Feb. 21, 2023 — Clovis City Council
Documented by Rachel Youdelman
Here’s what you need to know
- At the Feb. 21 Clovis City Council meeting, the council voted to continue to the Mar. 6 meeting the decision regarding initiating eminent-domain proceedings for two properties located between Locan and DeWolf Avenues, for the purpose of widening Herndon Ave. It was felt that the city and property owners were very close to reaching agreement.
- The council directed staff to create a non-binding plan for the required zero-emission conversion of the Clovis transit fleet; the plan is hybrid and includes some internal-combustion vehicles, some electric, and some hydrogen-powered.
- Council member Pearce objected to the wording in a proclamation honoring the African-American Historical and Cultural Museum. She said that the word “equity” was “socialist.”
- The council canceled an agricultural-land conservation contract, per the terms of the Williamson Act, for property located near the southeast corner of Shaw and DeWolf Avenues. The area is zoned for commercial use, high-density residential, and public facilities.
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
The Clovis City Council met on Feb. 21, 2023, but before opening the meeting, the Webcast showed the councilmembers were posing for photos and appeared to be making a video, the content of which was not evident, as there was no audio. At 6:05 p.m., Mayor Ashbeck opened the meeting and asked Councilmember Pearce to lead the flag salute. Clerk Cha called the roll; all were present.
The only public comments made regarding items not on the agenda were several written comments from about five people who submitted remarks about parking in the 600 block of Pollasky Ave. Some of the agenda was addressed out of order while the council waited for the arrival of recipients of a proclamation. Despite a relatively short agenda, the meeting was four hours long, with extended discussion about a couple of the items, including the possibility of initiating eminent domain proceedings in a street-widening case, and recommendations for a proposal for a zero-emission conversion of the transit fleet.
At the end of the meeting, Pearce voiced objection to the “socialist” wording of the proclamation recognizing the African-American Historical & Cultural Museum of the San Joaquin Valley. No council member declared a conflict of interest regarding any item on the agenda, nor did any mention having received donations exceeding $250 from any party associated with any item. Members of the public may attend meetings in person at the Council Chamber, 1033 Fifth Street, Clovis, CA 93612, or online via Webex. The next meeting is Monday, Mar. 6 at 6p.m. Videos of past meetings and agendas are available here.
Public Comment about items not on agenda. Ashbeck mentioned the receipt of letters from five individuals, who all commented about the same thing: parking in the rear of 601 Pollasky Ave. There were no other commenters present to speak in person or by phone.
Agenda Items #2-7, Consent Calendar These are routine administrative items which are grouped together and decided with a single vote. All but item #3, purchase of Cisco Network hardware, which was pulled for discussion by Pearce, were quickly approved 5-0. Pearce was “curious” about the bidding process, she said. A staff member explained that there was nothing unusual about it, and it also passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #12 The council voted 5-0 to support writing a letter in support of Senate Bill 14, sponsored by Republican State Senator Shannon Grove of Bakersfield (District 12), which would reclassify human trafficking as a violent crime, thus allowing convicted criminals to be sentenced from 25 years to life, if they’ve been convicted of three or more violent crimes. Mayor Pro Tem Mouanoutoua commented that “law enforcement needs it,” and that “our community stands for protecting the most vulnerable.” Councilmember Bessinger said that he was on the Public Safety Committee of the League of California Cities and that the League’s position was “Watch.”
Agenda Item #1 The council presented a proclamation recognizing the African-American Historical and Cultural Museum of the San Joaquin Valley, as it celebrated its 30th anniversary. A group of staff members of the museum were present; one was late in arriving to chambers, hence the delay in presenting this first agenda item. Dr. Carolyn Drake, Dr. Lataria Hall, Henry Ellard, Jr., and CEO Nafesha Ruth Yisra’el were museum staff present to accept the proclamation, which was read by Mouanoutoua.
Later in the meeting, Pearce complained that she had not had an opportunity to read the proclamation before it was published, and she strongly objected to the use of the word “equity” in it (the proclamation refers to “a continued journey of equality, equity, and inclusion”) because, she said that the word was “socialist.” Although, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines equity as “justice.”
