Why it matters?
The city's increased administrative fees apply to items ranging from event permits to vehicle impound release and false alarm calls to dog licenses. Increased fees disproportionately impact low-income residents, while charging too little requires the city and taxpayers to shoulder the burden of the costs.
Here’s what you need to know
- The Clovis City Council met on Nov. 7, 2022 and approved, by a 4-0 vote (1 absence) a request from the Building Industry Association (BIA) to send a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission regarding the “negative impact” of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) business practices on real-estate development on the City of Clovis.
- The council learned about updates in California state building codes to the Clovis municipal code. Updates pertain to residential construction, green building, plumbing, electrical codes, aging-in-place requirements for residential buildings, electric-vehicle (EV) charging requirements for residential buildings, and energy storage systems (ESS) for commercial and residential buildings.
- Others having appeared previously with similar requests, a further resident of Sunnyside Avenue whose house was destroyed by a city water-main break in January appeared before the council to plea for a better resolution from the city for fixing the damage.
- The council approved an updated administrative fee schedule. The fees are for planning and development, public utilities, general services, police, and fire. Most fees have not been updated in 20 years and the new fee schedule will be effective as of Jan. 1, 2023.
- Are recent disasters the cause of the PG&E “delays” in supplying new construction with electricity?
- While Holt included the information in his presentation, why didn’t the council members discuss that quandary?
Jose Flores, Mayor
Drew Bessinger, Councilmember
Lynne Ashbeck, Mayor Pro Tem
Bob Whalen, Councilmember (ABSENT)
Vong Mouanoutoua, Councilmember
John Holt, City Manager
Scott Cross, City Attorney
Karey Cha, City Clerk
Andy Haussler, Assistant City Manager
Mayor Flores called the meeting to order about 6:03 p.m., or rather began reading the agenda at that moment. Councilmember Mouanoutoua led the flag salute: “Ready? Salute.” Clerk Cha called the roll; Councilmember Whalen was absent. The meeting was relatively short, at a little over an hour. A number of people, including various city staff and public commenters, attended in person; there were four attending via Webex and two watching on YouTube. The meeting took place in the council chamber at the Clovis Civic Center and was live-streamed. Agendas, video, and minutes from past meetings can be found here.
Public Comments regarding items not on the agenda. There were three members of the public who were present to speak about various issues.
First was Sheri Persons, a resident of the area of Sunnyside Avenue where several homes were severely damaged as the result of a water-main break in January this year.
Just as other victims of the city’s water-main break have testified at previous council meetings, Persons said she joined these neighbors, collaborating in efforts to be fairly compensated by the city. She summarized the event and noted that the city had extended the initial 20-day deadline to accept or decline an offer of compensation. She wanted the city to consider counteroffers “to make us whole” and have their houses re-built.
Persons said that the city was taking too long, making unreasonable demands, and asking the residents to manage the construction projects. Nevertheless, she had found a construction person whose offer she hoped the city would consider.
She said that the city was at fault and that generations of families had lived in the affected area. She’s experienced stress and anxiety while continuing to live in a house which is in “extreme disrepair”—sinkhole, shifted pillars, large fallen trees, and doors that won’t close.
Persons said that she and her neighbors researched other water-main breaks within the last five years and found there have been multiple claims made against the city for damage caused by similar water-main breaks, noting that “it could happen again.”
Persons cautioned that the city should upgrade the system in this often-affected area. Despite everything, Persons and her neighbors avoided spreading bad publicity and creating a “tainted reputation” for the City of Clovis even though they had been contacted by media representatives and attorneys. Applause followed her speech. Flores remarked, “Anyone else?”
Next, Mel Lubisich, a local real-estate broker, approached the podium to talk about property he owns in Clovis which is occupied by medical practices. He complained about “an abundance of cats” near these buildings, but his main complaint was about the unpleasant smell of cat feces and urine, which was “causing quite a stir.” He was “at a loss” and came before the council with his “hat in hand.”
The tenant of his building had been told, possibly by the SPCA, he said, that the stray cats could be trapped, neutered, then released, a common mode of managing feral-cat populations. But he was unwilling to do that. Was there anything anyone could do? Though council members are not bound to respond on the spot to public comments regarding items not on the agenda, they sometimes do. Flores said he would pass the information to the police and animal control.
