Full notes from Feb. 6, 2023 — Clovis City Council
Documented by Rachel Youdelman
Here’s what you need to know
- The Clovis City Council met jointly with the Clovis Planning Commission on Feb. 6, 2023, to give feedback to a consultant about revising and updating the city’s General Plan. The consultant led a roundtable discussion, soliciting detailed input regarding the current General Plan’s priorities so it can be appropriately updated, a process which will take several months.
- A public commenter made a suggestion for a public art installation: a monument to farmworkers.
Lynne Ashbeck, Mayor
Vong Mouanoutoua, Mayor Pro Tem
Drew Bessinger, Councilmember
Matt Basgall, Councilmember
Diane Pearce, Councilmember
John Holt, City Manager
Andy Haussler, Assistant City Manager
Scott Cross, City Attorney
Karey Cha, City Clerk
Mike Cunningham, Chair
Renee Mathis, Planning and Development Services Director
Dave Merchen, City Planner
Ben Ritchie, Principal, De Novo Planning Group
The Clovis City Council held this meeting jointly with the Clovis Planning Commission, whose five members were present, along with Renee Mathis, Planning and Development Services Director; Dave Merchen, City Planner; and a representative of the De Novo Planning Group. De Novo is the consultant hired to review and revise the city’s General Plan, which is due for an audit and update. Mathis gave a “Planning and Development 101” overview of what her department does, for the benefit of the two new council members. De Novo’s rep solicited detailed input regarding the current General Plan’s priorities so it can be appropriately updated, a process which will take several months.
Mayor Ashbeck opened the meeting at 6 p.m. and asked Councilmember Bessinger to lead the flag salute, after which she asked everyone to remain standing to “take a moment to reflect on the life” of the Selma police officer, Gonzalo Carrasco, who was recently killed in the line of duty. She read the press release posted by the city, “We mourn for the entire community . . .” Ashbeck asked for a second moment of silence for Vern Barkman, who represented Clovis in the Mosquito Abatement District for 36 years and served with the Clovis Rodeo Association for 54 years. Vern was “the embodiment of why Clovis is a special place,” said Ashbeck. A third moment of silence was called for Carol Padilla, who was a health director at the Clovis Unified School District for 17 years. Clerk Karey Cha, without calling roll, said that everyone was present. Ashbeck then asked each person to do a brief self-introduction.
The meeting lasted 3.5 hours, most of which was discussion in response to the De Novo consultant’s questions about the General Plan, characterized by many comments about “Sacramento,” and numerous remarks about Fresno (always referred to as “the city to the west”) in comparison to Clovis. Mayor Ashbeck led the meeting and she made many jocular remarks. There were just two public commenters making remarks about items not on the agenda, one calling for a monument to recognize farmworkers.
Members of the public may attend meetings in person at the Council Chamber, 1033 Fifth Street, Clovis, CA 93612, or online via Webex. Videos and agendas are available here.
Public Comments regarding items not on agenda. There were two commenters who spoke on different issues. The first was Steven Trevino of Clovis, a retired truck driver, who talked about growing up in the era when “Martin Luther King, Jr., was marching, Cesar Chavez was protesting” and he saw “George Wallace for President” signs in Clovis. His father was a farmworker, and he was a paperboy. His father attended a segregated school, he said, adding that “Jim Crow wasn’t just for Black people.” He mentioned Elvey Perkins, the first Black person to be hired by the city of Clovis in 1957 and one of the first three Black students to graduate from Clovis High School 10 years before that. Trevino asked the council to erect a monument to Perkins, or to King, or to farmworkers, “who made Clovis what it is today.” He added that residents of the neighborhood known as the Stanford Addition where he lives are “stepchildren” of the city and don’t get enough attention from the city.
Ashbeck responded that Trevino’s comments were “lovely” and thanked him for “bringing Elvey Perkins back into this room.” She thought the idea for a memorial or monument of some kind was “very nice” and called out Sean Smith, a staff engineer. “Sean heard that,” she said.
The second commenter was Michelle Lang, who said she was a realtor and a 25-year resident of Clovis. Ashbeck allowed her to speak for about 15 minutes, despite the commenter limit of five minutes, about what she called “visual and functional integrity issues” in annexed areas where city and county land abutt. Though she spoke for a long time, her specific complaints were unclear. She talked about a fire lane behind her house, her bee-keeping, her intention to build an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) for which she had pulled a permit, and other matters. Ashbeck said, “We’re here to serve you,” and suggested she talk to Planning Department staff to get parcel maps, etc. Lang wanted to put the matter on the next meeting agenda. Ashbeck asked her what exactly she wanted on the agenda; Lang answered something about a fence built near the fire lane. City Manager Holt said that it was too late for the next meeting’s agenda but that it could be on the subsequent one.
