Here’s what you need to know:
- The council approved putting a 2% transitory occupancy tax (TOT), also known as a “hotel tax” on the November 2022 ballot. They also finalized wording for the ballot measure.
- Staff was given direction for the formal establishment of a historic-preservation commission.
- The council voted to send letters of opposition to state assembly bills for clean air and affordable housing.
Mayor Flores opened the meeting at 6:01p.m. Meetings are held at the Clovis City Hall, Council Chamber, at 1033 Fifth St. in Clovis. Members of the public may attend in-person or via Webex. Links to this and future meetings, agendas and livestream may be found here.
The meeting was live streamed via Webex with camera views of the full dais, staff presenting items from a side table, and commenters at a podium. However, the video was grainy and the Webex layout unwieldy to configure, making it impossible to visually identify who was speaking. Audio was clear, but it would be difficult for anyone unfamiliar with Council personalities and voices to know who was speaking. In-person attendees were not on camera, so it was not possible to estimate (if watching via Webex) how many people showed up to observe the meeting. There appeared to be four Webex attendees.
Councilmember Whalen led the flag salute, pointedly asking all to join him in pledging allegiance to “our republic.” He later again pointedly alluded to the issue of the difference between a democracy and a republic, currently a popular talking point among American right-wing reactionaries. Clerk Cha called roll; all were present.
Jose Flores, Mayor
Drew Bessinger, Councilmember
Lynne Ashbeck, Mayor Pro-tem
Bob Whalen, Councilmember
Vong Mouanoutoua, Councilmember
John Holt, City Manager
Andy Haussler, Assistant City Manager
Scott Cross, City Attorney
Karey Cha, City Clerk
Agenda Item #1 Proclamation declaring June “Men’s Health Month.” Whalen read the text of the proclamation, though no one was present to receive it. “Men live an average of five years less than women,” he read, turning his head slowly in Ashbeck’s direction. “We’ll miss you,” she said, laughing. Ashbeck asked each of her four male colleagues to say “one thing you’ll do to be healthy this month.” Most of them made defensively jocular replies, such as Bessinger, who said that his wife routinely “violates his HIPAA rights,” and Whalen, who said, “You don’t want to hear my answer.” Mouanoutoua merely uttered, “Sugar,” perhaps suggesting that he would try to avoid it. There was much anxious laughter.
Public Comments regarding items not on the agenda. There were none, with the exception of a written comment received by the Council, but neither its subject nor content were revealed. Written comments are routinely published along with meeting minutes, but that process typically takes weeks.
Agenda Items #2-7: Consent Calendar Whalen asked that item #7 be pulled for discussion; items 2-6 were approved 5-0. Item #7 concerned re-surfacing for the Dry Creek Playground, which currently has a crumbling surface under the playground equipment. Whalen wanted to know how the outcome would be different, appearing to assume the same type of material would be used to resurface the ground. A Public Utilities staff member was present to explain that the material to be used was “different” and would have a longer warranty. Attorney Cross noted that Bessinger had opposed the item when initially proposed, though no reason was given, and the item passed 4-1.
Agenda Item #8 Clerk Karey Cha presented a resolution to place a tax measure for a 2% increase in the transitory occupancy tax (“TOT,” also known as “hotel tax”) on the November 2022 ballot. This resolution resulted from the police staffing Citizens’ Advisory Committee’s recommendations for raising revenue to address the shortage of police officers. Deemed too late for this election year to place a sales-tax increase measure on the November ballot, the TOT tax was seen as an initial step to raise partial funds for new police salaries because it would not cost Clovis residents anything and would bring the hotel tax rate to a level equal with Fresno’s.
Greg Newman of the Clovis Chamber of Commerce was present to comment that he had met with both the Clovis tourism advisory committee and the local hoteliers committee, and all support the rise in the TOT tax.
Discussion ensued regarding the language of the ballot measure:
“CITY OF CLOVIS PUBLIC SAFETY IMPROVEMENT MEASURE: To maintain and improve public safety services including emergency response times, police protection, neighborhood services, anti-gang and anti-drug programs; repair infrastructure; and provide other City services; shall the City of Clovis increase the current Transient Occupancy Tax, also known as a hotel bed tax paid only by hotel guests, from 10% to 12%, with the 2% increase providing approximately $500,000 annually until ended by voters, subject to publicly available annual audits, with all funds benefitting Clovis residents?”
