Here’s what you need to know:
- The council approved the site plan for a new 2,500 square-foot visitor center at the Clovis Botanical Garden. The building has been designed by Architect Arthur Dyson and includes a gift shop, which will replace the current modular structure.
- Despite concerns about the negotiating process and about allocation of transit-oriented funds, the Council’s consensus was approval of the Measure C renewal.
- At the request of the 500 Club Casino, the Council voted to oppose Proposition 26, which would legalize sports betting at Indian-owned casinos.
Mayor Flores opened the meeting at 6:04 p.m., after Mayor Pro Tem Ashbeck entered the room a few minutes late. Council Member Whalen led the flag salute, and asked everyone to join him in pledging allegiance to “our republic.” Clerk Cha called the roll; all council members were present. Assistant City Manager Haussler’s chair was empty but no mention was made of his absence.
Jose Flores, Mayor
Drew Bessinger, Council Member
Lynne Ashbeck, Mayor Pro Tem
Bob Whalen, Council Member
Vong Mouanoutoua, Council Member
John Holt, City Manager
Scott Cross, City Attorney
Karey Cha, City Clerk
Andy Haussler, Assistant City Manager, was absent.
There were about five virtual attendees, and there were a number of people attending in person, judging by applause heard several times (for virtual attendees the audience was not visible). The meeting lasted about two and a half hours.
Public Comments regarding items not on the agenda. A resident named Cruz Avila tried to comment via Webex, but technical issues prevented him from connecting. Clerk Cha said that there was a written version of the comment, copies of which she handed to each council member. The content was not discussed. Flores said, “We’ll move forward.”
Agenda Items #1-10 Consent calendar; items determined to be routine, all decided with one vote. No items were pulled for discussion. Passed 5-0.
Public Comments re-opened by Mayor Flores to accommodate a woman who was present and approached the podium with some difficulty. She identified herself as Brenda and handed some papers to Cha, who gave them to council members. She said that she had some trouble “focusing” following a stroke she had recently suffered; her speech was a bit fragmented. She came to the Council with a “heavy heart,” she said, and noted that she had “always been a real functional citizen of Clovis.” After a moment of such introductory remarks, she said she would get back to her “schmiel” [sic]. She made comments about youth smoking marijuana in her apartment-building courtyard. She said she had a “run-in” with a Clovis police officer who told her smoking marijuana in this context was legal, even though she cited a Clovis municipal code to the contrary. She used to feel “safe and protected” in Clovis, but now she does not, she said. The question of a “smoke shop” existing in Clovis came up. “That would be detrimental,” Whalen commented and asked the woman to confirm the elements of her complaint. City Manager Holt said that the matter had been investigated 14 months ago, but agreed to speak with the woman again.
Agenda Item #13 Flores introduced this item out of order. Roy Spina was recognized for his 28 years of service as the Clovis representative on the Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District Board, and his replacement, Sargeant Green, was appointed for a term through 2026. Spina, who was present to receive a plaque and praise from the Council, had been appointed by former mayor Harry Armstrong, who by chance was his next-door neighbor when Spina moved to Clovis in 1982. Flores said that “we need people to prevent 100-year and 500-year floods” and to prevent people from “drowning in the street.” Spina said that he remembered floods in Fresno when he was young and that there are no floods now—“we take care of that,” he remarked. “It was a pleasure” to serve,” said Spina, and called the work “the easiest assignment” he’d ever had. He said that Clovis should have more than just one representative on the Board and repeated Armstrong’s credo, “Do the right thing.” It was applauded.
Ashbeck said she was “going to cry” and called Spina “the best of Clovis.” She added that Spina did his job “quietly and capably” and that he was “the last connection to Harry [Armstrong] in this world.” Whalen said, “I’m not going to cry,” and “I hate to see you go.” He continued, “You are an example of courtesy, commitment, and integrity” which in “politics” is lacking, though “hopefully less so in Clovis.”
