Here’s what you need to know:
- The Board voted 3-2 to award $225,000 in ARPA funds to a commercial event planner, despite objections regarding appropriateness of granting of these funds.
- Magsig and Brandau made a display of expressing support for local oil and gas production, entailing no binding action, and made claims that local oil was environmentally “clean.”
- A new initiative to address homelessness was introduced: “MARCH,” or Multi-Agency Response to Community Homelessness, to consist of representatives from eight different County agencies as well as representatives from a variety of sectors and whose purpose will be to act collectively to address homelessness.
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 9:31a.m., after which Clerk Seidel called the roll; all present. Supervisor Quintero introduced Pastor Kelvin Morgan, who gave the invocation. Morgan spoke without turning on his mic, so most of what he said was unintelligible for those attending remotely. However, he was heard to say, presumably addressing a deity, “You will oversee these proceedings.” He was also heard to say, “We ask you for divine intervention in Ukraine, Father.” He spoke at some length and finally, he was heard addressing “our lord and savior, Jesus Christ.” Flag salute followed. The room appeared to be full, and about 50 attendees were counted. The agenda was fairly lengthy, and the meeting was a long one, lasting three hours before adjourning to a closed session. One member of the public repeatedly commented on various agenda items, his remarks somewhat incoherent, but the Board treated him with patience.
Agenda Item #1 Agenda approved 5-0.
Agenda Item #2 Consent agenda, Items #28-62. Several items were pulled for discussion: #33, #48, and #58. Clerk Seidel noted that these items would be discussed after Agenda Item #7.
Agenda Item #3 Presentation of retirement plaque to Veronica Blanco, who retired from the Department of Social Services after 20 years. “I loved the job,” Blanco said. A group photo was taken.
Agenda Item #4 Presentation of retirement plaque to Kelley Juhrend, who worked for 34 years with the Department of Behavioral Health. She was said to have “put people at the heart of everything she did.” Before posing for a group photo, Juhrend remarked, “It’s been a pleasure.”
Agenda Item #5 Retirement plaque presented to Janelle Kelley, who worked for the County Counsel’s office for 28 years. Counsel Cederborg presented the plaque and noted that Kelley “laughed at almost all of my jokes.” Supervisors Mendes and Quintero thanked her, as did Clerk Seidel. Everyone posed for a photo.
Agenda Item #6 March 22 was proclaimed “National Ag Day.” Chairman Pacheco noted that last year, Fresno County sold more produce than any other place in the world, though this year, the lack of water may affect that status. Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Jacobsen was present to declare that “Ag is synonymous with food.” He then connected world events with local agriculture, citing Agenda Item #8 on the day’s schedule, the goal of which is to promote local production of oil: “If you like foreign oil, you’ll like foreign food.” Several others in Jacobsen’s entourage spoke about their lives in agriculture, and some described themselves as second-, third-, and fourth-generation farmers. Magsig quipped that he was a “sixth-generation consumer of food.” He then said that “50% of US fruit and vegetable production takes place within a 100-mile circle of Fresno.” He had more statistics: Fresno County produces 14% more oranges than does Florida, 10 times the peaches of Georgia. “If we go away, the nation will starve,” he declared. “We must maintain our number-one ag status.”
Public comment was opened on the matter: In what was the first of several appearances at the podium, a member of the public who said his name was David Schwegel, at each appearance loudly and enthusiastically spelling his given and surnames and noting that his surname “rhymes with bagel.” He also repeatedly said that he was from Reno, Nevada, though it was not clear if he was a current or former resident of Reno. As he spoke—about high-speed rail, schools in Clovis, and agriculture—he appeared to be gasping for breath through a colorful cloth face mask. He waved his arms as he spoke, and his suit was observed to be too small, the jacket not fully covering his arms.
Agenda Item #7 April 2022 was declared “Volunteer Appreciation Month.” Sheriff Margaret Mims was present to praise the many volunteers who work with the sheriff’s department in various capacities, such as search-and-rescue, chaplaincy, and others with specific kinds of expertise. She said that their work “saves taxpayers millions.” A number of volunteers were present, standing at the podium with her. Magsig thanked the volunteers: “I love you,” he said. Brandau said that they “couldn’t get the job done without you.” Quintero joined the praise: “Volunteerism is one of the greatest things a community can have.”
Public comment was opened on the item, and the aforementioned David Schwegel again appeared. This time he said that he had just watched the film “Dead Poets Society” which inspired him, he said, to “seize the day” and comment. He said that in 1996 when he graduated from CalPoly with an engineering degree, Fresno had a high crime rate but that now it was eclipsed by those of Emeryville, Oakland, and Stockton. He managed to briefly relate his remarks to the agenda item.