Ashbeck noted that one written comment had been received from Todd Fountain of Clovis, who praised the Clovis police.
Consent Calendar Agenda Items #1-12. These are administrative items considered routine and are voted on with a single vote. Passed 5-0.
At this point, Ashbeck adjourned the meeting to the joint meeting with the Planning Commission. Pretending the meeting was over, she said, “See you guys,” then added “Kidding!”
Agenda Item #13 Renee Mathis, Planning and Development Services Director made a presentation (she called it “Planning and Development Services 101”) giving an overview of the department. She showed a series of slides and spoke for just under 20 minutes. First, Mathis noted that her department is responsible for developing, managing, and implementing the General Plan, something which is required per California state law. The General Plan is a document which describes policy for a city’s future land-use decisions; it sets policy goals and is a guide for the physical development of the city. It is designed to set goals for decades into the future but may need incremental audits and adjustments, according to changes in conditions, such as state laws.
The Planning Department “fulfills the vision of the General Plan,” Mathis said; it provides for design and construction of community projects, issues permits for building, conducts plan-checks, and provides coordination of land-use and development. The General Plan is a long-range planning document, and Clovis’ is designed for “80 years of growth,” per Mathis, but the Plan is reviewed and updated periodically. The current Plan was adopted in 2014.
Mathis showed slides describing staff (engineering, building, planning administrative), an organizational chart, department budget, housing developments and numbers of building permits.
Council members asked questions about funding—what would happen without Measure C funding? Mathis replied that some projects could not be funded and that between $3-15 million would be lost. Ashbeck said they needed to think about how to fund projects if they “lose Measure C.” She asked if any members of the public wanted to comment on the item and joked that there would be a “test later”; there were no comments.
Agenda Item #14 City Planner Dave Merchen briefly explained the need to review the General Plan now, citing such issues as changes in state housing law. He noted that the council had approved this General Plan review and audit in 2022. Tonight was part of the “feedback” phase, he said, and introduced Ben Ritchie of the De Novo Consulting Group, which is contracted to compile the plan and make revisions as needed based on input from the council. Ritchie then explained that his objective was to receive feedback and input on the key issues, priorities, and challenges facing Clovis, so that he can make decisions about the scope and approach to updating the plan. He said that his purpose at this meeting was to ask questions, not solve problems.
Ritchie noted that he has also sought input from what he called “stakeholders”—the Building Industry Association (BIA), the business community, service providers, and department heads. With that feedback, the council’s, and the planning commission’s, he will prepare a final report to present to them. The report will identify issues, list choices for solutions, outline budget suggestions, and the like.
Ritchie began with what he called “General Plan 101”: the plan should define a long-term vision for growth and “resource management” for the next 20 years and should reflect the goals and values of the community. The process of creating or updating the plan should include “extensive public outreach” and community involvement. Growth, economic development, conservation, and quality of life should all be balanced. The plan should meet the requirements of state law—but state law, said Ritchie, allows for local leeway. Switching tone, he also said that “state law is ever more onerous and stringent.” “You wouldn’t want to find yourself on the wrong end of the attorney general’s ire” he said.
Ritchie reviewed the plan’s required elements mandated by the state: land use, circulation, housing, open space/conservation, safety/noise. Optional elements are economic development, public facilities/services, air quality. Ashbeck asked if there was a separate “health” element. Ritchie said health is usually not a specific element but is found within other elements such as clean air and conservation, though some jurisdictions do have a stand-alone health element. Others, he continued, address social justice, access to fresh food, environmental justice, and the like, though some may say, “Hey man, the state wants buzz words,” though others really do want environmental justice, etc. No one reacted to his comments. Ritchie said that these categories represented examples of how localities can make their own specific elements.
Next, Ritchie explained the steps of the General Plan update process: report on existing conditions, identify priorities, identify issues/opportunities, report on land-use alternatives, identify goals/policies, draft the updated general plan, create an environmental impact report, hold public hearings. There would be three or four opportunities for public input and participation via public hearings.
The last update in 2014 entailed a General Plan Advisory Committee with 21 members, who gave advice and suggestions. They met a total of 30 times, but usually only about 13 members showed up. The update was planned on a 24-36-month schedule, but it took 67 months, said Ritchie.
Ashbeck seemed to have made a comment, but her mic was off; laughter ensued but the joke was inaudible.