The second part of this agenda item was the appointment of Sargeant Green, whose given name is “Sargeant;” it’s not a title. Bessinger said he had a colleague whose surname was “Guess,” and when asked his name by a superior, his reply was “Guess,” which angered the superior officer. Flores repeated that seven people had been interviewed for the position and that Green was the winning candidate. Green spoke briefly, noting that vigilance was imperative regarding floods, which “could happen anywhere,” he said. Currently there are 300 people in the County with dry wells, which was a concern of the Board, as is the maintenance of the ponding basins in the County. Green’s appointment was approved 5-0.
Agenda Item #11 Approved site plan for new 2,500 square-foot visitor center at Clovis Botanical Garden. Lily Cha of the Planning Division noted that the item had been continued from the May 16 meeting and gave a brief history of the 20 years of the Garden. The new visitor center will replace the current modular structure. Cha gave a slide presentation, including a “fly-through” animation, showing elevations and renderings of the proposed building, which she called “quite unique” [sic], “modern,” and “contemporary.” The architect is Arthur Dyson, whose notable work in the area includes University High School. Mouanoutoua had a lot of questions about parking, including school buses. He also said it was “important to put this on our trails.” One of the Clovis walking trails runs along one side of the Garden. Will the visitor center have rental space, he asked. Yes, it will.
Anne Clemons, president of the garden’s board of directors, was present to speak briefly about the new visitor center. She “couldn’t believe” that “we’re here,” that money had been raised to finance the new building, or that a relatively renowned architect had designed the structure. She said that the garden had become a popular destination for people needing “someplace to visit” in Clovis and that it had a mention in TripAdvisor. In addressing parking questions, she said a goal was to prevent drivers from “running over little kids” which was “so messy.” She then covered her mouth to stifle a giggle. The gift shop within the visitor center would sell objects made by local artists and craftspeople.
Whalen said that the project was “wonderful” and praised the all-volunteer staff. He had used the garden as a backdrop for a “promo video” he made and suggested there be signage on the road to direct people there. Ashbeck asked about timing and schedule for beginning construction, to which Clemons replied that they were ready to go “now” and it would be completed “as fast as everyone can work.” She added, “An Art Dyson building in Clovis is awesome.”
Former Clovis council member Pat Wynne was present to comment briefly about school-bus parking and relate an anecdote about having studied science in college when she was required, she said, to “memorize the life cycle of a worm”—“that’s why people don’t major in science,” she said.
Mouanoutoua again asked about transit to the garden: how do we “make it so people know” they can use public transit to get there? There was no response. He then asked an additional question about parking as Flores tried to call for a vote. Mouanoutoua persisted in talking about parking and raised the issue of potential squabbles between drivers over parking spots. The site plan was approved 5-0 and was applauded.
Agenda Item #12 Removal of a street, Marengo Avenue, from the Loma Vista development plan. Continued from the previous Council meeting because a unanimous vote was required for passage, Whalen having been absent then. This time passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #14 A request to oppose Proposition 26 by the 500 Club Casino, a Clovis gambling hall whose website promises “non-stop action” and “huge payouts.” The proposed law would legalize sports betting at racetracks and at Indian-owned casinos. Holt showed a slide which said “Opponents worry that this proposition would allow tribal casinos to sue their competitors, potentially forcing cardrooms out of business with unlimited, meritless lawsuits.” A significant amount of revenue from the 500 Club could be lost to Clovis, he pointed out.
A representative of the 500 Club, who did not give his name, said from the podium that there was a “private attorney general’s” initiative within the proposition which sought to put card rooms out of business. He said that card rooms generate revenue for cities and that “our” tribes are not supporting the proposition; it’s the larger tribes from southern California who do, he said. He pointed out that a similar proposition, 27, was to be distinguished from 26.
Bessinger said that the subject had come before the California League of Cities (Cal Cities) and was opposed 30-1. He expressed worry that if passed, the proposition would “create bureaucracy in the California department of justice” and would lead to “frivolous lawsuits.” He added, “It reeked of being unfair.” Flores’ chair was empty, but he had not announced he was leaving the room. Bessinger continued, saying that if 26 were passed, it would put card rooms out of business. “I don’t go to card rooms,” he said, but that he had “occasionally” been to the gambling section of the 500 Club, which is also a 24-hour restaurant. Gambling can be a problem, he said, without elaborating.