Agenda Item #33 Deputy Tax collection Megan Marks was present to explain that this item concerned a decision on claims for excess proceeds resulting from 2020 sale of tax-defaulted properties. The excess proceeds are the remaining proceeds from the 2020 tax sale approved on Dec. 10, 2019 and conducted on March 13-16, 2020. The recommended resolution grants nineteen 19 claims for excess proceeds and denying 14. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #48 This item concerned a breach of a lease agreement between Batth Ranch, Inc, and the County. Ms Batth, tenant and operator of the ranch, was present to plead her case. The discussion was lengthy, and Ms Batth asked a number of questions, some repeatedly, and claimed to have made payments which the county claimed were delinquent. The tenant had endured losses on her almond crop because of the consequences of COVID and fell behind in lease payments. She said that she overheard rude comments about her made by County employees during a Zoom meeting about the matter, when they thought they were muted. When the County employees said they were referring not to her but to the Zoom format, Ms Batth countered that “Zoom” was not a “she.” Ms Batth said that she understood there to be a moratorium on rent during COVID, but she was told by the Board that policy applied only to residences, not commercial property. Magsig pointed out that though he agreed that COVID was “devastating,” the “challenge” was that the land is County-owned land and the terms of the lease were the same for each of its 25 years, so why did she think she could stop making payments? Pacheco noted that he was not hearing a plan to repay taxpayers. Batth said that she had requested a payment plan but had insufficient response from the County. Attorney Cederborg said that there had been no contact between the tenant and the County for one year, so now there was a 30-day notice to pay or agree to a payment plan and return to the Board with a proposal. Determination was made that the tenant was in breach of the lease agreement and that a demand for payment should be made. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #58 This item concerned authorization to amend the General Plan Safety Element so that it complies with recently changed State law and addresses climate
resiliency, compliance with Senate Bill 379 and an evacuation route analysis as required by Senate Bill 99 and Assembly Bills 1409 and 747. Mariana Alvarenga from the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability was present to comment: she said that she acknowledges the importance of updating the General Plan Safety Element and that she wants funds for developing climate-change vulnerability assessment and asked that the consultant hired to update the Plan addresses climate change, particularly the effects on residents of drought, extreme heat, and air pollution from wildfires. She noted that it is critical to address climate change as the “biggest threat facing humanity.” Other commenters included Brandi Nuse-Villegas, who said she agreed with Alvarenga; Bob McCloskey, a local advocate for the homeless, who agreed with the previous speaker and said that the Plan update needed to address public-health issues associated with climate change; and once again, David Schwegel spoke, declaring that “Our air quality is in the toilet.” As he went on, Cederborg interjected that his comments would best be saved for general public comment at the close of the meeting. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #8 Brandau and Magsig introduced a resolution “urging” the increase of domestic oil production “to replace Russian oil and gas imports” and to tell the County’s lobbyists to circulate their idea among “Federal and State legislators and the Governor of California.” There was no binding action in this resolution regarding oil production. Alluding to the war on Ukraine, Brandau puzzlingly claimed that “American oil has its own war waged against it” citing the commenters who had just spoken about the health effects of climate change, though no one present had spoken about American oil, with hostility or otherwise. He said that “many people don’t realize” that Fresno County produces oil and that Chevron is a top taxpayer in the County. He added that later in the day, he would hold a press conference on the subject of replacing Russian oil with that from the US. Magsig had statistics, though as usual he did not cite their sources: in 1986, 97% of oil in the US was produced in the US, he said. He said that “fossil-fuel use” is “down” but that “energy independence” was a necessity. Seeming to anticipate counter-arguments, he said that domestic oil was “cleaner” because foreign oil must be shipped around the world on big, polluting freighters. Mendes joined in, claiming that “people don’t realize” that oil production in California is produced under the “most strictest” [sic] methods and that California oil is “clean.” Attempting to defend the charge that Fresno County has the worst air quality in the country, he argued that the air now is “80% cleaner” than it was in 1980, but there was no one to argue with him.