Cross explained that the Fresno County elections office advised that there was a 75-word limit and that if any of the current language, now at exactly 75 words, was changed, it could not exceed this limit. Ashbeck felt that the wording was too specific and that it promised definitive expectations, which would make a future sales-tax measure appear redundant. “We have one chance to raise taxes for public safety, and this is not it,” she said. Whalen countered that there would be “risk” if public safety were not referenced as it is, because public safety is what draws people to Clovis. He seemed to count on voters forgetting about this TOT tax increase, speculating that “people may not recollect” this measure by the time a sales-tax measure appears on the ballot.
Mouanoutoua said he had questions about the language of the measure but asked if Clerk Cha “wanted to present first.” Flores interjected, “She already did.” Mouanoutoua said that his question was “in regards to will the language be able to withstand a challenge” [sic]. Then he noted that the 2% could end up for uses other than public safety, as it would go to the general fund rather than a specific one, which Holt affirmed, but it was previously noted that the police department receives the lion’s share of the general fund per the city budget. Mouanoutoua wanted to know how or if the tax would end; Cross explained another ballot measure would be needed for that. All these issues had already been discussed at previous meetings. Mouanoutoua asked other questions which had been discussed and answered in previous meetings, such as one about conducting opinion polling and what councilmembers could do “with regards to” [sic] advocating for the passage of the measure. Cross repeated that council members are permitted to “educate but not advocate.” City funds, Cross emphasized, could not be spent, but council members could post about the measure on their social-media accounts or talk about it when addressing constituents; email blasts, however, were not permitted.
Bessinger made some attempts at “brainstorming” slightly different language, hoping to rephrase the measure as an “interim step.” Whalen emphatically said, “I believe this is going to pass as worded,” and guessed that “maybe there will be no need for a tax measure in the future.” Flores said, “Language won’t make much difference,” expressing anxiety about a possible “four-hour meeting” of “wordsmithing,” which “we don’t want.” Nevertheless, Flores called the TOT tax increase a “bandaid” which would ensure hiring three more officers per year, when about 10 total are needed annually per Chief Fleming, until 50 new hires are completed. Ashbeck was the sole “no ” vote; passed 4-1.
Agenda Item #9 Brief presentation by finance director Jay Schengel regarding annexation of northwest corner of Dakota/Highland, northwest corner Dakota/Thompson, southeast corner Ashlan/Thompson, and southeast corner Ashlan/Thompson to the Clovis Community Facilities District No. 2004-1 and results of a special landowner election regarding special tax lien for this Community Facilities District (police and fire services). Schengel reported that the property-owner votes (53 total) were unanimous in favor of the tax. Approved 5-0.
Agenda Item #10 Glenn Eastes, Assistant Public Utilities Director, presented this item, which concerned landowner election results regarding an assessment increase in landscape maintenance for District 1. Eastes reported that Zone 1 passed with 63% (“So, yay,” he commented but in a halfhearted tone. Tree pruning, soil improvement, and general landscape maintenance projects can proceed as a result of the election outcome. However, he noted, Zone 5 failed by only two votes. “No way!” Ashbeck commented. “It’s a conspiracy,” remarked Flores. Though Ashbeck lives in the district, she is not a “paying resident” Eastes explained when she queried him, but he did not elaborate, though the exchange raised some questions about district representation. He continued, “I’m here to deliver the bad news,” and explained that landscape services in the zone will have to be cut, and playground equipment if damaged will not be replaced. Distributing explanatory leaflets in the neighborhood was proposed by Eastes, but it was unclear why that was not done before the election. Only 30% of voters returned ballots, about which Flores remarked, “Apathy.” Holt commented that because of state drought regulations, “lawns will be brown anyway,” but Whalen asked if parks were not exempt from water restrictions. Holt admitted that yes, it was just commercial entities which would be restricted in water use for ornamental lawns. Approved 5-0.
Agenda Item #11 Proposal from the Clovis-Big Dry Creek Historical Society to create a historic-preservation commission. Assistant City Manager Haussler explained that such a commission’s role can vary, depending on its powers, which would be determined by the Council. Similar commissions in other cities are charged with advising about or recommending preservation of buildings, districts, and other sites of historical interest. The proposal sprang from the local group which is advocating for the preservation of the 1914 Carnegie Library building in Old Town, which currently houses the Clovis chamber of commerce.
A lengthy discussion ensued. Mouanoutoua noted that he was “trying to understand” the issue. Was it in the General Plan? Couldn’t it be an ordinance? Was it the same as Fresno? Haussler explained that the General Plan is a “guiding document,” and that the allowances for “historic preservation” are included in all of them, but how every community handles it may differ. He added that if such a commission is established, an amendment to the General Plan would be needed.
