Here’s what you need to know
- The Fresno County Board of Supervisors met on September 20, 2022 and approved an extension of a contract with public-relations firm, Outfront Media, Inc., to create a “fentanyl awareness” advertising campaign.
- The supervisors received a presentation on the sixth-cycle Housing Element with some contention among the board. Strategies for meeting the sixth cycle Regional Housing Needs Assessment requirements were presented; among them were building accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and focusing on vacant sites under ten acres.
- With a 4-1 vote, the board approved an agreement for an extension of the emergency rental assistance program and increasing the maximum from nearly $5 million to more than $37 million. Supervisor Brandau was the vote against and said that he was not going to “be supportive” because “we’ve lost control of the American economy.”
Chairman Pacheco opened the meeting at 9:31 a.m. Clerk Seidel called the roll; all were present. Chief Deputy County Counsel Peter Wall substituted for the absent Cederborg. Supervisor Mendes introduced the preacher who gave the invocation, Erik Buhl, pastor of Fowler Presbyterian church. Mendes said that Buhl, who lived in Washington state until 2021, “loves California” but added in a cynical tone, “I don’t know why.” Among Buhl’s remarks were these: “There is no authority but god’s. . . I believe this council was established by god. . . In Jesus’ name I pray.” Buhl then led the flag salute.
The room was not full, but there were a number of in-person attendees who came in and out over the course of the meeting. The meeting lasted just under two hours and was marked by Supervisor Brandau’s vehement anti-government remarks and Supervisor Mendes’ comments about what he called “fake news.”
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 (absent)
Chief Deputy County Counsel Peter Wall (sitting in for Cederborg)
Bernice E. Seidel, Clerk of the Board of Supervisors
Agenda Item #1 Pacheco asked Clerk Seidel to read the first agenda item, and she noted that item #16 from the closed-session agenda would be deleted. The board otherwise approved the day’s agenda with a 5-0 vote.
Agenda Items #2 The board unanimously approved the consent agenda, items #19 through 37.1, routine items not requiring individual votes, and none were pulled for discussion by board members or members of the public.
Agenda Item #3 Retirement of Melba Ybarra, who worked for the Department of Social Services for 33 years. Seidel noted that Ybarra was unable to attend, so the commemorative plaque would be mailed to her.
Agenda Item #4 Proclamation declaring September 20 “Centro La Familia Day.” Supervisor Quintero read the proclamation; no one was present from the organization. Quintero mentioned that the group has worked for social justice and has advocated for services for 50 years. He had hoped that the organization’s executive director, Margarita Rocha, could be present, as she was not, Quintero said he would be in touch with her.
Agenda Item #5 Quintero also made this presentation, a declaration proclaiming September 22 “Sons of Italy Colombo-Stella Lodge 1149 Day.” Quintero remarked that he wanted to “speak to how diverse our community is” and said that the proclamation was for “an Italian club, presented by a Mexican and accepted by a Portuguese.”
Steven Barra, recording secretary of the lodge, was present to accept the recognition. Barra said that the Fresno lodge was the oldest in California and that this 100th anniversary was reached “by the grace of god and Italian fortitude.”
Mendes interjected that he “played Portuguese bingo” with Barra earlier and discovered that Barra was a relative of the late John Ventura, a Portuguese-American who had been a member of the board of supervisors in the 1970s, and, Mendes said, “the first Azorean politician in Fresno.”
Agenda Item #6 The board approved by a 5-0 vote an amendment to a contract with Outfront Media, Inc., for creating a “fentanyl awareness” advertising campaign. District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp was present and spoke about the ad campaign, which she said was emulated by many other jurisdictions. She said that Fresno was a leader in the anti-fentanyl campaign.
Smittcamp then praised Republican assembly member Jim Patterson, because anti-fentanyl advertising legislation he sponsored passed the state assembly and senate and was waiting for the governor’s signature. She called the passage of the legislation “a miracle” even though the substance of the bill was non-partisan. The law when enacted will permit counties to apply for funding to produce billboards and the like.
The district attorney then said that “cartels are flooding our nation,” though she didn’t elaborate. She noted some statistics regarding deaths from fentanyl ingestion: in 2020 there were 40; in 2021 there were 70.
When asked how effective the advertising campaign was and if there were statistics for these, Smittcamp said that we would “never know how many lives we save.” She added that “statistics are important,” but that regarding the advertising campaign, “we know it’s working” because it’s “duplicated and revered” everywhere.
Still, Smittcamp didn’t explain why deaths were statistically increasing annually.
Smittcamp said that the prospect of prosecuting drug dealers for murder was “exciting,” referring to advocacy by some prosecutors in California, led by Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, to press murder charges on sellers of fentanyl to people who die as a result of ingesting it, even though there is currently no legal basis for such prosecution.
Taylor Long, public information officer (PIO) of the Fresno County District Attorney’s office, and Sonja Dosti, PIO of Fresno County, referred to as “rock stars” by Smittcamp, gave a detailed presentation of the various advertising campaigns and public-service announcements designed to discourage fentanyl use.