Holt said that Cal Cities now takes a neutral position on Proposition 26. An unidentified man sitting at a side presentation table confirmed it.
Whalen announced that as a judge-elect, he would abstain from voting on this item and on item #15 as well. He said he was to refrain from political activity, but that he doesn’t refrain totally.
Bessinger moved to approve sending a letter of opposition to Proposition 26 because of the potential loss of revenue to the city. Passed 4-0, 1 abstention.
Agenda Item #15 Provide direction regarding Measure C renewal. Ashbeck said that she asked to place this item on the agenda; she is vice chair of the Fresno County Transportation Authority (FCTA) and co-chair of the Measure C Renewal executive committee. Measure C is a half-cent sales tax designed to fund roads, public transportation, and the like. The measure recently passed the Fresno County Board of Supervisors and still must pass more scrutiny from the Fresno County Transportation Authority and another round with the Board of Supervisors in August.
Engineering Program Supervisor Ryan Burnett gave a brief presentation, including the history and purpose of the tax measure. He showed charts outlining the allocations for types of transportation-related projects and the total amount of money which Clovis was expected to receive over the 30 years of the life of the tax. While individual cities would receive more than expected, the County’s share was about $187 million less than anticipated.
A colleague of Burnett’s, identified only as “Amy,” spoke about the transit-oriented development (TOD) allocation, which in this renewal would be available only to the City of Fresno. A long discussion about this point followed: these funds were for housing development that runs along transit, such as a trail or a public-transit route or existing corridor with service intervals of no longer than 15 minutes, which Clovis can’t claim.
Bessinger wanted to know if the measure passes per Fresno’s terms, would development on the east side of Willow be eligible because it is served by the Fresno Area Express (FAX) bus system? Amy said no. Bessinger responded, “They are doctoring the books,” and that the bus service on that street could be used by students commuting to college. “Yes, buses take you to higher ed,” said Amy.
Holt then said that the terms of the TOD could be “worked out,” but that he didn’t think Fresno would be cooperative.
Whalen said he was retracting what he said about not commenting. “Some of us have had experience with Fresno,” he said. Fresno is “more interested in taking than giving,” he continued, but encouraged Amy to work with Fresno. Could TOD funds be used for improvement of trails in southwest Clovis? Not per Fresno’s definition of peak travel time with 15-minute headway, said Amy. Mouanoutoua asked how many other cities would get TOD funds? Amy had earlier said that only Fresno would receive these funds.
Mike Leonardo, Executive Director of the FCTA, was present to address some of the Council’s concerns. He said that Fresno’s exclusive claim to TOD funds was “not a done deal” and that Fresno, Clovis, and the Fresno Council of Governments (COG) would work out the details. “The door’s not closed,” he said. He explained that the intent of the TOD was to incentivize infill development which is served by transit: housing will support transit by raising funds from impact fees. TOD is a small allocation of the revenue generated by Measure C, and jurisdictions can use “local control” allocations to fund the same kinds of projects.
Ashbeck said that she was conflicted by Fresno’s last-minute maneuver. “I want a conversation so I can have more voices in my head,” she said to laughter. She then clarified that she meant she wanted to hear from Whalen and Bessinger, because she had not spoken with these two about the matter yet. Whalen asked Ashbeck if “process” was important to her and if her conflicting feelings were related to process or to the resulting numbers. Ashbeck replied that what was meant to serve the interests of the region as a whole degenerated into competition among individual cities. The thinking supporting this dynamic was “demoralizing,” she said.
Bessinger said that last-minute decision-making does not inspire public trust. Then he reminded everybody that he had been a police chief in three small cities in the Central Valley, so he was glad that they got money, hence he did not have “major heartburn” because Fresno took a bigger piece. However, he reiterated, the process doesn’t inspire confidence.