Ritchie then led a roundtable discussion centered on three topics: valued community assets, challenges, and vision for the future. Ritchie emphasized that they would not be considering nuance of policy and cited the earlier public commenter’s remark about a farmworker monument; he pointed out that the general issue a particular monument represents is “public art.” So the council and the planning commission should keep remarks general.
The first question was about community assets—what makes Clovis “special”? Each participant spoke. Since the “specialness” of Clovis is a topic often raised by the council, many of the remarks were familiar, including those made by members of the planning commission. Mike Cunningham said that “Clovis is a way of life.” Several people mentioned the trail system and the reputation for public safety. Amy Hatcher also cited safety but said that the city needs to be “more inclusive” and that there needs to be more affordable housing. Paul Hinkle said that the needs of the less mobile aging population need to be considered—wheelchair users need sidewalks on both sides of the street and they need to reach shopping areas easily. “Keep ‘em here,” he said, suggesting that people should be able to age in place.
Pearce said without explaining why that it was the General Plan which “brought me to run for council.” “We’ve done an incredible job of being forward thinking . . . it’s a community in all aspects . . . we’ve taken that heritage and combined it with future goals.” She also cited safety and did note that she liked the contrast of antique stores and newer buildings on Pollasky Ave.
Bessinger started several sentences but didn’t link them together. He’s had conversations with people in other cities who are “praiseworthy of us” [sic].
Basgall mentioned traffic congestion and said that the city should develop something to “keep kids out of the house” [sic]. He said that a baseball stadium for kids was his “pipedream.”
Mouanoutoua said that “our job as government is good streets” [sic]. He then said that “we keep the streets clean,” and that real-estate developers “develop a product that people want and because of that, it’s automatically diverse” [sic]. However, he cited no statistics about the city’s diversity, which according to U.S. Census data, Clovis is about 47% white, 33% Latino, 12% mixed-race, 11% Asian, 3% African-American, and a small percentage of other ethnicities.
Ashbeck said that she liked that Clovis has a “distinct identity.” She said that “we have a culture of the expectation of competence.” The heart of the city is Old Town and the “link to history is alive.” The city of Fresno doesn’t measure up, she said.
Brandon Bedsted said that school infrastructure needs to keep pace with growth.
Hinkle said that many doctors and nurses live in Clovis and that Clovis was a “medical hub.”
Ritchie’s next topic was “challenges.” Mouanoutoua said that “quicker is better, and I feel we’re way behind,” but it was unclear what he was referring to. He said that we need to plan for “how we maintain the Clovis way of life,” make transit innovative, and “attract revenue with not just new homes.” In a previous meeting, Ashbeck had denied that being a source of revenue.
Basgall said that public safety was a challenge. Bessinger said that environmental law was a challenge. “We’re non-compliant, and the EPA will make it more difficult.” He added, “Sacramento wants us out of our cars. Our friends in Sacramento don’t care. Do we have to lie about it?” Bessinger continued speaking but rambled: “I moved here in 1960…do something for older neighborhoods…we get beat up for not having affordable housing.”
Pearce said that we need to “figure out how to retain the cornerstone of success—it’s that ‘local control’.” She continued, “It’s going to be incredibly difficult to be committed to that concept.”
Hinkle complained about “Sacramento” and said that there were two bills now pending which would eliminate the planning commission of which he was a member. He didn’t identify these bills.
Bedsted said “don’t take away things that are Clovis” and wanted to maintain small-town feel while managing growth, perhaps by creating conservation space. Other challenges mentioned were improving public transportation (the free shuttle buses in Clovis run infrequently), said Alma Antuna. Cunningham said that “Sacramento” was the biggest challenge, and the state government is “dictating” to Clovis; they were making a great effort to eliminate “local control.” He wanted more people to be “educated” about that; we need to “get the word out,” he said. Then he mentioned the recent murder of the Selma police officer and “without getting political, god bless [District Attorney] Lisa Smittcamp,” who made remarks blaming Governor Newsom for the murder.
Ashbeck pointed out the need to think about “what will make a great city with a population of 250,000” (the current population is 120,000), considering aging neighborhoods, changing retail trends, empty big-box stores. Staffing was a problem to consider, she said, because people want to work from home, not work at all, or work three days a week. She said that the biggest challenge for Clovis was “the city to the west,” referring to Fresno, and that it was not good for the region as a whole. Inadequate recreational facilities for children was a problem—she mentioned that there are no pickleball courts or golf courses, although they are not children’s sports. She said that finding new ways to pay for things was also a challenge.
Mouanoutoua spoke again but aside from asking how the “Clovis way of life could be maintained” he didn’t make any clear points. Ashbeck said that he was referring to the importance of “transmission of values.”