Dosti and Long described partnerships with various county agencies and school districts in raising awareness of the dangers of fentanyl. They reiterated that other counties have approached them wanting to replicate their campaigns and said that one foreign country, Norway, had also approached them.
Mendes praised Dosti and Long for a good presentation, which he said was as good as those of the Air Board. Brandau mentioned a young country-music star who recently died from an “accidental” overdose of fentanyl. He talked about his anti-fentanyl appearances with “Lisa” (DA Smittcamp) on Facebook live.
Brandau then asked how fentanyl “comes into the US”—“Is it China?” he asked. Smittcamp said that synthetic fentanyl was made in China and shipped to South America and Mexico. “We all know the situation at the border,” Smittcamp said, referring to the US-Mexican border. “They’re coming over in droves,” she said without elaborating.
Smittcamp said that a truck containing enough pills to kill over one million people was recently apprehended at the Mexican border. Compared to other drugs, she said, fentanyl can cause death with just one dose; heroin addicts, by comparison, may be addicted for years before the drug causes death.
Combating the abuse of the drug was “an overwhelming, daunting task,” she said, but “we are killing it here in Fresno.” Then she noted “that was a bad choice of words.”
Brandau, appearing to conflate drug smuggling with falsehoods about immigration, said that “the American government” has “lost control” of the US-Mexican border, though he acknowledged that the matter was not within DA Smittcamp’s purview.
Magsig, “as the father of three teenaged sons,” thanked Smittcamp for “the awareness you bring” about the issue.
When public comment was opened on the item, Jaime “Carlos” Loza, a regular commenter, approached the podium to say “I don’t do drugs, I have kids. You guys got a long road.” No other members of the public commented.
Agenda Item #7 The board approved a new rate for biweekly health-insurance premiums for active employees and dependents for the plan-year 2023. The new rate will save money for employees. Human resources director Hollis McGill made the brief presentation.
Magsig asked how “the lid” can be kept on costs, especially with inflation. McGill said that the rates were based on claims. CAO Nerland remarked that the county encourages employees to use “wellness programs,” and McGill said that they do encourage employees to be healthy.
Heather Evans, a county employee who has often commented to request pay increases and improvements in county employee working conditions, expressed her thanks to the board.
Agenda Item #8 A presentation was made regarding the multijurisdictional sixth-cycle housing element by Yvette Quiroga of the public works department and Kate Rose, a consultant from the California Coalition for Rural Housing.
Background information was included in the meeting agenda: “Since 1969, California has required local governments (cities and counties) to plan for the housing needs of everyone in the community. The Housing Element is one of eight mandatory elements required to be included in a General Plan and must be updated every 8 years. Fresno County last updated its Housing Element in 2016. Fresno County and most of its 15 cities have initiated preparation of a Multi-Jurisdictional 6th Cycle Housing Element Update to meet the state-imposed adoption deadline of December 31, 2023.”
Rose presented an overview of the housing element and noted that it was not a mandate to build but a requirement to identify available land and housing needs. Funding is not guaranteed. It includes both local and county-wide analysis of fair housing and housing goals and policies.
A timeline spanning from July 2022, beginning with outreach, to December 2023, when adoption hearings will be held, was presented.
Rose explained what Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) is and how it works: the total number of projected housing needs is determined by the state government, then the Council of Governments (COG) determines how many housing units are needed for each jurisdiction, then cities and counties are allocated units and decide on land and appropriate densities.
Of the Fresno COG RHNA, Clovis is responsible for the largest percentage: 15%.
Strategies for meeting the 6th Cycle RHNA were presented by Rose; among them were building accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and focusing on vacant sites under ten acres.
Many new state laws have been passed between the 5th and 6th cycles; Rose explained these clearly.
Magsig asked if jurisdictions could charge property owners for building infrastructure when they want to add units to a lot they own. Rose said yes. Magsig asked if the state was encouraging more wells. Rose replied that infrastructure must be planned when zoning for building, over the eight-year RHNA period.
Magsig asked what “the development community” (real-estate developers) were responsible for paying for. He expressed concern about the burden of paying falling to the county.
Then Magsig said the state government was “talking out of both sides of its mouth” by requiring affordable housing to be built but that they were not building water-storage facilities. “I’m a contractor,” he said, and asked if the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) could be “tabled” so affordable housing could be built?
Magsig said he was the only general contractor on the board, and he “only sees a lot of regulations coming out of Sacramento.”
Rose said that there was no plan to table SGMA to help jurisdictions meet their RHNA obligations but acknowledged that it was a “constraint.” Then Magsig wanted to know if housing was becoming “more affordable or more expensive” based on the state regulations. Rose said that the “flurry” of housing legislation since 2017 made tracking the impact difficult.