Public comment on the item was opened, and once again David Schwegel approached the podium, spelling his name and declaring that though he supported the resolution, the focus must turn to electric vehicles, which are “so much fun to drive.” Soft-spoken Brandi Nuse-Villegas also spoke again and agreed about electric cars. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #9 This item concerned giving $225,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to a commercial promoter of food-festival events to market a local garlic festival. CAO staff member George Uc made the presentation. Pacheco was opposed to using ARPA funds for this purpose, which he said was inappropriate, adding that it should be privately funded. He called the amount requested “far, far too excessive” and that it was akin to giving away a quarter of a million dollars for “a weekend party.” Magsig patronizingly began in reply, “Your perspective is noted and appreciated” but added that this was “an opportunity to seed an event,” claiming that the event would help brand Fresno County as a garlic-producing capital. He asserted that the event “would generate more resources than it would consume” adding that “disadvantaged communities will benefit, too” though he did not specify how. Lisa Oliviera from the Fresno-Clovis Visitors Bureau was present and when acknowledged by Magsig spoke about what she said were projected “big returns” on the investment “in the local economy.” After all, she noted, garlic was a $400 million industry. Mendes said that the ag industry needs to pay for at least some of the cost, adding that unincorporated areas of the County are “really in need” of the ARPA funds; he said that he could support a smaller amount of money being given to the National Food Festivals organization.
Public comment was opened for this item. First to speak was David Schwegel, who once again loudly spelled his first and last names and began speaking about a “jackass” campaign found in Reno NV which is used to encourage people to “get your ass in gear.” Then he said that we needed more hotels and high-speed rail, but he did not directly address the issue at hand.
The next commenter was Peter DeYoung, CEO of National Food Festivals. By persuading the Board to donate the funds, he complained that there was no “garlic board,” dedicated to this crop as there were for other crops. He assured the Board that this was not a “once and gone” event. “This is a movement,” he asserted, adding that “our farmers deserve this.” He claimed to be requesting an amount of money which was only half of what was really needed and said that if the Board did not donate the money, “this thing goes away.” However, the event is already advertised on the company’s website. Nico DeYoung also from National Food Festivals was present to say that the event was costing $1.8 million and that without the funds requested, the event likely won’t happen. No Board member asked the company representatives why they had scheduled an event for which they had not budgeted appropriately. Quintero commented that the event was a chance for Fresno County to bring in money with tourism. Brandau belatedly requested that the marketing material advertising the National Food Festival’s event should include reference to Fresno County as a partner in the enterprise. Passed 3-2, with Mendes and Pacheco both voting “no.”
Agenda Item #10 Mid-year budget report for fiscal year 2021-22 was presented by Greg Reinke of the CAO’s office. He reported that all departments were at or below net County cost, with the exception of the County Counsel’s office. Countywide, revenues are expected to exceed budget estimates to cover ongoing costs through fiscal year 2022-23. Reinke also noted that retirement costs will decrease in 2022-23. One-time funding sources, he said, were ARPA and FEMA reimbursement for Creek Fire damages. The recommended budget would be presented to the Board by June 21 and final budget hearings will take place on Sept. 12, 2022. Reinke did note concerns that world events may have an economic impact but that the proposed budget would be completed before these unspecified “events.”
Agenda Item #11 Sonia De La Rosa of the CAO’s office gave an update on homelessness and the County programs to address it. She said that the County’s updated priorities for 2022 include outreach, relocation, sanitation, transportation, safe shelters/triage centers, housing (both transitional and affordable), “wrap-around” services (including mental health), and job placement and training. She discussed the new “MARCH” (Multi-Agency Response to Community Homelessness) initiative, which will consist of representatives from eight different County agencies as well as representatives from a variety of sectors, whose purpose will be to act collectively to address homelessness.
Questions from Board members followed. Magsig asked how many housing units for homeless people had been created in the last two years. The answer was about 600, as well as a mix of temporary, emergency shelters, COVID beds, and properties purchased with the Homekey program funds. Mendes asked De La Rosa to explain what Governor Newsom spoke about when he visited Fresno the previous Thursday regarding a behavioral-health program. She replied that she needed more information to determine how it would work but noted that it would likely affect a small percentage of homeless people. Brandau said he had “thoughts and concerns,” in particular about wanting the County to “remain autonomous” within this newly formed multi-jurisdictional group and wondered if the County would be forced to spend County money as a participant. De La Rosa said no.
