Here’s what you need to know:
- After resolving concerns of residents and county officials, a conditional use permit was granted to a Chinese biotech firm to operate an agricultural processing plant. The operator is a participant in a California-China trade network, in cooperation with the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation (EDC).
- June was proclaimed “Family Reunification Month,” recognizing the broad range of efforts by the Department of Social Services to return foster children to their parents.
- A multijurisdictional road safety plan has been developed to evaluate collision patterns, create strategies for improvement and plan for future highway safety improvement program funding.
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
Technical issues prevented coverage of this meeting via the livestream on the day of the meeting. The video of the meeting was reviewed when it was made available on June 9. All Board members were present, as were the clerk, county attorney, and the CAO. At the start of the meeting, the room appeared quite full, with almost every seat occupied by attendees. Associate pastor of the Lifebridge Community Church in Northwest Fresno, Jackie Milian-Soto was introduced by Brandau before giving the invocation. Soto asked that “the lord” “be with us” throughout the meeting and “direct the speech that happens.” She asked for divine “protection of city officials.” Her mic was switched off initially, but Clerk Seidel turned it on, as the pastor’s eyes were closed. Flag salute immediately followed. Clerk Seidel read the agenda items as they came up, but her reading speed is typically too fast, making much of what she says unintelligible. Observers without a copy of the agenda at hand may not understand her.
Agenda Item #1 Approve agenda. Approved 5-0.
Agenda Item #2 Consent agenda (routine items), items #26-73. Brandau asked to pull item #28, which was a proclamation to declare May 2022 as Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, to be discussed later in the meeting.
Agenda Item #3 Retirement plaque presented to Deanna Sepulveda, who was employed by the County Social Services Department for 26 years. Linda DuChene, director of the department was present to speak briefly. Sepulveda’s supervisor also spoke, calling her “one of the great ones.” Ms. Sepulveda said that she was “honored to work for the County for 26 years.” Pacheco thanked her for her service, as did Quintero, who said she “exemplified caring.” A group photo was taken.
Agenda Item #4 Proclamation made in cooperation with First5Fresno: June 2022 “Child-Friendly Business Appreciation Month.” Pacheco noted that since 2006, First5Fresno has been recognizing a variety of “child-friendly” businesses and has recognized 83 businesses for implementing “best practices” in this area. Fabiola Gonzalez, executive director of First5Fresno, was present to speak about the program. Among her remarks, she talked about the importance of “child-friendly” work environments which support parents’ schedules and integrate employees’ family needs with work hours, which she said results in employee loyalty and reduced turnover. “Happy parents make better employees,” she said. Practices such as extended maternity or paternity leave, adjusting schedules to allow for school drop-off/pick-up, on-site childcare, and the like, are considered among the “best.” Among 2022 awardees were Bitwise Industries, Legacy Construction, and others. A group photo was made with Gonzalez and 11 of her colleagues.
Agenda Item #5 Resolution to adjourn in memory of Dr. Fareed Nader, 30-year Fresno State engineering professor. The late professor’s wife, Rosemarie Nader, Dr. Scott Peterson of Fresno State, and other colleagues of Dr. Nader, were present. Mendes spoke and noted that “people don’t realize what Dr. Nader did.” Dr. Nader was a teacher of surveyors, and Mendes said the County “could not function without surveyors.” Steve White, Director of Public Works and a licensed surveyor, also spoke and presented Ms. Nader with memorabilia. He expressed a wish to employ “student interns” from the geomatics program at Fresno State. About her late husband, Ms. Nader said, “He loved everything he did.” CAO Nerland presented Dr. Peterson with some memorabilia, and the resolution passed 5-0. A group photo was taken.
