Here’s what you need to know:
- A portion of Community Development Block Grant—Coronavirus (CDBG-CV) funds will be used to pay some Clovis residents’ utility bills which have been in arrears because of pandemic-related issues.
- An argument in favor of the transitory occupancy tax (TOT) will appear in the November 2022 voter information guide.
- Residents of an area of Blackhorse Estates voted to maintain their private streets by agreeing to a raise in annual assessment, thereby preventing removal of the community’s gates and reversion of the streets to the city.
Mayor Flores opened the meeting at 6:02 p.m., and flag salute briskly ensued. Mouanoutoua said, “Join me in the pledge of allegiance; ready, salute.” Clerk Cha then called the roll; Whalen was absent, as was city attorney Scott Cross. The meeting took place as usual at the Clovis Civic Center and was live streamed via Webex; the video transmission was lost near the last half-hour of the meeting, though audio continued without a problem.
The newest member of the council, Mouanoutoua, has been on the council for five years, and the meeting therefore followed a pattern which could be called predictable by long-time observers. Mouanoutoua asked a lot of questions regarding information about agenda items no other member asked. Ashbeck made statements about “why Clovis is Clovis,” and Bessinger talked about his past employment. The meeting was a little over two hours long.
Jose Flores, Mayor
Drew Bessinger, Councilmember
Lynne Ashbeck, Mayor Pro-tem
Bob Whalen, Councilmember–absent
Vong Mouanoutoua, Councilmember
John Holt, City Manager
Andy Haussler, Assistant City Manager
David Wolfe, substituting for Scott Cross, City Attorney
Karey Cha, City Clerk
Agenda Item #1 “Presentation Recognizing the Achievements of Multi-Emmy Award Winner Jeff Aiello,” read Flores, per the agenda, adding with emphasis, “from Clovis!” Aiello, recently appointed CEO of the Fresno PBS television station, not without controversy, was present to accept a certificate, which was handed to him by Bessinger.
An excerpt of a documentary about the 2020 Creek Fire made by Aiello was shown, but the audio was unintelligible to those attending the meeting via Webex. Aiello produces “American Grown: My Job Depends on Ag” for this PBS station; it is funded by agribusiness promoter Karen Musson and her foundation.
Bessinger spoke: “When I was mayor, Jeff Aiello won his first Emmy,” which drew some laughter and remarks such as “you’re taking credit.” Bessinger nevertheless continued that “now the nation knows the importance of ag[-ribusiness].” Bessinger went on to relate an anecdote about a Fresno Council of Governments (COG) visit he made to an unnamed “congressman’s office” in Washington DC about six months before the Creek fire, when he tried to promote the logging industry, which he said he feels would reduce the severity of fires if not prevent them. He said that the congressman’s chief of staff with whom he spoke looked at him like he “had just fallen off a truck,” leading Bessinger to conclude that there was “absolutely no interest in helping us.” “Loggers are taken out of the equation by environmentalists,” Bessinger said.
Flores said, “I want to comment on the art.” He continued, “It’s great to have an artist in Clovis,” repeating the word “cinematography.”
Ashbeck said she did not want to “not chime in” and noted that “Clovis is Clovis because we tell stories really well.” She called Aiello a “champion story-teller.”
Aiello was casually dressed, made no statement, and approached the dais to accept his certificate, a Clovis flag, and a lapel pin from Bessinger. “Can you put one of those in your next film?” said Ashbeck. She asked Aiello if the film would air on September 30, per the date shown in the film excerpt. No, he said, it had already aired September 30 of last year, surprising Ashbeck, who evidently had not seen the film. Unintelligible chat followed.
Agenda Item #2 Proclamation declaring July “Parks and Recreation Month.” Mouanoutoua read the proclamation, and Parks Manager Eric Aller gave a brief presentation which included a short video. Aller said that the Clovis trail system was “renowned throughout the state.”
