Here’s what you need to know:
- Three council seats will be open in November’s election, the first election to be consolidated with the state’s. The nomination-paper filing period is July 18 to August 12, 2022.
- Rate increases for Planning and Development fees, including development-impact fees and hourly engineering rates, were approved in a 3-2 vote after lengthy discussion and strong opposition from real-estate developers.
Mayor Flores opened the meeting at 6:02 p.m. Council member Bessinger was asked to lead the flag salute, and he in turn asked a group of school children in attendance to lead it. Clerk Cha called the roll; all were present. This was a long meeting of about three and a half hours with a lengthy and tedious discussion about an agenda item concerning a proposed increase in building-permit and development-impact fees, which was opposed by a number of local real-estate developers who appeared in person to argue against it. The meeting began with a proclamation praising local school children for their achievements in the study of civics. In addition to approximately 20 in-person attendees, there were 10 online attending via Webex. The video transmission of the meeting was as usual very grainy, making it impossible to see facial features of the council members and staff, so discerning who was speaking required a knowledge of the various voices and which staff they belong to.
Jose Flores, Mayor
Drew Bessinger, Council member
Lynne Ashbeck, Mayor Pro-tem
Bob Whalen, Council member
Vong Mouanoutoua, Council member
John Holt, City Manager
Andy Haussler, Assistant City Manager
Scott Cross, City Attorney
Karey Cha, City Clerk
Agenda Item #1 Proclamation recognizing Tarpey Elementary Student Council for receiving the Civic Learning Award of Excellence. A group of children from the school was present to receive certificates from the Council. Mayor Pro-tem Ashbeck, who was responsible for adding this item to the agenda, read the proclamation, telling the kids that she would ask their teachers to give them “extra credit” for their accomplishments and promised them from the dais, “someday you’ll be sitting in these chairs.” Their teacher, Katie Hunter, noted that the school was the only elementary school in the state to win the award. Tarpey principal, Dr. Tachua Vue, said that the children embodied “the essence of future leaders.” Each of about 12 children was called to receive not only a certificate, but one of Councilmember Bessinger’s “challenge coins,” the size of a half-dollar and emblazoned with multiple patriotic iconographic images.
Agenda Item #2 Presentation on status of the Clovis Culinary Center, a local non-profit commercial-type kitchen facility which “provides professional culinary business services for entrepreneurs who want to start or expand their business,” per their website. Board chair Tina Sumner was present to give a brief talk about the Center and its progress. “Where we are now is what we envisioned” when they began in 2013-14, she noted. 34 businesses work there, with a total of 50 employees. The Center is a “place for food entrepreneurs, bakers, caterers,” and small businesses packing food for resale. Eight of the participating businesses are “low income” and receive grants from Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). It’s “not just a commercial kitchen,” Sumner said, but a place that provides training, seminars, legal counseling, financing information, business planning, and help for entrepreneurs in developing their businesses. Recently a workshop was held on how to photograph food for marketing purposes. Lance Sanchez, a former audiologist and now proprietor of Dad’s Cookies, was present to talk about being unable to work during the pandemic lockdown and finding his way to the Culinary Center, where he learned to become a cookie baker and entrepreneur. Ashbeck asked, “Where are the samples?” to which Sanchez replied, “I should have brought some.” Sumner thanked the Council for their support.
Agenda Item #3 Update from Fresno/Clovis Convention and Visitors Bureau presented by its president/CEO, Lisa Oliveira, who said, “I want to share highlights with you guys.” She presented statistics regarding revenue generated by tourist activities, such as the hotel tax ($2.5 million in 202-2021, half what is projected to be generated annually after a proposed 2% increase, money which is planned to be added to the police department’s budget), Clovis Fest profits, rodeo profits, and the like. She also presented data regarding numbers of visitors and their destinations within Fresno County from January through April 30. Council member Mouanoutoua asked Olveira if she could break down the tax revenue, but it was unclear why he wanted to know. Councilmember Bessinger said he saw a TV commercial for “Visit Fresno County” while watching an Emmy-winning program on channel 18, which is a PBS station.
