Here’s what you need to know
- The Clovis City Council met on Oct. 17 and approved the incorporation of amendments regarding vehicle miles traveled (VMT) into the General Plan, pursuant to SB 743, which has changed the metric for transportation analysis per the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to account for carbon emissions and air pollution based on the level of car use rather than on traffic congestion.
- Clovis city transit drivers will carry Narcan, an opioid-overdose treatment, and will be trained in administering it.
- Several people commented to the council about the city’s maintenance issues, including landscaping, noise, mosquito infestation, and water damage to private property.
Jose Flores, Mayor
Drew Bessinger, Councilmember
Lynne Ashbeck, Mayor Pro Tem (ABSENT)
Bob Whalen, Councilmember
Vong Mouanoutoua, Councilmember
John Holt, City Manager
Scott Cross, City Attorney (ABSENT)
David Wolfe, substituting for Scott Cross
Karey Cha, City Clerk
Andy Haussler, Assistant City Manager
Mayor Flores called the meeting to order about 6:01 p.m, announcing that the Boy Scouts of Troop 60 would lead the flag salute. About 20 boys filed in and stood before the dais. An adult male voice was heard leading the pledge: “I pledge of [sic] allegiance to the flag . . .” The children were then presented with Clovis commemorative “challenge coins” and a Clovis city flag. “Thank you, Troop 60,” Flores said, followed by “Where’s our clerk?”
Clerk Cha then called the roll; Mayor Pro Tem Ashbeck was absent. The meeting lasted about 2.5 hours and was marked by several public comments about city maintenance, safety, and nuisance issues. The meeting was held in the council chambers at the Clovis Civic Center and was also accessible to the public via live stream on YouTube and Webex. There were about six online attendees, and there appeared to be a number of people attending in person.
Public Comments regarding items not on the agenda. Five people showed up to address the council. First, Russell Tidrick of Clovis spoke about what he called deficient landscape maintenance, complaining that “no one called him back” about issues such as overgrown trees, under watered trees, and overwatered trees. He said that “trumps” [sic] were not being removed, then correcting himself, said that “stumps” were “eyesores” that could cause injury.
Tidrick said that city contractors were not living up to their obligations. “Maybe they don’t think I’m important,” he said regarding the lack of a return phone call, to which Flores replied, “We’re all important here in Clovis.” Tidrick said that he had photos and a record of locations in question, both on paper and on a zip drive. He was asked to give the items to Cha. Council Member Bessinger advised him to use the “go request” app to report issues such as “broken sprinklers” and the like. Council Member Whalen added that follow-up reports were a feature of the app and asked Tidrick to download it. Public utilities director Scott Redelfs, who was present, was asked by Flores to follow up as well.
Next, James Borunda, Jr., spoke about the damage done to his father’s house on Sunnyside Ave. when a water main broke in January this year. His father was now a quadriplegic, Borunda said, and had purchased the property in 1983, to enjoy “the Clovis way of life.” The house was destroyed by the water damage, and the burst pipe was the city’s responsibility, he said. However, though it has taken 9 months for the city to make an offer of compensation, an attorney for the city has given the family only 20 days to respond.
Borunda asked if this treatment reflected the city’s disrespect based on his family’s “social status.” He said, “We embody community,” and asked if the city saw “people” or “just houses.” The offer of compensation made by the city was inadequate, Borunda said, adding, “I plead with you to show we haven’t lost our way.” He wanted to preserve “the Clovis way of life” and did not want to be “bought out and cast aside,” to which Flores responded, “Anyone else?”
A resident named Heather Miller spoke next about a severe mosquito infestation in her newly built neighborhood, “Cadence” built by Wathen Castanos, which she described as being a result of badly designed drainage, which is trapping water where mosquitoes can breed. She said she was advised by the Mosquito Abatement District to install a filter system but to be effective, everyone in the development would have to invest in and build the same filters, “in every single drain in the Cadence community,” or the mosquito infestation would continue.
Miller did not say if she or neighbors queried the builder about it or if the builder was liable for correcting the faulty drainage system. Was the city responsible? Miller noted that mosquito-borne diseases were a concern. No one on the council responded.
Flores asked if anyone else wanted to speak about any item not on the agenda. “Oh, it’s NOT on the agenda,” said Jean Joneson, approaching the podium, with a child in tow. Joneson began by saying that she “loves” her neighbors, drawing out the “o.” Then she expressed concerns about construction noise and accompanying “mariachi music.” “They didn’t invite us,” she said. She spoke citing first names of various people without identifying them and using a different voice for each as she quoted them.
