions independent of or in violation of state law, and now he wanted to express support for the Sierra Unified School District, which will not follow state mandates on masking or vaccinations, he said. “I want to support local control,” he concluded, using a favorite phrase of right-wing reactionaries who wish to avoid compliance with state or federal laws.

Pacheco: No comments.

Mendes: No comments.

Agenda Item #11 Board appointments. Magsig made four appointments; Mendes made five. Approved 5-0.

Agenda Item #12 Public comments re items not on agenda. Holly Hickenbottom was present to talk about ARPA funding for home-care workers. Another woman, who spoke on the same subject, did not give her name.

Agenda Items #13-18, Closed Session At 11:44AM, the Board went into closed session. They returned at 2:00PM, when Cederborg reported that regarding item #13, the Board voted 5-0 to authorize initiation of litigation against Beant Singh of 2341 Grantland Ave, Fresno, for unpermitted operation of a truck depot, among other things.

The meeting was adjourned at 2:02PM.

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