Bessinger asked if the proposed commission would have “de facto power” or just be advisory? Haussler: that’s up to the discretion of the Council.
Whalen said that they should already have developed a preservation commission and that historic sites and buildings should be identified in Clovis. He then took the opportunity to complain about the California Coastal Commission, which he did not want a historic preservation commission to emulate, because they are “a bunch of unelected people” and he did not want such a body “making decisions for Clovis.” He preferred that a commission, if established, be limited to making recommendations for standards of preservation.
Ashbeck said that younger staff in the city government need to be reminded of “why Clovis is different,” Clovis exceptionalism being a frequent matter for comment in the Council’s meetings. She noted that determining standards was an important task of historic preservation commissions. Flores reiterated that the General Plan allowed for such a commission as of 2014 but that it has not yet been established, and when it is, a General Plan amendment will be prompted. The commission’s level of authority would need to be decided. Cross commented that such a committee could be advisory or have more decision-making power and that zoning codes may have to be updated. Flores again spoke of his aversion to a long meeting and said that a committee didn’t need to be formed “tonight.” He added that he preferred a standing advisory board.
Then Flores unaccountably asserted that “there is a trend in America to destroy everything that has been here 250 years.” He said that even statues of Lincoln were being torn down and he could not believe that “Lincoln is not cool anymore.” Hence, he reasoned that his preference was to limit the authority of a preservation commission.
Mouanoutoua expressed confusion about the necessity for an amendment to the General Plan. He struggled to explain his views: “I want teeth,” he said; “If it gets on, it stays on” [sic]. He added, still struggling to speak plainly, “How do we make it where it’s harder” [sic] for future Councils to change a decision made now? He gave the example of the Smittcamp senior center, now under construction—what if future generations decided they don’t like Smittcamp’s reputation and remove the name from the building? Mouanoutoua has raised this same issue in the past, and as in the past, he was told by attorney Cross that the current council cannot decide future issues of councils which don’t yet exist.
When public comment was opened on the matter, Sayre McFarland Miller, who appeared before the Council previously to advocate for the preservation of the Carnegie Library building, said that “we are a very unique [sic] and special community,” and that she, as the former president of the Fresno Historical Society, emphasized the importance of “community memory” and asked that a commission be made up of architects who have expertise in the knowledge of historical structures. Whalen asked about the possibility of real-estate developers being thwarted in their plans if a commission wants to preserve “40 acres” and not just one building? Can the Building Industry Association (BIA) be included in the make-up of the proposed commission? Whalen said that a letter from the BIA had been received by the Council, and the implication was that they wanted to assert their right to build over the interests of those who want to preserve. Miller said that, yes, the more points of view, the better. She added that a proposed commission would be concerned not with tracts of land but with individual structures.
Ashbeck said that she did not want kids to grow up thinking that “Starbucks is the center of town,” and suggested that the process for setting up a commission should start now. Bessinger added that he likes the idea of a commission staffed with architects “who understand restoration.”
Flores ended the discussion, noting that staff now have sufficient direction to proceed. Applause followed.
Agenda Item #12 Proposal to send a letter in opposition to AB2550, a bill authored by assembly member Arambula, which would require the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to oversee districts, in this case the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, when federal standards are not met.
This item was added to the agenda at Bessinger’s request. He said that if the local air pollution district does not attain EPA standards, the local district is “relegated to second fiddle.” He warned that the bill would “create a bunch of community groups that aren’t defined,” but he did not describe how or why these outcomes would be harmful. He added that, in his opinion, the “environmental justice groups” were “just politics by another name,” but he did not elaborate. He noted that a month after the pandemic lockdown started, “the air was clear,” because “70% of pollution is from diesel trucks and cars.” How did this fact fit with his opposition to the bill? He did not say. He went on to comment about the “failure of the state government” to manage fires. Among his other comments, he said that the current legislation was “well-meaning” but that its “long-term effects” (he did not say what those were) would “slow down the Air District’s goals” because there were “too many cooks.” The point of his argument was not clearly explained.
Whalen asked “who is responsible” for managing the 70% pollution rate, to which Bessinger replied, “the federal government,” but the meaning of this exchange was unclear. Air in the Valley ranks as the nation’s worst for particulate pollution, and recent lawsuits brought by environmental groups accuse the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of not following through on the Clean Air Act’s provision to ensure that state regulators are held accountable, but recent court decisions regarding these matters were not mentioned.