Joneson said she had “left a message” about the construction noise, but had not received a reply. She said that she had video, presumably of misbehavior on the part of construction workers, but that she wouldn’t “go there” because she herself was recorded using “inappropriate” language in it. She complained that she had missed her “beauty sleep, as you can tell,” as a consequence of the incessant construction noise.
As she continued to talk, Flores asked her what her “main complaint” was. Her reply was that “your building inspectors can’t get it together” and that she was “really angry” about it. Someone had the inspectors “in his back pocket,” she said. Flores cautioned that her five minutes were about up, and she protested that she still had a minute and a half. City Manager Holt addressed her, calling her “Mary;” she said that her name was not Mary and that “he” had interrupted her “beauty sleep;” then she left the podium.
The last commenter was Charles Brough, who complained about faded crosswalk markings near the Gettysburg Elementary School. He said that he had “almost been killed” several times because of the poorly marked crosswalk and speeding cars. He said that the paint takes only 4 hours to dry and to limit repainting to summer-vacation months was therefore not necessary. If the paint wears out quickly, he said, it was “bad paint.” He wanted to know what the state code was about re-painting crosswalks and said that he had “written sections of California law” himself. Brough wanted an “emergency declaration” to re-paint the crosswalks and an audit of the public works department. He said it was better to “spend $200 now” or face something “much worse” as a consequence of not repainting. Flores asked if “anyone else” had a comment.
Agenda Items #1-7 These items comprised the “consent agenda,” a group of routine items which require one vote for all. The council passed these items 4-0, with one absence.
Agenda Item #8 The council approved 4-0, with one absence, an ordinance and an amendment to the public-utilities director classification: revisions to the code will define the public-utilities director role as “superintendent of streets.” It also makes the code consistent with the public-utilities director job description requirement for possession of a civil engineer’s license. The item was presented by Lori Shively, personnel manager. Whalen asked Redelfs if he had an engineer’s license; the reply was yes, and Whalen appeared relieved, because “we’ve come to like you.”
Agenda Item #9 After a lengthy discussion, the council approved the three components of this item by a 4-0 vote (one absence), which concerned the incorporation of amendments regarding vehicle miles traveled (VMT) into the General Plan. Dave Merchen, city planner, made the presentation.
Merchen explained that SB 743, which has been in effect as of July 2020, changed the metric for transportation analysis per the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) from Level of Service (LOS) to VMT, because the overall level of automobile use is significantly more related to carbon emissions and air pollution than are local levels of traffic: instead of delay and congestion, the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) to be generated by, say, a construction project, is now analyzed for its environmental impact.
Merchen explained that the city contracted with Kittelson and Associates to prepare guidelines for implementing VMT analysis, and a Kittelson representative was also present.
After explaining the background of the plan and its progress, Merchen said that the overarching goals were to encourage reduction in vehicle use by planning good pedestrian connections as well as “alternative” modes of transportation.
Transportation Impact Analysis (TIA), Merchen said, included “screening out” certain projects—such as affordable housing projects, projects in areas well-served by public transportation, retail which serves local neighborhoods, etc—from VMT analysis. He discussed VMT mitigation frameworks and General Plan compliance.
A Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) evaluates guidelines and is supplemental to the city’s 2014 General Plan EIR, he noted. The SEIR showed that VMT-related effects associated with the implementation of the General Plan would be significant, hence measures to mitigate VMT were identified, even though mitigation measures would not be enough.
So, approval of a project (such as a building project) will require adopting a statement of overriding considerations, such as that specific benefits of the project will outweigh adverse environmental effects. Merchen noted that the planning commission recommended approval.
It was noted that driving less, walking more, and biking were measures which could work toward the goals.
Merchen’s recommendation was that the council adopt a resolution certifying the SEIR, adopt a resolution approving policy changes to the Circulation Element to include VMT, and adopt a resolution approving guidelines for updated transportation impact analysis.
Mouanoutoua asked if this report was about what had been agreed to previously. Merchen said yes. Then Mouanoutoua asked if trails could be counted in analysis of VMT reduction, and if not, why not, because bike lanes could be. Merchen said the language for that exists in the policies but there is no such specific policy so defined. Nevertheless, Mouanoutoua asked again, why can’t trails be included, and Merchen said that any feature which enhances walkability and reduces VMT is positive and can be documented.
Mouanoutoua went on for a moment, repeating that, “we have a great trail system, so it should account for something.” Merchen said he could include a specific reference to, “multi-purpose trails.”