Quiroga said she had “nothing good to add” though no one acknowledged the housing shortage. Quiroga said that the most difficult task is to identify land to be re-zoned land and demonstrate that infrastructure can be built, that there is water available, and that SGMA rules can be followed. The state, Quiroga said, is not giving “freedom” from the laws it has passed.
Magsig’s tone was rather heated, but he said he was “not upset with either of you two.” He hoped that people observing the meeting would understand that when “the state” says “affordable housing” it really means making homes more “unaffordable.” However, the term “affordable housing,” refers to the cost to the buyer, not the builder, although financing processes for builders may be implicated.
Brandau remarked that he would support the plan just so the General Plan could be completed, and he didn’t want anyone “to think that he thinks that Sacramento knows the least about housing.”
Mendes repeated the same remarks he has often made, that “this reminds me of the old Soviet Union.” Then he complained about “huge bureaucracy” and “paperwork.” Quintero and Pacheco were silent.
Public comment was opened on the item, and Brent Burdine of Clovis approached the podium. He asked if the state government planned to construct electric power plants.
The next commenter was Jaime “Carlos” Loza again. He said that he grew up in Selma but that he “didn’t see Del Rey up there,” not clarifying what he meant. “Would be nice if Del Rey were included in affordable housing,” he said, adding “It’s all money.”
Pacheco thanked Rose for answering “loaded” questions from board members with “skill and grace.”
No vote was required.
Agenda Item #9 With a 4-1 vote, the board approved an agreement for an extension of the emergency rental assistance program.
A presentation was made by department of social services staff members Laura Moreno and Cynthia Cardenas. They explained that the original program targeted victims of Covid, such as a 55-year-old father of several children who was in a coma for a week and was airlifted to a hospital in southern California. The funding saved him and his family from eviction and benefitted both him and his landlord.
The federal funding of initially $27 million will be supplemented with an extension of $6 million.
Magsig asked what the staff is doing to eliminate fraud. DSS staff explained the rigorous application process and the quality-assurance process which includes following through on “red flags.” Submission of documentation by applicants is required.
Brandau asked if this extension funding was not tied to Covid. Moreno said no, it’s tied to hardship. Brandau said that he was not going to “be supportive” because “we’ve lost control of the American economy.”
Then Brandau talked at some length and said that the US government was “stopping inflation with the left hand” and with the right hand “spending more money.” He continued, “Irregardless [sic], we’re participating in our own economic death!” To be paying “other people’s rent” is wrong, he added.
Mendes asked how many people worked full-time on this program. The reply was the first phase entailed seven full-time employees and five full-time contractors, and with the extension phase, staff will be reduced to four full-time employees.
Most of the beneficiaries of the program live in Mendes’ district. Mendes said that was because there are so many “severely disadvantaged” communities in his district.
Magsig thanked the staff for concentrating on residents of unincorporated areas of the county.
Quintero asked for a chart accounting for money spent on administrative costs.
Magsig then said that “Brandau is right” and said that these funds “add gas to the fire” of inflation, but he did not explain how. But because “the money is out the door” whether the board spends it or not, he would vote to approve the extension.
Brandau said that in his “entire political career” he has noticed that if money is not taken when offered, it goes somewhere else. But he said it was “time for people to stand up and say we’ve got to do it a different way,” though he didn’t offer suggestions. He added, “I can’t be a part of that.”
Brandau’s was the sole “no” vote.
Agenda Item #10 Supervisor comments
Magsig said he would hold a meeting that evening in Squaw Valley about place-name changes. Other entities with “squaw” in the name have had changes made, and the town of Squaw Valley will be next. Pacheco remarked that the subject would come before the board.
Quintero congratulated the 9/11 committee for the work they did to commemorate the event.
Brandau, said “the American economy is in bad shape” and cited what he felt was “epic failure” at “the very top.” He looked out at the audience (not many people left at this point) and said, “Please begin to take care of your family and neighbors,” and “store up” some food and extra money. “There is pain coming,” he warned.
Mendes, following Brandau’s suit, began to complain about what he called “a totally corrupt news media in this country.” He said that “facts don’t make the news” and that “fake print media is out there every day.” He added without specifying anything in particular, “News is fake.” He said that “it happens at the Air Board and everywhere!” He praised Sonja Dosti’s work, though it was unclear what her connection to his complaints about journalism was. Then he concluded, with a smile, that for the next three months he would be vice-chair of the Air Board.
Agenda Item #11 Board appointments. There were none.
Agenda Item #12 Public comments regarding items not on the agenda. Once again, Jaime “Carlos” Loza approached the podium. This time he revealed that on January 2 he was hit by two cars, and “it gave me my sense back.” He repeated “I don’t do drugs,” adding “due to the fact is [sic] I’m an example to young people.” Then he talked about how he wanted to start a “clean and sober” program because similar programs had helped him. “Just telling you guys one thing on my mind” were his parting words.
At 11:21 a.m., the board went into closed session. Counsel Wall said that there may be a report from the closed session, but several hours later the board had not returned.
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