Flores expressed cynicism, saying that “we’ll never attain the numbers” because of the landscape of the Valley: “Nature itself exceeds the EPA.” He invoked the phrase “local control,” a term popular with reactionaries who use it to prioritize some laws over others. With “all due respect to Dr. Arambula”—the assembly member is also an emergency-room physician—“good intentions can go to a bad place,” said Flores.
Whalen interjected, “Can I vent?” Flores checked that there were no comments from the public, then gave the floor to Whalen, who quipped, “My hot air will contribute to the bad air.” He again complained about “unelected” groups trying to “gain more power.” He continued that we have a “republic” in this country with elected officials, and though elected officials may have to “listen” to the public, it’s the elected officials who act on their own to make decisions. Community groups, he asserted, have undisclosed “hidden agendas,” and though he did not clarify his anxiety further, he suggested that ulterior motives would be at play. He feared that the elected Air District would be “pushed aside.” He went on to say that the California state government was a “blend” of republic and democracy and said “it boggles his mind” that “they” will “take power away” from elected officials and give it to “community organizations.”
Mounaoutoua broke in. “I’ll say a couple of words,” he said, to laughter. He insisted that if unelected individuals become involved in the Air Board, “they must disclose everything,” he said, “like public figures,” but he did not specify what they would be required to “disclose.”
Bessinger said that “other counties” had already sent letters of opposition. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #13 Proposal to send a letter in opposition to AB2011, Affordable Housing and High Road Jobs Act of 2022, sponsored by Assembly member Buffy Wicks (et al). Holt presented the item, and spoke contemptuously of Wicks, who he said showed a “complete disregard for cities’ general plans.”
Whalen said again that he wanted to “vent,” to laughter. Bessinger spoke with vulgarity, calling the bill “crapola” [sic] which he felt was typical of “Sacramento.” The bill was “a bunch of garbage” he added without elaborating.
Mouanoutoua noted that the lack of influence of the League of California Cities (CalCities) was being felt. He said, “It is really, really getting to where cities go, ‘What is local control?’” [sic].
Flores said, “It’s my turn to vent.” He said that the League of California Cities was “weakened” because “social-justice warriors” have “infiltrated” it. Despite the literal meaning of “social justice warrior,” the term is a catch-phrase among right-wing reactionaries who regard those who promote social justice with contempt. He added, “Those who stand for local control are being voted out.” However, Holt said that CalCities opposes the bill. Nevertheless, Flores complained that “as long as this is a one-party state, we’ll continue to lose.” In fact, California has two main political parties, with one in the majority and one a minority.
City Manager Comments Holt asked council members to look at the summary of the five-year budget. He also noted that there would be meeting of Clovis Unified School District on June 23 and that a letter of resignation had been received from a flood-control manager and a search for a replacement would ensue.
Mouanoutoua offered his congratulations to the various graduates across the city. He added that he would attend a “housing committee” meeting on the following Friday, but he did not further identify this committee.
Whalen said that he had been enjoying jogging past the pedestrian counter on one of the Clovis walking trails and was glad that it had been repaired. He also advised that he would be out of town on the first two Mondays in July and asked if he could call in to the meetings.
Bessinger said that he was an alternate attendee at a recent North Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) meeting, but that there was “nothing to report.” Then he joked, “nothing I can talk about!” He added, “I’ll tell you later!”
Ashbeck said that the Tarpey Elementary School had won an award for civics education, of which she was very proud.
Flores mused, “What do I have to report?” He then launched into a discussion about public meetings, hinting at a specific one, citing potential Brown Act violations in connection with Governor Newsom’s emergency policies. Flores was not crystal clear, but he alluded to a particular meeting at which there were a large number of public commenters and a meeting location which was not properly made public. “I hope this is reliable information,” he said while describing the alleged violations, suggesting that he did not confirm the accuracy of what he heard. He asked Cross to “look into it,” but when Cross explained, appearing to contradict Flores’ assumptions, Flores changed his tune and merely said, “That’s why I didn’t protest it too much.” Nevertheless, Flores added, “It could happen here,” though “it” was vague. “They’ll filibuster us,” he said, suggesting a hypothetical situation in which a large number of public commenters would effectively hold him and other council members hostage. Cross offered that “public comments” could be scheduled at a meeting’s end, after closed session, which would mean the commenters would be forced to wait until about 10:00p.m.
The Council went into closed session at 8:04p.m., and Cross said that there would be nothing to report. Subjects to be discussed were labor negotiations on behalf of city employees and the city manager’s employment performance review.
If you believe anything in these notes is inaccurate, please email us at Documentersfirstname.lastname@example.org with “Correction Request” in the subject line.