Mounaoutoua asked more questions which were a little hard to understand, as he started and stopped sentences and repeated the phrase “in regards to” [sic] often. Merchen responded to him and explained things slowly. For example, Mouanoutoua, without identifying what document he was reading from, said that “it talks in here about measures that change behavior, with regards to change . . .” to reduce VMT.
Merchen in reply said that there are some mitigating strategies which are not behavioral but that VMT mitigation is about “driving less.” Mouanoutoua continued as though not hearing Merchen and said that he would “challenge us to make it where [sic] our transit mitigates our VMT; that’s a challenge for us as a city.”
Bessinger noted that small projects can be “screened out,” a phrase repeated several times throughout the discussion, though what that meant was undefined. It likely meant “disregarded” in terms of the guidelines and goals, as Merchen said that could entail any project which generated under 500 “trips,” presumably by car.
Bessinger continued and said that was the reason why “the development community” (meaning commercial real-estate developers) favors smaller projects and can thus circumvent these practices and concerns.
Whalen wanted to ask the Kittelson representative about compliance with the 2014 General Plan, since the “rules changed” with the adoption of VMT. There is not a new General Plan, but there is a supplemental EIR, he said. New developments hence “lean on” the SEIR, though it is not specific.
The Kittelson person said that “a lot of cities are looking to Clovis” as a model in this respect. A second Kittelson staff person by phone said that EIRs are based on land-use plans and that general-plan amendments come when a city’s growth requires that it make amendments to its general plan. Therefore, pragmatic, focused EIRs are made as needed, and real-estate developers will be free of being required to make new environmental impact studies. The developer’s project can be “mitigated” so that it is consistent with the general plan.
However, if a real-estate developer wants to change zoning from residential to commercial, that could not be covered by an amendment.
Whalen said that risks needed to be identified in taking this sort of approach, because “tiering” from a SEIR level of service was “not tested.” The Kittelson person on the phone said that there is risk with any CEQA approach but that lawsuits must be filed within 30 days. He said the level of such risk was not “high.”
Flores said that the object of all of this was to reduce “green gas” [sic]; he likely meant “greenhouse gas” emissions. Is the type of vehicle taken into account? For instance, said Flores, falsely, that “the governor says no gas vehicles by 2035” (the executive order of September 23, 2020, says that sales of all new passenger vehicles will be zero-emission by 2035). Will that change anything, he wanted to know. Can electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure be considered a mitigating factor?
Merchen replied that so far, “EV strategies,” are not a part of the mix. The Kittelson representative present said that mixed land-use was a mitigating factor and that it was “powerful” in Clovis. The state goal, he said, was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and part of the strategy for reducing it is the “consciously made” goal of reducing driving. Other factors can also mitigate the impact of air quality, it was noted. None of the council members seemed aware of these goals or why they existed, as they never framed them as a concern.
Mouanoutoua expressed concern about how much the price of a new home would increase with “VMT put on it.” Will there be added costs? Merchen said yes, to which Mouanoutoua quickly responded that these increases in developers’ costs will “defeat the purpose of building affordable units,” something that Clovis has resisted doing regardless of these costs, but the conclusion has no connection to “affordable housing” which refers to the cost of a house to a buyer.
Merchen appeared to offer an explanatory response, saying that affordable projects “get some relief,” though he didn’t say how, adding that “it doesn’t make projects less expensive” to build.
Flores asked for public comment on the matter, but there were none.
The item’s three resolutions were then voted on, and all passed 4-0, with one absence.
Whalen thanked staff for the report, which he said “required great thinking.” He added, “You’ve advised well.”
Agenda Item #10 The council approved implementation of a plan which would permit Clovis city transit drivers to carry Narcan, a prescription medicine for emergency treatment of opioid overdose, administered via nasal spray.
A presentation was made by Amy Hance, General Services Manager. She said that opioids such as fentanyl “flow into the U.S.” from “China and Mexico” and have caused an 81% increase in opioid deaths in Fresno County over a relatively short time, so the situation has some urgency.
Teenagers are often unwitting victims of unintended overdoses, she said, because the dosage in any given pill is unknown, and they typically don’t know what or how much is in the pill they may be ingesting.
Hance said she collaborated with a similar program in St. Louis, whose staff told her that it was not a question of “if” but “when” overdoses would happen on public transit and Narcan would be needed to save lives.
Hance consulted with the city’s legal advisers who gave the green light. Transit staff, whom Hance called “capable” and “pretty special” would receive training from the fire department, whose staff was preparing a video and other kinds of instruction. Transit staff are already trained and certified in CPR.