Then Flores said that during the pandemic lockdown when everyone was supposed to stay home, “we kept everything open,” including trails. However, former City Manager Luke Serpa said on record at the time, “On May 4, the Clovis City Council repealed Clovis’ local orders which had generally been rendered redundant after the State adopted their order. However, since the State’s order remained in effect, this action did not give any business official permission to reopen; it was basically a record-keeping action.” Flores further said that the counters on the trails proved that people “in the millions” walked the trails during this time—documentation shows that weekly counts, different for each trail sector, were in the thousands and that, per the “2020 Clovis Trail Count” report published by Clovis Planning and Development Services in February 2021, “trail users may pass one of the trail counters multiple times during the course of the count and the automated equipment cannot distinguish between people who are counted multiple times. It is important to clarify that usage does not mean the number of people using a trail during a specific period but the number of visits at a specific location, characterized as trail traffic volume.” Hence, the statement in the report—”There is data to confirm that with the additional counting locations, the trails and paseos of Clovis were visited by over 3 million trail users in 2020”—could have been misleading to Flores.
The “Parks and Recreation Month” proclamation is national, having been introduced by Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragan in 2021.
Ashbeck said that she wanted Clovis to be “designated one of the healthiest places to live in California,” though how that would happen was “a detail” she didn’t yet understand. The role of parks and recreation would help, however, she noted. She then said to Aller, “Come up and shake our hands—you know it’s what you live for.”
Public Comment regarding items not on agenda. A man whose name was unintelligible spoke about the fees and registration process for country-dancing and line-dancing classes at the Clovis Senior Center. He complained about new requirements for registering online with credit cards rather than in-person sign-up and how difficult that was for some of the older patrons. He was not happy about the increased fees or the shortened event times. Flores asked if he had brought these matters to the attention of staff, to which the man replied that “the governor of California doesn’t accept cash,” presumably regarding payment for dancing classes. Flores said that he would make sure that “someone responds to you tonight.”
Consent Calendar: Agenda Items #3-20 Routine items to be considered with one vote, unless individual items are pulled for discussion. Nothing pulled. Passed 4-0 (one absent).
Agenda Item #21 Resolution to amend the 2019-2020 Action Plan and the 2016-2020 Consolidated Plan, and a resolution to amend the 2022-2023 housing and community development budget for increase of funding by $201,848 for spending Community Development Block Grant—Coronavirus (CDBG-CV) funds.
Claudia Cazares, Management Analyst, gave a brief presentation and explained that some of the funds would be used to pay utility-bill arrears for Clovis residents who had fallen behind in city utility payments during the pandemic. There are 2,800 accounts in arrears, totaling $1.4 million. To use the CDBG-CV funds, the Action Plan and the Consolidated Plan must be formally amended, explained Cazares. Payments would be made directly to utilities, on behalf of affected Clovis residents.
Ashbeck said she hoped residents most in need would be helped. Flores and Bessinger asked about identifying residents needing help (publicizing via social media, etc; application process) and if late fees were included (they were not charged). Mouanoutoua asked a number of questions and wondered if Cazares’ department could “capture stories” of people helped, but for what purpose he did not clarify.
Agenda Item #22 Public hearing regarding tabulation of results of property-owner vote on assessment increase for Area 2 of Blackhorse Estates, a gated area which has privately maintained roads. Area 2 has a budget shortfall, hence an election was held to decide if the assessment should be raised. Previously a similar measure failed. Ballots had been cast by residents of the area and were in a box in the Council chamber to be counted, but a discussion preceded the count.
Sean Smith, Civil Engineer, said that without the increase, the streets would revert to the city. Mouanoutoua asked what was the process for the city to take over; was a vote required? A colleague of Smith’s said that no vote was required. Holt said that “the gates would come down,” and the “gated community” status would end. Smith said that if the streets revert to the city, there would be no more assessments, because they would be public streets. Ashbeck said that there was no incentive for residents to vote for it. But she pointed out that the vote had not yet been counted, so decisions about what to do if the vote failed could be moot.
Ballots would be counted at the end of this hearing. Public comment was opened on the matter; a man calling himself Craig Dewey said that he’s been a resident of the area in question “since day one” and wanted to know what the word “protest,” appearing in a description of this hearing (“Property Owner Protest Balloting Proceedings”), meant in the context of this hearing. Flores explained that it was a term of art, and Dewey was satisfied. There were no more comments, so Flores declared a 10-minute recess while Cha and Haussler tabulated the ballots. At 7:09 p.m., the Council reconvened. There were 50 votes cast; 35 yes and 15 no, so the proposed increase passed. Ashbeck asked how many eligible voters there were—there were 81, said Holt. “Good thing we don’t have to take the streets back,” Ashbeck remarked. Council voted 4-0 (one absent) to approve the engineer’s report.