Ritchie said people might have further ideas at odd moments such as when they are “brushing their teeth,” so the phrase “brush-your-teeth moment” became the running joke of the evening.
Ritchie introduced the last of the three topics for discussion: vision. What three things did people want to see accomplished by 2045?
Cunningham said he would resist with his “last fiber” the change to elect city council members by district, because, he said, “it leads to tribalism,” like the “city to the west.” He wanted to see infrastructure improvements south of Shaw Avenue because “they feel left out.” Antuna wanted to “protect downtown.” Bedsted wanted to see more walkability, better access to shopping, more business development, preservation of water infrastructure. Hatcher wanted to “stop doing things that don’t work,” more housing density, maintain a “small-town feel.” Ashbeck thought she’d be dead in 2045. Hinkle wanted to see affordable housing “sprinkled” around, not concentrated (e.g., make 10% of an apartment building affordable). Pearce wanted a lot of commercial growth, because that’s the best way to “increase revenues.” She wanted to “create that retention” of youth. She was interested in “amenities” such as pickleball and she likes golf courses, things that will “create that quality of life” [sic]. Bessinger wanted Clovis to be a “great medical destination” with a variety of housing so people who work here can live here. Basgall wanted new funding sources; “no one likes taxes.” He wanted to keep up with technology and plan for staff succession. Mouanoutoua wanted completion of building of all the current developments. He wanted a park, an arts district, and a retirement community. Ashbeck wanted to see a medical neighborhood finished and bring medical suppliers to Clovis. She wanted everyone to be able to “tell the Clovis story.” Walkability, self-sufficiency with revenue, to be a city whose answer is always “yes” were other visionary goals Ashbeck listed.
Ritchie talked about “next steps.” Over the next few months, his project team will complete their written review of the General Plan and write a “strategy report.” Legal requirements will be scrutinized and the current plan will be analyzed for effectiveness of meeting the city’s priorities. The final report will be present to the council and the planning commission by end of the fiscal year, before July.
In response to a question from Mouanoutoua about public outreach, Mathis said that a public workshop had not yet been held. Ritchie said that “robust public outreach” was to come. Antuna said the city needs a mechanism for getting the word out to the public. Ashbeck said, “Note to self: more public outreach.”
Public comment on the matter was opened. Jeffrey Harris, CEO of Wilson Homes. He said the General Plan is “out of date” and it’s “Sacramento’s fault.” He also used the phrase “neighbor to the west” as a euphemism for “Fresno.” He spoke for 10 minutes, saying things like “change is hard.”
Michelle Lang spoke again. She thought the input was “awesome.” A couple of people had mentioned retention of youth, and she mentioned that her 19-year-old son wanted to “get the heck out of California.”
Next, a young woman whose first name was “Julie” said that she had been an intern on the last General Plan update project. She said she used “her husband’s Fresno address” so her daughter could attend Clovis schools, but her point was unclear.
Real-estate developer Darius Assemi spoke next. He wanted De Novo to be “tasked” with addressing transit solutions and figuring out what future technologies might be “coming online” in the future. Asbeck said, “Thanks, Darius.”
Ashbeck adjourned back to the council meeting and called a three-minute break.
City Manager Comments Holt pointed out that the last General Plan took 67 months to update because it was the end of the recession and there was not enough funds to pay for it. But now there is adequate funding, so he estimated it would take 24-36 months to fully update.
Bessinger said he attended the North Kings River Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) meeting but that he had nothing to report from it. He attended a League of California Cities (CalCities) meeting about Proposition 47 which he suggested was making “commercial theft” a “big issue.”
Pearce said, “I don’t have too, too much.” She attended a school board meeting and took a “much-needed vacation,” and she was “excited” about “getting down to it.”
Mouanoutoua talked about a police department meeting with some local pastors, but his connection to it was unclear. He commented on how quickly Holt responds to resident requests.
Basgall said he attended a CalCities mayor/city council “academy.”
Ashbeck said she attended a Fresno Council of Governments (COG) meeting and that she was working on the mayor’s breakfast which would be held May 18. She told an anecdote about being at a meeting with her husband-to-be who wrote “will you marry me” on an index card. Holt said to Mouanoutoua that the mayor pro tem is the MC for the mayor’s breakfast, but he didn’t respond.
At 9:23 p.m., Ashbeck adjourned to the closed session. The only agenda item for the closed session concerned anticipated litigation: three cases based on claims received for the Sunnyside Avenue water-main break and property flooding incident on Jan. 3, 2022.
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