Bessinger said, “When I was chief of airport police, Narcan was issued to us.” He related an anecdote about a 17-year-old girl who “went down with no heartbeat,” suffering from a drug overdose in the airport, but her life was saved with the Narcan.
Bessinger added that fentanyl was a “scourge” and that it was showing up in candy-colored pills, making it tempting to teenagers.
Mouanoutoua wanted to know who was paying for the program. “Do we have to pay for it” after the state funding runs out? Hance explained that 40 pouches (which will contain the Narcan) marked with a red cross cost a total of $400 but that the medicine itself is free via the state government. When the medicine runs out, the city can apply for another shipment, she said. She added that if they “give away” all of the pouches, “we’ll have a bigger problem than no pouches.”
Flores said that “no good deed goes unpunished” and that “bad guys” might want to steal the Narcan. Will Clovis transit drivers be dispatched to deliver Narcan? No, they won’t, said Hance; they will be able to respond to someone in need on their bus.
Hance added that 50% of the Clovis transit ridership is junior-high, high-school and college-aged people. Flores remarked that “they” are “killing our kids.”
Bessinger said “to anyone who is listening” that his friend’s kid “woke up dead” and the cause of death was ingestion of an overdose of fentanyl. He said he talks to anyone he can about the dangers of fentanyl, such as the two young men whom he recently hired to do some work at his house. Bessinger continued that “it used to be Ritalin” but “now it kills you.”
Flores opened public comment on the matter, but there were none. The plan was approved 4-0, one absence. Whalen thanked Hance, telling her, “You’ve got a big heart.”
Agenda Item #11 The council considered arguments regarding an update to the parking-space to hotel-room ratio but deferred a decision until City Manager Holt could present more data. Currently the ratio is 1.2 parking spaces for each hotel room. Arguments were made for a 1 to 1 ratio which would increase the number of hotel rooms per a given property and hence which would generate more Transitory Occupancy Tax (TOT) for the city.
A raise in the tax will be on the ballot this November, and the funds generated will be used in part to fund hiring more police. A representative of the local visitors bureau, Lisa Oliveira, sent a brief statement (she was not present) which reported that a few hotels complained about not having enough parking. Others, including a local hotel owner named Randeep, who was present, said that none of his hotels run out of parking spots and that many hotel guests arrive via Uber, tour bus, or shuttles, so there is less need for parking spaces.
Mouanoutoua said that more hotel rooms (and fewer parking spaces) would mean more money for the city. “I really want to see the numbers,” he said, referring to data rather than anecdotal evidence, to determine if an ordinance amendment was in order.
Randeep, the local hotel owner, said that recently with 95% occupancy, he still had 60 vacant parking spaces. Fire trucks could park without occupying excessive space, he said. The TOT from one hotel is about $50 or $60,000, he said, and a new hotel he is planning will generate about $100,000 monthly.
A hotel architect was present to say that a “1.2 parking space to 1 room” ratio reduces the number of rooms which can be built. A 1 to 1 ratio would add about 10 rooms, he said.
Nevertheless, Whalen gave more credence to Oliveira’s report, repeating that she said they were “all but running out” of parking spaces and that was a problem. Then he laughed anxiously and said he wouldn’t be here when a decision was implemented, so “do whatever you want, Dave!” (addressing Merchen).
Flores asked if a hotel could ask for a variance; Merchen said yes, with a specific basis for reduction of the number of parking spaces.
Holt said that he would direct staff to collect and confirm the data and report back to the council.
City Manager Comments Holt gave an update on the Historical Preservation Committee. Currently 10 members have been approved but more are needed.
Whalen, addressing “Sean,” said that he heard complaints about the location of the “bouncy house” during the Clovis Fest. He asked about an issue regarding carryover of funds for water projects, but it turned out to be a record-keeping formality rather than a staff shortage as he suspected. Someone was heard to remark, “He’s well-staffed,” to laughter.
Mouanoutoua said that he attended a Clovis city employee-appreciation dinner and that “spirits were positive.” He hoped for one more joint meeting with the Clovis Unified School District before the new council convened after November’s election. It wasn’t clear if he was making a request, because he was not addressing anyone in particular.
Bessinger also enjoyed the city-employee dinner and was glad to have “social time.”
Flores noted that he went to the “horse races” with Fresno City Council Member Garry Bredefeld, but how this news was related to city business was unclear.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:23 p.m. There was no closed-session agenda. The next meeting will be on Monday, November 7 at 6:00 p.m. and will be live-streamed here.
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