Yisra’el said she appreciated the opportunity to “stand here before you and be recognized” despite the perception of “racial friction in Fresno and Clovis.” She asked, “How can we repair these relationships?” She coaches boxing in a Clovis gym and patronizes a Clovis coffee shop regularly, she commented.
Mouanoutoua said with a solemn expression that speaking as “another minority” (Mouanoutoua is an Asian-American), “the African-Americans” have “paved the road” for other minorities. “Many of us look to you” and “follow in your footsteps,” he said.
Ashbeck, referring to the out-of-order agenda, said, “I’m out of order—in a whole bunch of ways.”
Agenda Item #8 The council voted 5-0 to continue to the March 6 meeting the decision regarding initiating eminent-domain proceedings for two properties located between Locan and DeWolf Avenues, for the purpose of widening Herndon from Temperance to DeWolf Avenues, installing traffic lights, and creating a bike lane. The work is funded by Measure C.
Ryan Burnett, engineering supervisor, was present to speak about the matter. He explained that the property owners had been invited to the meeting but that the notice gave the meeting time as “Monday” Feb. 21, even though Feb. 21 was a Tuesday. The notice was not re-sent or corrected, because City Attorney Scott Cross said it was “OK” since the date was correct. “Sorry for the confusion,” said Burnett. One property owner was present, said Burnett, adding that the other didn’t seem interested in attending.
Burnett noted that the fair market value of the property was not under discussion and that four votes were needed for approval.
Burnett said that these were the last two properties not yet under contract and that the owners disagreed with the offer from the city. The property owner wanted a second appraisal, and reaching an agreement on the sale price was the only issue, he said.
A lengthy discussion ensued. Mouanoutoua wanted to know if the council approves initiation of eminent domain tonight, does the issue not come back? “Is that how I’m understanding it?” [sic] he asked. Burnett hoped they would settle without actually having to use eminent domain. Mouanoutoua asked, “Is there a time frame or not really?” [sic]
Bessinger asked Attorney Cross about offer and acceptance of the sale price; Cross said that city staff could continue to negotiate with the property owners, but to initiate an eminent-domain complaint, the approval of the council is needed. Would the value of the property be affected if initiation of eminent domain were approved tonight, Bessinger wanted to know, adding, “That’s what I’d ask if it were my property.”
Mouanoutoua wanted to know what the next steps were, if eminent domain were approved. Cross said that a next step could be to ask the court for “right of possession.” Cross clarified that adoption of the eminent-domain resolution doesn’t preclude the right of the property owner to continue to negotiate. Property owners are not “defenseless,” Cross noted; they can take money offered and still argue for more, pre-judgement. The project can continue while the city and property owners “fight” over money. Mouanoutoua repeated, “What’s the timeline?”
Councilmember Basgall asked if the project could “go out to bid” without a decision that night. Another engineering staff member joined Burnett and said that the rights to the property should be secured before bidding; utilities would need to be relocated as well.
Mouanoutoua continued to ask questions: “How far along and how far behind are we?” [sic] Burnett’s colleague said they could solicit bids for the work as late as the end of this summer, though they had planned that step last summer, adding that they “don’t want to let the project languish.”
Bessinger asked how much it would cost to prevail in court, if the city pursued eminent domain. Cross said it could be a three-year process and would likely cost more than $50,000. Property owners, if they accepted money while arguing for more, would have to waive all defenses except for money.
Ashbeck asked Burnett about the importance of the roads in question to public necessity. The reply was that the roads constitute a major corridor with access to a hospital; it’s a busy road, and widening it will improve safety. Ashbeck said that east-west travel in the county was “treacherous.” Burnett added that the proposed work had actually been approved in 2006.
Mouanoutoua wanted Burnett to explain the project again. What was the position of the county government in this, he asked. Burnett said that the county board of supervisors has approved both the project and the request to propose a claim of eminent domain.