Agenda Item #23 This item was continued from the June 20 meeting and concerned an amendment to the Loma Vista development master plan. City Planner Dave Merchen gave a detailed presentation with animated slides. The project predates Merchen’s tenure with the city; the amendment concerns the removal of a street, Marengo Avenue, which would re-circulate traffic within the development. The applicant is Wathen Castanos Homes of Fresno.
Discussion followed, and questions included many from Mouanoutoua: was the street to have served as a buffer between commercial and residential areas, which would be better than a cinderblock wall? Would calls for service be affected? Were Merchen’s maps to scale?
Ashbeck said that if Whalen were there he would have raised the issue of the integrity of the Master Plan. She also mentioned the awkward street layout affecting the Sanger Unified School District, which had come up in a previous meeting. But Merchen noted that amendments were anticipated from the beginning and that several had already been approved.
Adrienne Burns from Wathen Castanos was present to say that the proposed change was “viable” and that the planning of the commercial and residential sectors of the development would be “integrated” without cinder block walls. Mouanoutoua asked about getting from the business area to residential and if that would be by car, to which Burns replied that walking could get a resident from one area to another. Vote was 4-0 (one absent) in favor of the amendment.
Agenda Item #24 Jay Schengel presented a brief item regarding an audit (by independent auditors) of a single section, Community Development Block Grant internal control, of the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report. The section had been submitted late because federal guidelines for it had not yet been finalized, said Schengel.
Issues of non-compliance were found in some documents; Haussler said that corrections had been made and the documents were now in compliance. Mouanoutoua had several questions: Did the discrepancies involve contractors? Were all the records in this section checked? Were the processes new? Is training required?
Haussler said that city staff had omitted documentation; Schengel said that “training is
not the issue” and that “we were not keeping good records.” Flores said that the issue was corrected and that it “won’t happen again.” No vote necessary for this item.
Agenda Item #25 Clerk Cha presented a brief report on the wording of an argument in favor of the November ballot measure for the transitory occupancy tax (TOT), which will appear in the voter information brochure. A draft had been prepared by staff; the deadline for submission is July 16. Cha asked the Council to approve the draft and decide whose signature(s) should appear as author(s) of the argument.
A brief discussion followed, and the consensus was that the beginning paragraph should emphasize that the tax will not be levied on Clovis residents but will be charged to Clovis hotel guests and that all Council members should append their signatures to the argument.
Ashbeck said she would not sign her name to it if the first paragraph stood and that it should be emphasized that this is not the one tax to fund public safety. She asked Cha if she had enough direction for revised wording, or did everyone want to “wordsmith” it for the next hour? Yes, she had enough direction, said Cha. Passed with suggested changes as noted, 4-0 (one absent.)
Agenda Item #26 Schedule change; July 11 meeting to be canceled. Passed 4-0 (one absent).
City Manager Comments John Holt mentioned that Whalen was to be absent two days, July 5 and 11. Since the council meetings have “kind of” reverted back to pre-COVID rules, said Holt, Whalen could not participate remotely in today’s meeting, because, per Holt, his physical location would have to be “noticed,” or publicized, in other words. He wanted to participate tonight? Ashbeck asked. The answer was yes.
Council and staff evinced a poor understanding of these rules. Flores asked that if there are technical difficulties preventing livestream, a meeting must stop, as he understood it, and Holt confirmed. Holt then reminded council that they could have kept the COVID rules in place if they renewed every 30 days, but because of the requirement to halt any meeting during which technical failures precluded live streaming, the council chose “not to go that route.” No one appeared to recall.
Mouanoutoua said that “Measure C would be going to the COG” [sic] on July 7 at 5:30 p.m. Measure C is a county sales tax which will be on the ballot in November and will be used to fund $6.8 billion for roads, highways, and public transportation over the next 30 years. Mouanoutoua was unclear what the COG would decide or discuss about Measure C.
Ashbeck said she had no comment.
Bessinger had no comment.
Flores said that he tried to attend a COG meeting last Thursday, but technical problems, “by happenstance or on purpose” caused the meeting to be canceled, hence the next meeting will be Thursday, July. Ashbeck then spoke again: “As the COG rep, I have one comment,” and she remarked that “tech” has “never worked” for these meetings, it’s a “huge failure” on COG’s part, and she asked Flores to “ask them to improve.” Flores said, “I will let them know.” Ashbeck is co-chair of the committee to renew Measure C.
The meeting adjourned at 8:09 p.m. The next meeting will be July 18.
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