Agenda Item #6 Proclamation: June 2022 “Family Reunification Month,” introduced by Quintero. By “reunification,” it means that children who have been removed from their homes and placed in foster care are returned to their families. Trisha Gonzalez, Deputy Director of the Department of Social Services/Child Welfare Services, introduced Renee Ramirez, a program manager, two staff social workers, and the Hernandez family, who were recently reunited with their children. The children had been removed and placed in foster care because of the parents’ substance-abuse problems, but now they were back together again. Parents Magnolia and Angel spoke, expressing thanks for the County services they received. “I’m a different person,” said Magnolia Hernandez, because of the support from the County. Mr. Hernandez, speaking in Spanish via a translator, also expressed his thanks and said that because of classes and instruction given by the County, he now has the ability to properly care for his children and “not make the same mistakes” which caused them to be removed and placed in foster care. He was “happy they were all together once again.” Each parent held an infant, and there were others of their older children present. Magsig thanked the family for their “bravery” in sharing their struggles. He told the couple that the “greatest gift” they could give to their children was “to stay together.” Magsig added that the couple was an “amazing” example of “how to love.” Brandau followed suit and said to the couple, “You have a beautiful family,” and he acknowledged the “hard work” of the Department of Social Services and said that bringing the family before the Board allowed them to see the outcome of that hard work. Public comment on the item was opened, and David Schwegel, who often comments before the Board to complain about having been fired from the high-speed rail project, approached the podium to say that he and his wife had taken in foster children over the years; he encouraged others to do the same. “Foster parenting: a very rewarding experience,” he concluded. A group photo was taken.
Agenda Item #7 Proclamation: June 2022 “Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month” and Tuesday, June 21, 2022, “The Longest Day.” Quintero noted that in 2019, there were over 14,600 cases of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in Fresno County and that the number was expected to more than double by the year 2040. Susana Rodriguez, Regional Director of the Alzheimer’s Association, along with colleagues Brenda Herrera and Patricia Dailey. were present to speak briefly on the matter. They were all dressed in purple, about which Quintero asked them to explain, but they likely forgot, because they didn’t. Rodriguez pointed out that there were resources available for residents who have family members diagnosed with this disease, at whatever stage, and that they don’t have to “walk the road alone.” The Fresno office serves Fresno, Merced, and Madera counties, she said. A hotline number, 800-272-3900, available 24/7 in 200 languages, was mentioned. A walk to raise funds for research will be held in September. When public comment on the item was opened, David Schwegel again spoke: “The topic of mental health is very near and dear to my heart, because in April I had a severe case of anxiety and depression . . .” He went on about his treatment and how listening to “the very best of Mike Francis on YouTube” was what “got him through.” He said that “mental health can happen to anyone.” Alzheimer’s disease, however, is a neurodegenerative condition, not a mental illness such as depression.
At this point, Pacheco announced that he had been informed of the technical issues with the livestream, so he called a brief adjournment to give staff a chance to “reboot the system.”
Agenda Item #28 After reconvening, Clerk Seidel introduced items pulled from the consent agenda. Brandau had pulled item #28, a proclamation declaring May 2022 as Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Brandau remarked that the item arrived too late to be treated as a “ceremonial” matter, then he said that “June” was the month for this recognition, but in fact it is May nationally. Brandau introduced Gail Gaston from the Fresno County Women’s Commission, who in turn introduced Fresno Unified School Board trustee Valerie Davis. Davis said that about one-third of the students in the school district were ethnic Asian. Her own father, she said, was Hawaiian-Filipino, and her family reunions in Maui draw several hundred. To “honor, support, and respect elders” is traditional in her ethnic culture. No meal begins before the oldest family member is at the table, she said. Gaston then introduced Nancy Meza, also a commissioner. Meza was asked by Brandau which supervisor appointed her to the Women’s Commission, to which she replied “you did,” to laughter. Pacheco said semi-jocularly that normally when Brandau pulls an item from the consent agenda, “it’s to lodge a ‘no’ vote, not promote it;” he did manage to promote his own commission appointments in this case. “Congratulations; that’s a first,” Pacheco added.
Agenda Item #8 Amendment to delete five vacant positions and add 32 positions to the Department of Child Support Services, effective June 13, 2022. Kari Gilbert, Director of Child Support Services was present to say that the California state government has added $4,000,000 to her department’s annual budget, hence the request to delete five vacant positions and add 32. Magsig asks if the funding would be ongoing. Gilbert replied yes, they are adding it to the ongoing budget “but it’s the state, so . . .” by which her meaning was unclear. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #9 A first hearing to amend the Master Schedule of Fees, Charges, and Recovered Costs, Section 4300 – Information Technology Services. Increases in fees and rates for software services are due to several factors, including salary and benefit increases, and increased software-licensing costs. Robert Bash, Director of Internal Services/Chief Information Officer was present to introduce the matter, which is reviewed annually. “This is simply to cover costs?” asked Pacheco, which Bash affirmed. Passed 5-0. A second hearing is set for June 21, 2022.