Public comments on the item were opened. A man who identified himself as the brother of the property owner—first name Mark, surname unintelligible—spoke. He described a series of miscommunications on the part of the city. “We’ve never said no,” he began. He said that they never wanted money; they had requested the release of the easement after the work was complete. He said they never received an answer, nor did they get a copy of the appraisal. There were changes in city staff who contacted them. Suddenly “everybody started calling us,” he said. They told city staff repeatedly that they “don’t want money, they just want the easement released.” An offer of money was made to them, they made a counteroffer, and never heard back. “We never got told ‘no,’ and now they want eminent domain.”
Ashbeck thanked the property owner’s brother for “trying to do the right thing.” She said in 20 years she recalled only about five cases of eminent domain and said that it appeared the property owners and the city should be able to reach an agreement without it.
Bessinger wanted to continue the matter to Mar. 6. He said that eminent domain is the number-one thing people criticize government for. He said this was the first time we’ve “eminently domained” [sic] since he’d been on the council. This was like “betting against ourselves;” it was a “blackjack situation,” he said, without explaining the gambling metaphor. Resolution seemed close, he added.
Basgall said he agreed with Bessinger and that the property owner’s questions can all be answered.
Mouanoutoua said he hadn’t “heard the urgency” to begin eminent domain and that he preferred talking to the property owners to work things out.
Ashbeck added that agreement was about “half an hour away” and thanked the property owner’s brother for being present.
Pearce asked no questions or made any comment on this item.
Agenda Item #9 The council voted unanimously to cancel an agricultural land conservation contract, per the terms of the Williamson Act, for property located near the southeast corner of Shaw and DeWolf Avenues. George Gonzalez, a senior planner, gave a presentation. The area is currently zoned for commercial use, high-density residential, and public facilities, consistent with the General Plan.
Part of the cancellation process is holding a public hearing, and a property owner has one year to comply with conditions of approval (pay a fee and obtain permits for new land uses). Mouanoutoua asked if it was required to wait a year. No, it was not. What happens if in a year the conditions have not been met? Gonzalez said the property would have to be re-assessed, and the matter would come back before the council.
Ashbeck asked if the property owner was present. No, but the engineer was on the phone. The audio was not functioning, but she was in support of the cancellation.
Agenda Item #10 Public Utilities Director Scott Redelfs made a presentation, giving a detailed overview of the Public Utilities Department. “This will be exciting,” said Ashbeck, to hear about “our beloved Public Utilities department.”
Redelfs began by noting that his crews were out at that moment, cleaning up trees which fell in the windstorm which was concurrent with the meeting, and which also caused lights to flicker. Ashbeck asked Redelfs to thank his work crews.
Redelfs showed a series of slides detailing every aspect of the department, the first of which listed its values: dedication to “maintaining the Clovis way of life,” through community service, teamwork, responsibility, leadership, and enjoyment of work. “We never say no,” said Redelfs.
Other slides showed an organization chart of the department’s 183 full-time employees, department sections, budget by section, total budget ($94 million annually).
Redelfs explained that Clovis maintains its own landfill and its own water recycling plant. Water, he said, was now a part of “the new world of SGMA [Sustainable Groundwater Management Act].”
Redelfs spoke of dealing with “many state agencies” and repeatedly complained about “the ever-increasing burden” of federal or state mandates, such as SB1383, which requires biodegradable trash to be placed in a separate trash bin.
Ashbeck commented that the city needed to be self-sufficient as it continues to grow, something she noticed has come up in all the recent department presentations. Redelfs said that regulations and state mandates were “increasing in severity” and that SB1383 was “not easy.” To which Ashbeck said, “Yeah, we’ll leave that one right where it is.” In previous meetings, council members complained about having to put their food waste in a separate bin (one of three, the green one, which all Clovis residents already have and in which they also place yard waste, for composting, thus avoiding the landfill). SB1383 has been in effect since Jan. 2022.
