Documented by Rachel Youdelman
Here’s what you need to know
- At the Jan. 24 Fresno County Board of Supervisors meeting, the board voted to direct staff to negotiate a loan agreement with Waterworks District 18 (WWD 18), serving residents of Friant and Mira Bella, whose water infrastructure is failing, with a collapsed well and depleted water supplies. A loan is needed to initially access a $4 million reimbursement grant to rebuild water infrastructure.
- Department of Public Health staff and hospital personnel presented conflicting accounts about the urgency of hospital overcrowding; the month-long declaration of emergency following the closure of Madera Community Hospital will be in effect until Feb. 3.
- A large group of members of the Service Employees International Union Local 2015, a labor union for in-home caregivers, was present to plead for a contractual wage increase.
Brian Pacheco, 1st District
Steve Brandau, 2nd District
Sal Quintero, 3rd District, Chairman
Buddy Mendes, 4th District
Nathan Magsig, 5th District, Vice-Chairman
Daniel C. Cederborg, County Counsel
Bernice E. Seidel, Clerk of the Board of Supervisors
Paul Nerland, County Administrative Officer (CAO)
The Fresno County Board of Supervisors held its last regular meeting of the month on Jan. 24 at 9:30 a.m. The room was full of attendees, many of whom wore purple T-shirts with “SEIU 2015” (Service Employees International Union Local 2015, California’s long-term-care-workers’ labor union) emblazoned on the front; they were present to plead with the board for a salary increase. Four attendees wearing big black cowboy hats sat together.
The meeting lasted 2.5 hours and covered a range of agenda items, from honoring California’s newest poet laureate to a contentious discussion about bailing out a failing water district. The invocation was given by another evangelical pastor, Dr. Yang of the Hmong Alliance Church of Fresno, who said, “I pray for our supervisors; may they always put love first. Bless them in their personal and professional lives. In Jesus’ name I pray.” Flag salute was led by Bernard Jimenez of the public works department. The meeting was held at the Fresno County Hall of Records, 2281 Tulare Street, Room 301, and was also live streamed. Agenda and meeting video may be found here.
Agenda Item #1 The board approved the day’s agenda, 5-0.
Agenda Item #2 The board unanimously approved the consent agenda (routine items decided with one vote), items #17-45, except for #36, which Clerk Seidel said would be deleted and moved to a date uncertain, and item #39 which Supervisor Brandau asked to pull for discussion.
Agenda Item #3 The board proclaimed Jan. 24 “Lee Herrick” Day, in honor of Fresno poet Herrick, who was named California Poet Laureate by Governor Newsom in Nov. 2022. Clerk Seidel read the proclamation and mis-pronounced “laureate” as “lorette” multiple times. “Fresno made me a poet,” said Herrick, who was born in South Korea but adopted at age 10 months and raised in Fresno, where he currently teaches at Fresno City College. Lilia Chavez, executive director of the Fresno Arts Council, whom Herrick thanked, was present to tell the board, “We are your arts agency.” Everyone posed for a group photo.
Agenda Item #4 The board presented certificates to about 15 participants of a credential program at the California State Association of Counties (CSAC). The 2022 Fresno County cohort completed credits to receive executive credentials from this leadership-training program. Graham Knaus of CSAC was present to speak about the program, CSAC Institute, along with his colleague, Chastity Benson, Director of Operations and Educational Programs for the California Counties Foundation.
Knaus spoke a little about CSAC and its general work on issues relevant to Fresno County. He mentioned that Supervisors Mendes and Magsig serve on CSAC committees; CAO Nerland is a board member of the California Counties Foundation, which houses the CSAC Institute. He said that individuals who earn CSAC credentials are “a model for county leadership.”
Nerland said that there is still space in the current cohort; interested people should contact Fresno County Human Resources for information about applying. The new graduates of the CSAC institute, from a variety of county departments, were present to receive their certificates.