Agenda Item #10 A first hearing to amend the Master Schedule of Fees, Charges, and Recovered Costs Section 3800 – General Services, Badge Identification, Hirsch Security System, Fleet Labor, Motor Pool Car Rental, Fuel Tank Inspection, Building Maintenance Labor and Janitorial Labor. Robert Bash also introduced this item. Passed 5-0. A second hearing will be held June 21, 2022.
Agenda Item #11 Will Kettler, Manager, Development Services and Capital Projects Division, sat down at a table in front of the dais and began to speak without introducing himself. The item concerned an appeal of the Planning Commission’s technical denial of a conditional-use permit to allow an agricultural processing facility (to process CBD oil among other products, per agenda attachments) on a parcel zoned for “exclusive agricultural.” A lengthy discussion ensued.
Kettler explained the history of the matter, including concerns expressed by Fresno Unified School District (FUSD) regarding potential traffic in the area which the facility could generate. The applicant conducted a traffic study which was accepted by the Planning Commission, who in turn coordinated with the FUSD who said they had no additional concerns. Kettler said that the matter at hand concerned a “technical denial” which if overturned would entail meeting several conditions and findings.
Magsig disclosed that he had met with the applicant as well as with “concerned citizens.” Mendes and Brandau also said that they had “conversations” with the applicant. Quintero said that he received an email from a “concerned constituent.” Pacheco had no “interaction with the applicant” but that he had received several emails regarding the project. Senior Planner David Randall gave a presentation on the project, reiterating Kettler’s summary but with slides, including maps and other visuals. Next on behalf of the applicant, Bill Robinson, a development consultant, spoke. The owner of the property is a Chinese company, he said. The property was a fruit-packing plant, having been sold about two and a half years ago by the Simone brothers, Anthony and Mauro.
Robinson, in making the case for his client said that the property would be worth $30 million when “built out” and would employ 50 people who would process agricultural materials “from the immediate area.” Tomato, grape, and pomegranate pumice would be processed to produce lycopene, which is used in treatment of arthritis. Robinson’s own wife takes this supplement, he revealed. This processing would make up 90% of the facility’s production, he said; then he proceeded to assuage anxiety about the processing of industrial hemp, something which is “very misunderstood,” he noted. It’s not cannabis, he said. More hemp would be grown in the County if there were processing facilities, Robinson said. He did not mention CBD oil. He said that the “technical denial” was a result of only six of eight Planning Commission members having voted, and it was a vote ending in a tie. He said he would “cut to the chase” and identified two issues: hemp and traffic.
He offered to work on a “truck routing plan” if traffic continued to be an objection. He minimized the hemp issue by claiming that it would be only 5% of the processing. Others appearing on behalf of the applicant were real-estate agent Craig Knight who managed the sale of the property to the Chinese biotech firm, and Lee Ann Eager, President/CEO of the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation (EDC). Eager explained that the California state government pursued a California-China trade network about five years ago, and Fresno was one of several counties selected to be a part of this network. Agricultural projects were directed to Fresno County, and the Chinese company in question had expertise in technology for processing agricultural by-products, something Fresno lacked, Eager said. So Fresno County did work to attract the company, and Eager made trips to China to facilitate the process. Frequent commenter David Schwegel again approached the podium: “David Schwegel, US High Speed Rail Association; I’m a licensed civil and traffic engineer in California,” he said. (Note: a check with the US High Speed Rail Association revealed that Schwegel is not its representative.) Traffic was not an issue in this case, he asserted. Nevertheless, he brandished some binders and said he would leave reports on “a related project” regarding traffic studies.
Pacheco asked if anyone in opposition to the project would like to speak. A 65-year resident of the area in question whose name was unintelligible spoke angrily about the traffic and asserted that the road was not wide enough to “support all the truck activity they are proposing.” It was “never a problem” with the Simone brothers, because, the resident said, pounding on the podium, “They were community!” Did he intend to suggest that traffic problems were excusable because the Simone brothers “were community” and that a foreign entity was unwelcome? He did not elaborate. He expressed anxiety about potential groundwater contamination and asked “what kind of chemicals” would be used at the plant. He was emotional when he questioned if there would be possible “ammonia leaks.” Was the fire department ready to respond to a “Hazmat spill”? Pounding the podium, he went on. “When you google the Bible” it tells you that “hemp” is the same species as “cannabis,” he insisted. People who support the project “don’t live in the neighborhood,” he complained.