Public comment was opened on the item. Bob McCloskey, advocate for the homeless, again approached the podium. He noted that there were many disabled and elderly among the unhoused. He said that more mobile medical units were needed as were mental-health services. Many homeless people are simply unable to take care of themselves, he said. A “housing first” approach is the best and most effective, he said, and if “encampment sweeps” take place, housing must be offered. Next David Schwegel spoke yet again. He pontificated on the subject of homelessness and said that “I, David Schwegel, was almost homeless” in 2021 and offered personal details. He said that the mayor of Sacramento needed to be involved. After Schwegel, a man in a “Four Score and Seven Beers Ago” T-shirt (he did not identify himself) wanted to know who was separating the disabled from the drug addicts and was otherwise incoherent. Next, a heavily tattooed young woman in a skeleton suit who was heard to identify herself as “Lethal,” said she was an advocate for the homeless and complained about feeling “left out” of the County’s plans to address homelessness. She said “I do a better job” than Poverello House. She said that “family photos and insulin” are being discarded by County officials or police. The encampment “sweeps” need to stop, she said. Despite this being her “area of expertise,” she was being “excluded” from the process, she said, ignoring the three-minute comment limit. Brandi Nuse-Villegas again spoke, reading from her phone. She said that “unhoused” people should be at this meeting. She also advised against encampment sweeps and ignored the three-minute comment limit. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #12 Brief report on the recommended retirement contribution rates for County employees. Donald Kendig, Retirement Plan Administrator was present to explain; he mentioned that contribution rates were decreasing. The subject of war came up again, when Kendig said that conditions such as the outbreak of war could change economic conditions. At this point, the time was about noon, so remaining agenda items moved quickly, as the Board did not want to take a break. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #13 Authorize expansion of the pretrial services program for the Probation Department, to be funded per the terms of Senate Bill 129. Chief Probation Officer Kirk Haynes made a brief presentation. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #14 A first hearing on an ordinance to update the County’s bidding process for construction projects. A second hearing will be held on April 19. Counsel to prepare a summary of ordinance and Clerk to post it. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #15 Will Kettler, Manager of Development Services, and colleagues from the Public Works Department were present to briefly present this item, which entailed amending a conditional-use permit to allow for a microbrewery in an area now zoned for agriculture. The property owner approached the podium to say that he had nothing to report, to which Pacheco quipped, “Well spoken.” Passed 4-0, as Brandau was inexplicably absent from his chair.
Agenda Item #16 Resolution to accept the 2021 General Plan Progress Report, which included some revisions per response to a complaint made by a member of the public, regarding subjects to be reviewed and those which were actually covered. Will Kettler made the brief presentation and defended the need for the revision by explaining that “some counties don’t submit any open plan” while Fresno sometimes merely has some deficient items in its plan. Public comment was opened on the item, and a man who gave his name as Bradley Reed of Clovis asserted that the General Plan is not in compliance with state law. He claimed to have been “sparring with the County” for ten years about its implementation of the General Plan. He said that the County did not have enough resources to implement the Plan and further asserted that the County had no plan to acquire them. “Please do not submit this to the State,” he asked. At this point, Pacheco asked Cederborg if the report met state regulations; Cederborg replied “yes.” April 1 is the deadline for submission of the document. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #17 Public hearing on Annual Water Conservation Report. Board acted in two capacities for this item: as county Board of Supervisors and as Board of Directors of Waterworks District Nos. 37, 38, 40, 41, and 42. Chris Bump of Public Works was present and asked if the Board had any questions about the report. There were none. Mariana Alvarenga from the Leadership Counsel commented that disadvantaged communities such as Cantua Creek need the County to provide residents with proper notice in English and Spanish regarding changes in water availability. Pacheco asked Bump to do that, and Bump replied that communities will be notified, which is required by ordinance and that it would be done in both English and Spanish. Passed 5-0.
Agenda item #18 Supervisor reports. None.
Agenda Item #19 Board appointments. None.
Agenda Item #20 Public comments. As David Schwegel approached the podium for a final time, Pacheco said with some levity, “State your name one more time!” Schwegel remarked that “words cannot express my anger and frustration” about the delays in the building of high-speed rail. He said that he moved to Fresno to accept a job with the project as a “change-order manager” and that he was an engineer by profession. He was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but a lawyer told him it was “null and void.” He went on, ignoring the three-minute comment limit. A high-speed rail route “from here to Sacramento” was imperative for “Fresnonians” [sic], he said. Following him was Brandi Nuse-Villegas again, who said she wanted to follow up regarding agenda item #8 and encouraged the use of electric cars as well as ARPA funding for underserved communities. Following her was a man who gave his name as Nestor and said he wanted to offer commercial hauling services, in response to a previous meeting’s discussion about illegal dumping. He said his service would “benefit taxpayers.” Pacheco suggested he speak to Public Works, and Brandau remarked that “guys like you” in the private sector will fix the problem.
The Board went into closed session at 12:32 p.m. Cederborg said there would be nothing to report and that the meeting would adjourn after the closed session.