Mayor Pro Tem Ashbeck noted that a written comment had been received from Lubisich as well as a report from Animal Services. City Manager Holt said he recommended that “Ms Ford” meet with Lubisich, and Ashbeck said, looking at someone in the audience, “Erin, your hair got long.” They likely referred to Erin Ford of the Animal Services division of the Clovis Police Department.
Consent Agenda, Items #1-9. The council approved all items by a 4-0 vote with one absence. Items on this portion of the agenda are considered routinely administrative and are grouped together for a single vote. No items were pulled for discussion. Flores’ cell phone rang at this point, and he said in a weary tone, “It’s a political call, been getting thousands.” Then he added, “Drew, stop it!” teasingly accusing Councilmember Bessinger of making a campaign call, as Bessinger is running for re-election on Nov 8.
Agenda Item #10 The council approved by a 4-0 vote with 1 absence the re-appointment of Jennifer Willems to the Mosquito Abatement District for a 2-year term. Willems was unable to attend the meeting because “she called in with a headache,” said Holt.
Agenda Item #11 The council approved, by a 4-0 vote with one absence, a request from the Building Industry Association (BIA) to draft and send a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission regarding the “impacts” of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) business practices and how they are “negatively impacting” the City of Clovis “development.” The item was presented by Holt, who summarized that PG&E’s business practices were affecting “development” in Clovis, meaning real-estate development, presumably slowing it, which builders find objectionable, though it was mentioned that there was also an “impact” on “home buyers.”
The argument was presented by Holt, supported by letters from attorneys representing the BIA to the California Public Utilities Commission about PG&E delays to supply new homes and other building projects with connection to the electrical grid, but there was no representative from PG&E to offer a counterargument.
To summarize the BIA’s position, a letter from the law firm Wanger Jones Helsley in Fresno referred to “PG&E’s limited pool of approved transformer suppliers and their inability to timely deliver transformers to BIA members’ projects.” The letter continued, “The failure of PG&E to be able to either directly, or through approved suppliers, source and install transformers and then energize projects means that homes which have been finished cannot be energized and sold to local families. It also means local homebuilders are forced to make the difficult decision to slow down or even stop commencement of construction on new homes. . .”
Holt decried the “lack of sense of urgency” on the part of PG&E, but he did not mention specific Clovis building projects affected.
Ashbeck remarked on the impact of PG&E policies to municipalities. She cited local projects managed by Habitat for Humanity and said that the “human toll” meant that people were waiting too long to occupy their homes. Referring to the proposed letter included in the agenda packet, she said without specifying why that she was “not fond of this letter” but that a letter was needed.
The draft letter on behalf of the BIA from the law firm noted above makes the argument that faster connection to the grid is needed because some jurisdictions, Clovis included, must build more affordable housing. But building affordable housing is something the City of Clovis has resisted. No council member mentioned an urgent affordable-housing project affected in this context.
There was discussion on investing in “Community Choice Aggregation,” which would let the city buy electricity on the market but would not solve the current problem of delays, or the city creating its own utility, establishing their own means of producing and providing electricity to residents. The matter had come up 10 years ago, said Ashbeck. Flores said that the transformers would belong to PG&E anyway, and Holt said that the cost would be in the hundreds of millions. Ashbeck asked Holt to tell recipients of a letter from Clovis to be aware that the City of Fresno had already sent a similar letter.
A slide in Holt’s presentation noted that the letter to be sent on behalf of the BIA would pressure PG&E to prioritize “new business” over repairs from storms, repairs from recent wildfires, and renewable energy. There was no discussion among council members of this point, though Holt included it in his written presentation.
Bessinger asked if as a city there was “anything we can do to help PG&E do their job.” He continued, “I’m assuming not, but I have to ask.” Holt responded that he had asked the BIA what the city could do and was told to draft a letter and “reach out” to the state assembly.
Bessinger then asked if anything could be “streamlined” within the Clovis building department. Holt said no and acknowledged a building department employee in the audience who was nodding his head in agreement.
Two years ago, Bessinger added, the mayor of San Jose “reached out” to him about alternative energy, but nothing came of it. He added that “we are doing our own thing” now with solar energy and the like; his subsequent remark was unintelligible.