Public Comments for items not on agenda. A thin man with long white hair, dressed in black T-shirt and shorts, gave his name and address but his speech was slurred and unintelligible. He said to the Council, “You guys are doing a fantastic job,” then said he had an “urgent public safety concern.” He heard about it, he said, from his daughter who “works at a church.” He said that “lunatic antifa” members were planning a “night of rage” and were going to attack churches as a means of registering displeasure about the impending Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade. “I’ve been to Berkeley,” he advised, and could vouch for the violence of such people. He suggested that the District Attorney “deputize volunteers” to fight and “protect churches.” He added, “I will stand with the blue [police] and defend churches, and if it costs me my life, so be it.”
A second written public comment was received by the Council; the commenter tried to call in but his audio was not functioning. Clerk Cha noted that the matter referred to in the comment (not otherwise revealed) had been referred to staff.
Consent Calendar, items #4-18. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #19 This matter, amendment of the Loma Vista Community Center master plan, will be continued to July 5.
Agenda Item #20 Actions were approved for conducting the November 2022 city election, which with this one will be consolidated with state elections and will no longer be held in March as they were until this point. There will be three Council seats available (Bessinger and Flores will be running for re-election, and Whalen will be resigning). The nomination-paper filing period is July 18-August 12, 2022. The four-year term will start in December 2022 and end in November 2026. Candidate statements will entail a filing fee of $1,040. Mouanoutoua asked when the vote would be certified; Cha replied late November. The first Council meeting will be the first week of December, which will be the reorganization meeting. Ashbeck said she’d be happy to make the motion to approve the item, and Flores said, “Because you’re not running.” Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #21 Sean Smith, David Merchen, and Mike Harrison from the Planning and Development department asked for approval of rate increases in three areas:
• Item #21a: Development impact fees (DIF)
• Item #21b: Engineering hourly rate
• Item #21c: Planning Division fee schedule
Items 21b and 21c engendered no disagreement. The new proposed hourly rate for engineering (21b) was $140, up from $119 and entailed services such as plan check, inspection of construction, etc. As for the Planning Division fee schedule, a fee analysis and update had been approved in September 2021, and it included large increases because fees had not been updated since 2009. Routine or annual adjustments were planned for the future to avoid large increases. The new rates would be effective as of August 29.
The discussion about item 21a was long and detailed as council members, staff and “members of the development community,” argued about rate increases. Development-impact fees are fees the city charges to a real-estate developer to offset the costs entailed by new development for infrastructure, including water, sewer, streets, parks, trash, police, and fire.
Staff said that they used the Construction Cost Index (CCI) as the main factor in determining updated rates for sewer and water, confirming the rates with consultants who work on the Clovis master plan; the last time a comprehensive fee evaluation was performed was in 2017. Since the city’s policy is “development pays its own way,” staff proposed fee rates based on current costs and market conditions. Staff recommended updating fees for sewer, water, and streets by 50% of the proposed increase (with other fees updated in full), in a phased, rather than full, implementation. The new rates would take effect August 29 2022, and a re-evaluation of rates would take place next year, when hopefully costs would be lower and rates could be adjusted accordingly.
Though Planning staff had had many meetings this year with members of “the development community,” staff received a letter from the Building Industry Association (BIA) requesting a fee study and adoption of new rates after July 1, but July 1 is the deadline for the terms of Assembly Bill 602—in which case fees would be have to be re-calculated based on square footage of the proposed building units. Council member Whalen asked why the BIA wanted to wait; Sean Smith replied that some of them were out of town and unable to attend this meeting. Whalen then asked why they didn’t attend virtually.
Mouanoutoua asked “when did we learn about the new regulations,” referring to AB602, and Smith said they had met about it on March 18. The bill was in effect January 1, 2022, but Mouanoutoua did not seem to be aware of it. Whalen said that the plan for figuring DIF using the CCI “has not been reliable” and that he was “puzzled” by that. “Is it specific to California?” Whalen asked. Smith said “You’ve nailed it,” and that the rate was based on San Francisco and Los Angeles construction rates. Clovis is not big enough for a CCI rate study, he said. Council meetings often feature such complaints about feelings of victimization by the state government or by comparisons to the state’s larger cities. Smith continued that he was seeing high costs in bid prices, by which he was surprised and mystified. Whalen asked if CCI would be abandoned as a means of calculating DIF. Mike Harrison said no. Then he explained that a reason for the 50% phased implementation of the increased fees is that cost could come down before the rest of the fee is implemented.