“Counties are the critical leaders; you always find a way to show leadership; we love bringing a strong voice for counties to the state and federal government.” Knaus said, smiling, that they often get “very clear” comments from Mendes. Mendes said to Knaus, “You are an expert in herding feral cats.”
Agenda Item #5 The board resolved unanimously to recognize the success of the Department of Public Works and Planning at the 2022 American Public Works Association (APWA) Central CA Awards. Public Works Director Steve White showed a slide of a map showing where award-winning projects were located in the county; “This team delivers,” he said. He seemed to choke up and get teary as he spoke. Supervisor Brandau said, “I love your emotion.”
Bernard Jimenez, assistant director of Public Works, was present, as was Erin Haagenson, who won the Public Works Professional of the Year Award. Supervisor Magsig made a few statements, such as “It’s always better when we work together,” and to potential planners, “Come to a county where you are loved by your leaders.” While Mendes said, “You have a can-do attitude.” Quintero thanked everyone, and they all posed for a group photo.
Agenda Item #6 The board voted 5-0 to direct staff to negotiate a loan agreement with Waterworks District 18 (WWD 18). This item was submitted by Supervisor Magsig, whose district is affected. WWD18 covers Friant and Mira Bella and is an independent special district governed by a five-member board of directors appointed by the board of supervisors. The WWD18 Friant system serves 772 residents; WWD18 Mira Bella serves 137 residents and has its own water distribution system which relies solely on groundwater. The WWD18 supply of water has been severely impaired by drought and storm damage; a well has collapsed and water supplies are nearly depleted.
Attorney for WWD118, Neil Costanza, was present to explain that a $4 million state grant had been received for repairing and upgrading the water infrastructure, but that the district must use “out-of-pocket” cash as a requirement of the Department of Water Resources (DWR) to access the grant funds, which is a “reimbursement” grant, per Costanza. WWD18 does not have sufficient cash, hence it must request an initial loan from the county.
A lengthy and contentious discussion ensued. Costanza said that the district also had an application pending for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), for some of the plan’s remaining funds, but this claim was later disputed.
Brandau asked for clarification: was cash needed to access the $4 million grant? Yes, Costanza said; it was a matter of paying cash initially for incremental steps and getting reimbursed via the grant money. Brandau asked CAO Nerland if “we had done this before;” Nerland said “not to my knowledge.” Nerland then made a vague statement about the water district’s request for $2 million of ARPA funds and said that they were “now in the second round” of ARPA considerations.
Supervisor Pacheco wanted to know if a “waterworks district” (WWD) was different from a “CSA” (county service area). Attorney Cederborg said yes, they are separate districts.
Pacheco then adamantly said that “we don’t loan CSAs money.” He said that poor communities such as Cantua Creek have often asked for loans, but “we’ve always said no.” Cantua Creek got a $12 million grant and neither the county nor the state was involved. What’s the difference, he wanted to know.
Cederborg said that the Cantua Creek grant was a different program and there was a process for making limited loans with a repayment plan.
Pacheco said that the ARPA issue was “a whole nother other” [sic] issue and that ARPA was not in play now: “Let’s be crystal clear. There is no ARPA money for Water Works District 18.” Addressing Nerland, who had equivocated on the matter, Pacheco asked for clarification. Nerland said that though there had been another opportunity to apply for ARPA funding, but that WWD18 did not.
Attorney Costanza remarked that Magsig had helped with the $4 million grant but that they “simply don’t have the money” to spend in order to receive the funds as reimbursements. If the water district does not get the loan, revenue from property tax in the area would be “worthless” to the county, said Costanza. He cited high PG&E bills and the attempts to “suck water out of granite.” He was before the board “hat in hand,” he said.
Pacheco countered that there were many other areas in the county with “less means” [sic] than WWD18—“you are not unique,” he told Costanza. Pacheco said that many CSAs in similar circumstances have been told to use the terms of Proposition 218 to raise revenue. Then he added that “people know” the risks when they purchase their homes in such areas and that if a loan is granted to WWD18, residents from everywhere else will also show up to request loans. Pacheco cited the case of Cantua Creek again and said that if policy should change, the board would do all they can for everyone equally.