Mouanoutoua reasoned that the process was “fair” because Clovis got more money than expected. He went on to comment on citizen oversight, a citizen’s app, outreach, and the like, pausing now and then to say, “Lemme see . . .” and look at his notes.
Flores said individual towns benefited by being allocated significant amounts of money, hence he supported the results, though TOD was allocated for Fresno only. He repeated the “sausage” analogy mentioned by Brian Pacheco at the most recent Board of Supervisors’ meeting—no one knows how it’s made or what’s in it, but they eat it nonetheless. Bessinger said to laughter, “You might be in the sausage!”
Mouanoutoua said to Ashbeck that to see her in her role throughout the Measure C negotiations “made a young council member proud.” Ashbeck thanked Mike Leonardo and said she wanted to give “these guys” (Bessinger and Whalen, not involved in the Measure C negotiations as were she, Flores, and Mouanoutoua) a chance to weigh in. The 18 months of negotiations ended emotionally, she said, but the measure is written to allow for amending as needed. “It was a process unlike any other,” and though certain groups complained about not getting what they wanted, they got most of it, she said. “Clean air, climate change, it’s all in the measure,” she said, adding that complaints by some dissenting parties (she didn’t specify which) were unwarranted and if that represents “authentic community engagement, I don’t want anything to do with it.”
No action was needed for this item.
City Manager Comments Holt said that the nomination period for Council seats had opened that day and would remain open until August 12. There will be at least one vacancy, as Whalen is leaving.
Mouanoutoua said he attended the Clovis Leadership Summit.
Whalen said that though he had not asked to pull the item from the consent agenda, he wanted details regarding the results of the Community Facilities District Citizens Committee’s findings. He said that State Senator Borgeas had helped secure a $2 million allocation for construction and that he would speak with US Representative Connie Conway about it. After November, he said, he will also speak with US Representative Kevin McCarthy about it, after which he will “bug out,” but what he was talking about was unclear. He also acknowledged what he said was Blake Zante’s role in securing the aforementioned $2 million. Zante works for Kevin McCarthy.
Bessinger said that he also attended the Clovis Leadership Summit and that in the last three weeks, he had three opportunities to make calls for service to Clovis police. One was about noise from people loading a truck near his house in the wee hours; despite Chief Fleming’s recent complaints about being short-staffed, two cruisers arrived in 1.5 minutes. Next, Bessinger observed a broken ATM machine and called 911; two minutes later, officers arrived. A worker, then inside the bank, was repairing the ATM. His next remark involved not a call to police, but involved a city worker: Bessinger was at a fast-food restaurant when he saw a trash truck pick up a dumpster. A little trash spilled, and a worker got out of the truck and swept up the spilled garbage. “You can’t teach pride,” he said.
Ashbeck expressed thanks to Solid Waste workers for the pick-up of several apparently abandoned trash bins near her house, which she termed “the opposite” of “let me go back and pick it up” as in the case described by Bessinger. She mentioned that the public comment received in writing concerned SB930, which she said would extend closing time for bars (the language of the bill says that it would require an additional license to sell alcoholic drinks between 2 and 4 a.m.). She then said that she’d had a chance to read Fresnoland Documenters “stories of our city council,” and that she “would invite people describing what happens here to have some element of—to document the facts and not the political views or the sort of sarcastic comments that come along with it.” She said that she found it helpful to hear what people say in other cities, but did not appreciate the recording of what she called jokes, comments and political views, because “it doesn’t make any sense” but did not further elaborate. She added, “They are really not ‘documenters,’ they are ‘opinionators,’” she said. “That’s what it should be called. It’s really bothered me, so thanks for letting me say it. It’ll be in next week’s column; thank you, Rachel.” Then she said, “Stay on course here. You have a role to play, and it’s not an opinion column, it’s what’s happening.” Ashbeck said, “I feel better now.”
Flores reported that “Zoom-bombing is real,” and it happened at the most recent COG meeting he attended. It was an experience he would never forget, he said.
At 8:24 p.m., the Council went into closed session for a conference with internal labor negotiators. No reports were made from the closed session.
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