Mouanoutoua asked more questions. To one of his questions about a “non-factual analysis,” Mike said, “I’m not sure what kind of study that would entail.” He added that the DIF is directly calculated by how much it will cost to build infrastructure for new developments. Mouanoutoua said that the “public concern is that Clovis prices are too high.” Holt said that the Clovis policy is “development pays for itself” and that the phased-in rate increase is a compromise to address the points raised by the BIA.
Mouanoutoua said that he “didn’t have a question per se” but he was afraid that only big, national chains would be able to afford building in Clovis. However, most of the discussion was about housing, not commercial buildings. He asked Andy Haussler if there was a concern for impact fees for builders of commercial property, to which Haussler replied that they try to engage with businesses which can absorb the cost of the impact fees, because the city policy is “development pays for itself.” Then Mouanoutoua said he had “another one,” but he could not think of what it was he wanted to ask.
Bessinger asked if there were other cities with comparable policies. Harrison replied that Madera and Visalia were comparable, but that Clovis had higher fees.
Ashbeck said that what she was about to say would not be helpful: “I don’t like that we get so far behind. We wait so long,” she said, referring to updating fee schedules in general. She mentioned what she thought was an 8% inflation rate, then again said to Whalen, “I’m not good at math, am I?” Continuing, she said, “How did we get so far off,” referring to a 40% increase in impact fees. She said that “development pays its own way except when it doesn’t.” She said it was “alarming” that a million-dollar house in Clovis was just a tract house. Mouanoutoua wondered, “How do we make it where it’s affordable?”
Flores asked why there was such a discrepancy in DIF between Clovis and other cities in the County. Smith said his department made a comparison study about 10 years ago and updated five years ago. “You did?” said Mayor Flores. Mouanoutoua wanted to know “who uses engineers.”
Public comment on the item was opened. A parade of real-estate developers appeared to speak, each painting a dark picture of the potential fallout from increased impact fees. First was John Bonadelle of the Bonadelle company. “Our company doesn’t support increases in impact fees,” he said. He claimed the fee increase would raise the sale price of a house by tens of thousands of dollars, contrary to the staff’s report. Increased fees would lead to a “slow-down” and builders would not build in clovis. Clovis would be less competitive. Whalen countered that the house sale price would increase by only 2% and that developer impact fees are not what is driving increases in house sale prices. What was? he asked. Bonadelle said it was the cost of lumber, other construction costs, and the cost of land. But a fee increase “on top” of that “hurts,” he insisted.
Next Brandon De Young of De Young Properties spoke. He said he prefers an increase in the CCI rather than another kind of rate increase. His company would take his business to Fresno, Madera and elsewhere, and not build in Clovis, because the rate increase was a “piling-on thing.”
Goldie Lewis from Wilson Homes said she agreed with Bonadelle and De Young, that the CCI was “the way to go.”
Another member of “the development community” whose name was unintelligible said that “costs were in unchartered territory” and that he wants to feel “comfortable” with the fees. He preferred using CCI to determine fees. “The way my mind thinks” [sic], if I see a cost go from $30 million to $60 million, I stop.” The rate has to be good for the city, for developers, and homebuyers, he said.
Council members appeared to know all the “development community” people and addressed them by their first names. Calling him “Arakel,” the council heard Arakel Arisian of the Arisian Group say much the same as the others and that “we are all hoping things stabilize,” referring to inflation.
Darius Assemi of Granville Homes was next. He also said he preferred CCI and a delay in any increase. He said that “the Federal Reserve was engineering a recession” to mitigate inflation. Because of inflation, “our industry is experiencing a slowdown.” He asserted that inflation had already passed its peak and that “deflation” would follow. “Give it a few more months,” he said, suggesting that by that time there would be no need to raise fees. Don’t use peak inflation figures to figure fees for infrastructure cost, he said. After all this critique, he saw fit to flatter the staff, saying that they had done a “fantastic job.”