Neighboring Fresno has made similar claims about PG&E, though a counter-argument for the BIA’s position is that Fresno’s Republican leaders “want to be in charge of our electricity infrastructure so they can prioritize private market rate projects above affordable housing.”
Mouanoutoua asked if “we know that this is 100% accurate from PG&E’s perspective, or did someone do the research,” but what he was wanting to know was unclear, until he suggested talking with local PG&E representatives before a letter is sent. Nevertheless, “I’m all for the letter,” he said. Holt’s reply was almost unintelligible, but he appeared to say “we can do that,” meaning they could arrange a meeting with PG&E.
Flores said that PG&E was a monopoly and that it needed a competitor. He cited the community-owned electric utility Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) but said that for a similar enterprise, “we’d have to finance it ourselves.” Holt said that for a community-supported utility to work, it would have to be composed of many cities within the county, not just Clovis. Flores insisted that PG&E needs a “competitor” and until then, we are “beholding” [sic] to the “monopoly.”
All councilmembers present were in support of sending a letter. Ashbeck asked that it be re-drafted to “make it relevant to Clovis.”
Agenda Item #12 This item, incorporating updated mandatory state building codes into the city municipal code, was to inform the council only, and no vote on the substance was required. Jesse Newton of the building department made a brief presentation. Newton explained that the updates were in residential, green building, plumbing, and electrical codes and that significant changes included aging-in-place requirements for residential buildings, electric-vehicle (EV) charging requirements for residential buildings, and energy storage systems (ESS) for commercial and residential buildings. The updates were “noticed” on the building department’s web page, he said.
Ashbeck asked about the new codes as they could be affected by the current PG&E issues, calling it “slightly ironic.” Newton replied that “solar will make up the difference.” Ashbeck also asked about EV charging requirements; Newton said that the construction must be “EV charge-ready.”
Flores was worried about batteries for electric cars causing fires. Some batteries are “dangerous,” he said. Newton said that there are requirements for smoke and heat detectors, presumably since Flores was talking about a car or a battery in a garage. Without elaborating, Flores remarked that “people are installing huge batteries.” The bigger the battery, the bigger the fire, Flores seemed to suggest, focusing the discussion on battery fires. Newton said that sprinklers as well as heat and smoke detectors were required in garages, but Flores thought water could not be used on a lithium battery. Newton said, “I’m not a fire-fighter; I’d have to get back to you,” after which laughter was heard.
The matter was opened by Flores for public comment, and Clovis resident Michael Cunningham spoke. He said he had waited 14 months for a replacement battery, though he didn’t say for what. He said if such a battery catches fire, “it takes off like a jet.” Then he said, “I throw that out as edification” to the council.
Though the presentation was informational only, the council did vote 4-0, one absence, to add the updated ordinances to the municipal code.
Agenda Item #13 The council voted 4-0, one absence, to adopt updated findings to the 2022 California Fire Code, which is updated every 3 years, and to adopt an ordinance so amending the municipal code. Local amendments adopted in 2019 will be readopted.
Fire chief John Binaski spoke for a few minutes about the question Flores had raised earlier about whether sprinklers in a residential garage could put out a lithium-battery fire. He said that sprinklers would not even “cool” a lithium-ion battery fire and that if an electric vehicle catches fire, 20,000 gallons of water would be needed to extinguish it, and that is far more than is stored in a fire truck. Ashbeck responded with some alarm: “20,000 gallons of water to put out a Tesla fire!” Then she added, “I don’t have one, so it doesn’t matter.” Binaski said the risk of such fire was statistically low.
Chad Fitzgerald and Rick Fultz of the fire department gave a brief presentation of the updated codes and said that there were no unique changes affecting Clovis. They added that the changes were administrative only. Because the changes are mandated by the state, the city is bound to uphold them.
Ashbeck commented that she was surprised there were not more amendments based on the impact of extreme heat on people’s health, and that between the fire code and the building codes, she found the subject matter “riveting.”
Agenda Item #14 The council approved by a 4-0 vote, with one absence, an updated master-fee schedule. Assistant City Manager Haussler made this presentation. The fees are for planning and development, public utilities, general services, police, and fire. The updated fees are for cost recovery based on analysis of actual cost; most fees have not been updated in 20 years. The new fee schedule will be effective as of Jan. 1, 2023.