The wife of the previous speaker stepped to the podium and said that she spoke for many people, though she provided no evidence of that, and reiterated much of what was said by her husband. Next Joseph Martinez, Director of Facilities Planning and Construction Management at Central Unified School District, approached the podium to speak. He said he was there on behalf of the school superintendent and that they were neither opposed nor in support of the project, but that they wanted to ensure the “correct mitigation” of effects of increased traffic. Pacheco thanked him for confirming that the school district’s position was neutral and for clarifying the concerns about traffic.
Pacheco said that as a fourth-generation farmer, he generally favors such projects, but that this project’s issues—hemp processing and traffic—present problems. He felt that traffic effects would be minimal and not much different from the Simone-era traffic and that the current director of Public Works has made significant progress in upgrading roads. He felt that the “stigma” of hemp processing was an issue and that it was “not adequately addressed today.” He added, “It’s our duty to listen to the will of the people” on this matter, as similar issues have arisen only recently. “I have great respect for the people who live in the neighborhood”—the proposed project is located in Pacheco’s district—hence, he said, he would not support the project unless the applicant removes the hemp component from business plans.
Brandau asked if some staff person with expertise could advise regarding the difference between hemp and cannabis. “Why is everybody looking at me?” interjected Cederborg. “There’s a huge difference,” offered Mendes. “So we are going to discredit this project based on somebody’s false understanding of hemp and cannabis?” queried Brandau, looking away from Pacheco. “I’m just asking,” he said.
Cederborg, apparently knowledgeable after all, noted that “Generally, it’s the amount of THC. Hemp has been grown long before the Compassionate Use Act,” he said. Mendes, twirling a pencil and smiling, said hemp was grown in the 18th and 19th centuries for use in rope manufacture for sailing ships. Brandau said it was his understanding that hemp does not have significant amounts of THC but that it “sounds like we have people who believe you can catch fentanyl by handling rope” [sic]. Could the Ag Commissioner clarify? Brandau persisted in this mode: Are we afraid that our professional staff does not have sufficient expertise to determine how much THC is found in hemp? At this point, Pacheco addressed Brandau and said “We are not afraid, Supervisor,” and explained the issue was not THC but the strong odor and hours of operation. Hemp is not marijuana, he said, though it is a “cousin,” and odor from a processing plant was the issue. Without saying explicitly that there would be no odor, Bill Robinson said that the processing would take place indoors and that the buildings would be “wrapped.” He understood the stigma of the connection of hemp to marijuana but pointed out that the two plants are the same genus but different species.
In answer to questions from Pacheco, Robinson said that the applicant would accept making the conditional-use permit contingent upon an odor-mitigation plan as well as a plan for truck routing. If the project is approved, Pacheco said, someone will be held accountable for the conditions imposed, whether they live overseas or on the property. Robinson pointed out that the Health Department will monitor conditions, as will other appropriate County departments, to protect groundwater. 124 foreign companies are doing business in Fresno County currently said Robinson, but this one will be managed locally, and the workforce will be local. Kettler said that if violations of conditions occurred, the property owner would be given a chance to rectify the issues, and if they didn’t, there was a process for revoking the permit. Magsig compared the issue to a sewage treatment plant in Clovis built about 15 years ago and said that air could be treated before it left the building, eliminating 99% of odors. Mitigation measures for odor and a truck routing plan will be added to the conditions for permitting. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #12 Public hearing to consider oral and written protests to annual assessment for street lighting services, open-space maintenance, and public right-of-way landscape maintenance costs in County Service Area No. 34, zone D, Renaissance at Bella Vista (area includes 106 residential parcels). Brief presentation by Elena Cotta, Senior Staff Analyst at the Public Works Department. No one appeared to protest. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #13 Public Works presentation about a multijurisdictional local road safety plan (“LRSP”). Wendy Nakagawa of Road Maintenance, Public Works gave a brief presentation. The plan was funded by a CalTrans grant. Kittelson and Associates, a consultant, was hired to evaluate collision patterns and strategies for improvement. An LRSP is required for the County to apply for future highway safety improvement program funding; the next grant application deadline is September this year. Michael Loomis from Kittelson was present to discuss details of the LRSP. Between 2015-2019, there were over 18,000 crashes, 7% of which were fatal. Major crash factors included speeding, DUI, and improper turning. The “vision” of the LRSP, said Loomis, is to provide a network of roads which enable safe movement throughout the County for all kinds of vehicles and road users.