Mike Prandini of the BIA called in via the Webex to speak. He said he agrees with the other speakers, doesn’t like the proposed increase in fees, and if the Council and staff won’t postpone, they should use CCI. “People won’t buy houses in Clovis,” he said.
In response, Whalen said if there is a CCI rate increase adapted today, it would cover increased costs and there won’t be any effects from AB602. “Everything’s going to be good,” he said. There was some discussion about AB602 and whether a nexus fee study would be needed. Attorney Cross said that the Council was “well within their authority” to implement CCI only or a phased increase. Cross said that the Council could approve a nexus fee study, approve a 9.9% CCI, or continue a “fluid” discussion with “the development community.” Mouanoutoua wanted to know, “What’s a fee study?” He added that “we punish the builders” with high fees and was afraid they would “go to Madera” and abandon Clovis.
Bessinger said, “We’re being told we have an affordable housing crisis. Now we’re putting the building industry in a more difficult position.” He added that “we’re being sued” over the lack of legally required affordable housing. He’d hate to have buyers “ante in,” using a gambling term, and in six months face loss of home value. He agreed to a 9.9% CCI rate now and a nexus fee study “later.” When others agreed with the 9.9% CCI rate, Harrison and Smith pointed out that the current rate is closer to 14 or 15%, rather than 9.9%. Whalen agreed that the number should be updated to 15%, but Ashbeck said that was not what the development community was expecting.
Attorney Cross said that adjusting impact fees annually is allowed per the municipal code. He added that 14% reflects actual costs and is per code.
Whalen: DIF do not cover the real costs. Inflated costs must be compensated for. He suggested that the wording of the staff’s increase proposal should be amended to include the 15% increase for the current fee for sewer, water, and streets, and full implementation for all else. Nevertheless, Mouanoutoua objected and said that it was “not wise” to treat “those who work with us” in this “unfair” manner.
The vote on 21a was 3-2, with Ashbeck and Mouanoutoua voting against. The votes for 21b and 21c were 5-0 for approval.
Agenda Item #22 Update on State Water Board emergency resolution to reduce water demand and improve water conservation, presented by Paul Armendariz, Assistant Public Utilities Director. Armendariz summarized the history of the current drought regulations, from the governor’s proclamations in spring and fall 2021 to the executive orders in spring 2022, which were in effect as of June 10, 2022. Among the regulations is the rule that commercial and institutional entities must not use potable water to “irrigate non-functional turf,” or in other words, to water lawns. This rule does not apply to residential properties, nor does it restrict the watering of trees.
Urban water suppliers must submit final supply-and-demand assessments to the Department of Water Resources by July 1, 2022. Armendariz reported that the Clovis assessment shows a water surplus. Armendariz said that 85% of water use in Clovis is residential. Clovis has had an outdoor watering-rule schedule for some time: three days per week April-October, one day per week November-March, and no irrigating on Mondays. “Public education” about conservation is via social media and an information booth at public events.
The regulations say that entities authorized to enforce violations “may” enforce them with warning letters and fines up to $500. This language drew some negative comments because of the word “may,” which suggests discretion, as opposed to “shall” which would mean fines would be mandatory.
Bessinger suggested using social media for public outreach and education. Mouanoutoua asked about potential “drought rates” for water usage and wondered if new proposed rates would “come before the Council” before being implemented. He then asked how much is “the environmental side” decreasing “their water use.” Armendariz asked him what he meant: You mean fisheries? He didn’t know. Background information on general water use in California can be found here.
Ashbeck said she does not use social media and preferred “signs in parks” explaining why lawns are brown, even though parks are exempt from the restrictions. She asked if there would be state support for lawn replacement; Armendariz said not now, but it may be coming. Flore said, “I’d say things, but I’d get in trouble,” to cynical laughter.
City Manager Comments John Holt mentioned an upcoming meeting with Clovis Unified School District, which Mouanoutoua and Flores would attend. He reported that he attended a Juneteenth event in Fresno and that Clerk Cha represented Clovis at a Flag Day event.
Council Comments Mouanoutoua reported that he attended a Measure C meeting and wished everyone a belated happy Fathers’ Day.
The Council went into closed session at 9:37p.m. The closed session agenda included one item which concerned labor negotiations with city labor units.
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