Brandau asked if CSAs were “under a [Proposition] 218 process.” Mendes answered that “this deal is in between”; it’s not a CSA, not a CSD [Community Services Development], he said, adding, “just doin’ the facts.” Costanza said that to determine new consumer rates, a Nexus study would be necessary and that in itself would cost $30,000. Pacheco mentioned Cantua Creek again and said that they raised their rates.
Mendes asked Nerland if there was any ARPA funding remaining. We don’t know yet, Nerland replied. Mendes then suggested that the county make an initial $85,000 loan to WWD18 then another loan less than $1 million, using ARPA funds if available: “Just suggesting,” he said. Brandau said that ARPA applications need to be specific. Costanza said that the $4 million grant must be spent by Dec. 31, 2024.
Pacheco, addressing Magsig, said that he was not opposed to the loan but that the board should “be prepared for every CSA,” especially disadvantaged districts, to ask for the same. Magsig replied that the difference was that WWD18 had a grant in place but that they couldn’t use it without a loan. If the county was not involved, a public-health emergency would ensue.
David Luchini, Director of Public Health, said that if the district had no water and no help from the county, the matter would be referred to the state Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES).
George Ritchie from the WWD18 board was present to say that there had been two rate increases in 1.5 years. He said that weather extremes—drought and storms—have caused the failure of some of the water systems, which are fine under normal weather conditions. Immediate action was needed for the town of Friant; weather conditions have created the need for urgency.
The board voted 5-0 to direct staff to negotiate a loan agreement. Cederborg emphasized that the loan would need to be paid back with interest.
Agenda Item #39 The board unanimously approved an amendment to the October 2021 agreement with the Fresno Metropolitan Ministry (FMM) to allow them to continue to work with Fresno Community Health Improvement Partnership and other agencies to develop a Community Health Worker Network Hub. Brandau had pulled this item from the consent agenda to question its economic value: “I had consternation—are we getting bang for our buck?” he asked. David Luchini explained that the work was “objectives-based” and that the goal was for services to pay for themselves.
Before speaking, about this matter, Brandau, addressing attendees, said, “I see our friends wearing black cowboy hats; the rodeo item passed in the consent agenda, just to let you know.” He was referring to item #28, which allowed for $200,000 in ARPA funding for the Clovis Rodeo Association Foundation (Clovis Rodeo), to which no objections were raised or comments made.
Agenda Item #7 The board received a presentation from David Luchini, Director of the Department of Public Health regarding the declaration of emergency on Jan. 3, which was made because of the shortage of bed capacity at local hospitals and anticipated impact of the closure of Madera Community Hospital. Luchini recommended that the declaration stay in effect until the next board meeting on Feb. 7.
Luchini summarized hospital conditions: they are still exceptionally busy; numbers of Covid and flu patients have decreased; staff shortages persist; only six of 16 promised state-sponsored staff showed up (this news caused Mendes to interject loudly, “Isn’t the state wonderful?”); ambulance staff continue to “assess and refer” at some risk. There has been only a slight increase in the number of patients after the Madera closure, though prisoners from the area who need medical care are being brought to Fresno hospitals.
Robyn Gonzales, CEO of Community Medical Centers, said that the number of prisoners brought to the hospitals made the most impact. Dr. Danielle Campagne was also present to speak about prisoners from Madera County who are brought to the hospital with guards, exacerbating the crowding in emergency rooms; hence they were “not able” to take care of other patients with traumatic injuries or severe illness. She did not otherwise elaborate.
Quintero asked if prisoners really needed to be brought to the hospitals. Gonzales said they were not “true emergencies.” Gonzales and Campagne drew a different picture than what was summarized by Luchini.