Mouanoutoua asked a question about fees for certain senior services; when the new center opened, “are you looking at rental fees” for the hall, he asked. Amy Hance, General Services Manager, said that they would wait until closer to opening to decide on those fees. Mouanoutoua then asked about the “big” fee range, $5-$50, for activities at the senior center. Hance explained that now they could charge only $5 per day, which makes it difficult to recover expenses, such as teacher salary. Currently much of the cost is underwritten, Hance said. Mouanoutoua was worried about losing “uniqueness,” he said, but it was unclear exactly what he meant.
Mouanoutoua then asked about batting cages. Was the $2 increase a “big need to go up to $5,” he wanted to know. He then added that he “wanted to know who is going” to the batting cages. Is it people using them “for recreation” or do people go “not that much.” What was his point? It was unclear. Then he said he wondered if the higher fee would discourage use of the batting cages. Hance explained that she didn’t want to have to come back to the council in 2 years and ask for another increase, so the “top end” of $5 was decided upon now. Ashbeck asked a clarifying question about the high end of the fee range—Hance explained that the “top end” of the fee range was not what would be charged immediately but that it could be raised incrementally over the next couple of years if needed, to a maximum of that limit.
Hance said her “mantra” was “no one will be left behind” in the senior center activities and that the donations collected by the city for this purpose, or via underwriting, will “quietly pay for” those who can’t. “If you want to take a class but your pocketbook doesn’t allow you to, we are there for you,” Hance said. Ashbeck noted that sometimes when fees are raised, there are complaints.
Ashbeck said, as she has said before, that the city should not wait 20 years to change fees—that should be a Clovis “mantra,” she noted.
Bessinger asked if appeal fees were reimbursed to those who prevailed. Haussler said no and confirmed it with the police staff present.
Fire Chief Binaski pointed out an error in one of the fire department fees and suggested a correction; Attorney Cross said the fee amount could be amended then. Ashbeck moved to approve the item with this change. Mouanoutoua seconded the motion and commended Binaski for lowering a couple of the fire department fees; “For government to do that, it’s great,” remarked Mouanoutoua, but his meaning was unclear.
Agenda Item #15 This item was on the agenda because when introduced it was approved with a less than unanimous vote. The council voted 3-0, 1 abstention and 1 absence, to adopt ordinance 22-09, pertaining to the Department of Public Utilities and the position of Public Utilities Director, to the Clovis municipal code. (The original vote was 4-0-1 with Councilmember Ashbeck absent.)
City Manager Comments Holt said that he had attended a three-day training for city managers in Pasadena, with 20 other city managers from around the state. He noted that he was able to judge how well Clovis was managed and that there was no “drama” in the Clovis city government.
Mouanoutoua spoke to a group of boy scouts and gave them all “challenge coins,” the Clovis souvenir coin and the brainchild of Bessinger. Mouanoutoua also reported that he had been reassigned to the housing committee of the California League of Cities.
Ashbeck wished Bessinger “good luck tomorrow” as Nov. 8 was Election Day, and Bessinger was running for re-election. “What are you going to do,” she asked him, “watch the clock, tick-tick-tick?” She asked Holt about upcoming meetings; Holt said Dec. 5 would be a “farewell” meeting for “Bob and José” (Whalen and Flores, who are both leaving); Dec. 12 would be the reorganization meeting with newly elected council members; Dec. 19 would be the first regular meeting of the new council.
Bessinger remarked that he went to vote at city hall and said that County Registrar James Kus’ staff were excellent. He wanted to give them challenge coins but needed something “more appropriate for a lady.” Ashbeck said that “as a girl” she liked the challenge coins, they are “very sentimental.” Bessinger suggested sending a letter to Mr. Kus to praise his professionalism.
Flores said that he encouraged all Clovis voters to “vote, vote, vote.” Then he said that “someone on Twitter,” didn’t like the Clovis city flag and said it was not designed properly. It was “some guy from the Bay Area,” said Flores. “I beg to differ,” Flores said. “The guy” didn’t like a lot of city flags. Flores added, “I guess he’s a flag designer or something.”
There was no closed session. The meeting was adjourned at 7:06 p.m. The next meetings are Nov. 14, Nov. 21(to be canceled), Dec. 5, 12, and 19, 2022.
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