Areas of concern were pedestrians/cyclists, driver behavior, broadside crashes, etc. Strategies discussed were engineering of roads, enforcement, education, and emergency services. A representative from the Fresno Council of Governments (COG) was present to speak about the “Safe Roads, Save Lives” education campaign. Public comment was opened; David Schwegel came to the podium again and reiterated that he was a licensed traffic engineer. He said that he was concerned about the intersection at Ashlan and Palm, which he said was “dangerous.” He said the Board should “move full speed ahead” so it doesn’t jeopardize grant funding. A staff person who did not identify herself noted that work on Ashlan and Palm had already begun.
Quintero asked if developer fees covered traffic studies. Nakagawa said they could. Magsig commented about recent fatalities on Millerton Road. Mendes commented with a frustrated tone that what was under discussion “was all fine and dandy” but “if we don’t have a plan, we don’t get grants.” Pacheco responded that they were just trying to add ideas to the LRSP. “Fix the damn roads,” Mendes said. The plan presented was approved 5-0.
Agenda Item #14 Approve a nepotism waiver for an engineering hire in the Department of Public Works. The person to be hired is the son of the human-resources director. Steve White of Public Works was present to note that the individual was not revealed to be a relative of another employee throughout the interview process. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #15 Sanja Bugay, Director of the Department of Social Services, was present to request the addition of several staff positions, including Deputy Director, to her department. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #16 Supervisor reports
Magsig mentioned that the previous day, June 6, was the anniversary of D-Day. “We should never forget,” he advised. Pacheco interjected that his grandfather had participated.
Quintero thanked the Sheriff’s staff for holding a kids’ event in Calwa.
Brandau had no report.
Mendes complained that “the state and federal government does nothing for the price of gas and diesel.” He remarked that the price of diesel fuel had nearly doubled over the last two years. Pacheco responded, “OK.”
Pacheco had nothing to report.
Agenda Item #17 Board appointments: Brandau made two; Mendes was unintelligible as his mic may have been turned off; Pacheco made one. Approved 5-0.
Agenda Item #18 Public comments regarding items not on agenda. Five people made comments. The first commenter was David Schwegel, who talked about what he has talked about at previous Board meetings: his firing from the high-speed rail project. “I was kicked off the project” because of a supervisor’s “ego,” he said.
Next, Tony Silva, an attorney representing the County correctional officers who are negotiating for updated salary and labor terms and have postponed a May 23 strike until June 20, spoke about the most recent offer the County made to the labor unit, calling the proposed raises “low and not equitable.” Compared to their 7% increase over 12 years, correctional sergeants have had a 27% increase, deputy sheriffs a 28% increase, and Board members an 18% increase over the same time period. “Why did this group fall so far behind?” Silva asked the Board.
Gustavo Leon, a corrections officer, spoke next. He said he was there to represent his fellow correctional officers, many of whom were present at the last Board meeting to plead for salary increases and impress on the Board the inequity of their salary rates as well as the unsustainable demands made on them daily in their jobs. Leon told the Board that his colleagues’ pleas “fell on deaf ears.” He was disappointed in the Board, who he said rather than help only ordered an injunction to delay the strike. He added that in his seven years of employment, 75% of the officers he has trained have left for work elsewhere with better working conditions. Finally, he quoted George Orwell: “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men [and women, he added] stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
Next appeared a man who has spoken at the last several Board meetings. He does not give his name, and he usually talks semi-coherently about being a felon, struggles with security guards, homelessness, and the like. This time he said that he “thinks people know what’s going on in my mind.” Then he claimed that “a crime” had been committed against his children and that “god gave me proof.” He then said that his daughter and son, now ages 17 and 18, had been exposed to carbon dioxide poisoning and that “they need to talk to somebody.” He added, “I don’t know what to do; that’s why I’m here.” He concluded, “Or am I just some crazy guy?”
Another corrections officer spoke, giving her surname as Jimenez. She talked about “mandatory overtime” which she and other officers were compelled to work and said that another labor unit was given a 19% raise, but “you want to give us chump change.” She added, “I don’t appreciate it,” to applause.
At 12:11p.m., the Board went into closed session after Counsel Cederborg said that there would be no report from the closed session.
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