Magsig said without citing a source that 83% of patients were on Medi-Cal and that reimbursements don’t cover costs, which could “sink” hospitals. Brandau wanted to know if the emergency declaration was helping doctors create new policies. Gonzales said, “yes and no” and that “disaster medical screening protocols” give doctors a choice to send someone home. Brandau asked if there was financial assistance from the state, based on the emergency declaration. Campagne reiterated that six of 16 promised workers from the state actually showed up, and complained that the six were “incompetent.” Brandau reacted, “Over-promise and under-perform! Fresno County is used to that from the state of California!”
Comments from members of the public followed, and three people commented. A woman who did not give her name said, “This is life and death; please do as much as you can.” Riley Talford, a county employee and labor-union representative, spoke briefly about health insurance for county workers, but the connection to the emergency declaration was unclear. Jaime “Carlos” Loza, a regular commenter, said, “I gotta speak up about prisoners.” Prisoners who are ill are not transported to hospitals for something small, he told the board.
Pacheco remarked that the declaration would be in effect for two more weeks.
Agenda Item #8 The board approved with a 5-0 vote amendments to the Fresno County
Ordinance Code, Title 15, which regulates building and construction within Fresno County. Public Works staff Will Kettler said that among the changes was a provision for a safety zone 25 feet of hardscape around liquified petroleum tanks and a permitting process for electric-vehicle charging facilities.
Agenda Item #9 The board unanimously approved an agreement with Brain Learning
Psychological Corporation for specialized assessments for CalWORKs Welfare-To-Work
Participants. (There were originally three actions proposed in this item, but only one was acted upon.) Sanja Bugay, Director of Social Services, made a summary presentation.
Agenda Item #10 Supervisor reports.
Magsig noted that there was “lots of storm damage out there” and thanked public-works crews for their work.
Brandau said that he took a seven-hour tour of the San Joaquin River Conservancy and that he would announce news “as decisions were made,” but he did not say about what. He attended a Transportation Authority meeting and noted that Mendes was re-elected chair (“Another one-year sentence,” joked Mendes) and that Lynne Ashbeck, current mayor of Clovis, was vice-chair.
Mendes commented on a “totally useless statistic” regarding the number of atmospheric rivers of the last few weeks (nine). He called himself an “avid watcher of weather” adding that this habit of his went “clear back to 1969.” Once he asked “a seasoned guy” about the weather and was told that 1862, when it rained for 45 days, was still one of the greatest storm years. Mendes concluded with a non-sequitur: “Don’t believe anything you hear on the news—it’s all propaganda!”
Quintero said that Representative Jim Costa had secured $1 million for mental-health services to be administered by the Fresno Center.
Pacheco had no comment.
Agenda Item #11 Board appointments. Magsig made three, Mendes three, Brandau two, Pacheco four, and Quintero one to various committees.
Agenda Item #12 Public comments regarding items not on the agenda. There were 17 members of the public who commented on various subjects. 14 of them were members of SEIU 2015 (Service Employees International Union Local 2015, California’s long-term-care-workers’ labor union), all pleading and making the case for a wage increase in their next contract with the county. Some of the SEIU 2015 commenters spoke in Spanish, and a translator repeated what they said in English.
Other commenters were Mark Thompson of the Clovis Rodeo board of directors. He wore a large black cowboy hat and thanked the board for the $200,000 ARPA grant. He addressed board members by their given names, “Nathan,” “Steve,” and “Buddy.”
Jaime “Carlos” Loza, regular commenter, was back to say that he was a “pissed-off father.” He said that he was arrested on Dec. 15 by the Sanger police, went to trial, and that Sanger police officers “lied about me under oath.” Then he complained that the Sanger police harassed his daughter. “They want to mess with my children,” he said. “Sanger is out of control.” He didn’t care about himself, corruption in the system was his concern. Sanger police should “take off their uniform and handle it like a man.” He repeated, “Sanger is out of control.”
Quintero, in both English and Spanish, thanked all the SEIU 2015 commenters for their work.
Cederborg said that there would be no announcement from the closed session, so Chairman Quintero adjourned the public portion of the meeting at 12:02 p.m.
The next meeting will be Feb. 7, 2023, at 9:30 a.m.
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