Bessinger remarked that “we’ve done well doing our own thing—our own recycled water plant,” etc., then he told an anecdote about being a corporal in the Clovis Police Department when he attended a meeting about youthful offenders. The then-mayor of Fresno suggested having youth clean up graffiti, and Bessinger said that Clovis had been doing that for 10 years. Then he repeated, as he has in many previous meetings, that “when you wave to ‘em, they wave back,” referring to garbage-truck drivers. He remarked that “outside employees” don’t have “our values.”
Ashbeck said that the late, long-serving councilmember Harry Armstrong “loved public utilities.” Armstrong, said Ashbeck, emphasized the importance of maintaining a city-managed landfill and trash-truck fleet.
City Manager Holt said that there would be a workshop on recycled water soon, to which Ashbeck replied, “Can’t wait,” with a laugh.
Public comment was opened on the item. A woman who gave her name as Rachel Hamm began by emphatically saying, “Clovis is just the best!” Hamm talked about a range of subjects. She had been to a lot of other states, and they were all cleaner than California—she said that was “fascinating.” Why was there trash “on the ground” in certain areas of Clovis? She talked about PG&E—she was “very concerned about poor people” who must pay high utility bills. How was Clovis doing at “retaining water”? She was “stunned” at the difference between Clovis and Fresno. She suggested that the city arrange for education on these subjects for elementary-school children. Staff and council members responded enthusiastically to her questions and suggestions. Hamm said her husband was a principal at Cole Elementary School in Clovis, and there was some excited talk about “knowing where to find you.” Hamm was an unsuccessful candidate for secretary of state in 2022, and according to the Fresno Bee, she is Republican who has a YouTube channel and promotes false claims about the legitimacy of the 2020 Presidential election. Her Twitter account shows that she is anti-vaccine and believes that Democrats are satanic. Her website presents her as a self-help author, minister, and motivational speaker. “I love your passion,” Ashbeck told her.
A second commenter, Hiram Malcolm, said he was a Fresno State student attending the meeting as a class assignment. He praised the public utilities department and said that his son was given a plush-toy garbage truck from a Clovis trash-truck driver. Where did employees come from, he asked. Do they live in Clovis? Redelfs said he never “polled” where his employees live. How about hiring from my generation, Malcolm asked. Was there a struggle to hire sufficient employees? Redelfs said there was no problem hiring people, and people from Malcolm’s generation were welcome to apply. Malcolm’s major was political science, he said, when asked. Ashbeck introduced him to Shonna Halterman, General Services Director: “Hiram, Shonna; Shonna, Hiram.” Bessinger remarked that it sounded like “hire ‘em.”
Agenda Item #11 The council voted 5-0 to direct staff to create a non-binding plan for the required zero-emission conversion of the Clovis transit fleet; the plan is hybrid and includes some internal-combustion vehicles, some electric, and some hydrogen-powered. The presentation was made by General Services Manager Amy Hance, who was unfailingly upbeat about the project, despite skepticism on the part of council members.
Hance gave an overview of Clovis public transit. There are two lines: Stageline, which runs throughout Clovis on a 30-minute schedule; and Paratransit, which serves disabled Clovis residents. Both services are free of charge.
Hance’s department has 79 employees, and funding comes from Measure C, the state, grants, and federal sources (“Nothing is easy with the feds,” per Hance).
Hance explained that “ridership is back,” and showed a slide with numbers of riders, which had declined during the pandemic. Despite the data, Mouanoutoua repeatedly said that only two or three people could be observed riding the buses, but he didn’t offer any empirical data himself.
Hance explained that public transit must convert to zero-emissions. By Jul. 1 this year, a roll-out plan is due; between 2026-2028, vehicle purchase must be 25% zero-emission vehicles (ZET); any vehicles purchased in 2029 or later must be 100% ZET, per the California Air Board (CARB) Innovative Clean Transit (ICT) rule of 2018.
Hance acknowledged the purpose of the laws and rules about replacing vehicles—cleaner air. “The whole point is we need to work on our air,” she said.
The total estimated cost of replacement of vehicles will be about $41 million.
Hance explained the different types of vehicles: BEB, or battery electric bus; hydrogen fuel, which she called “sustainable” and less costly; and ICE, or internal combustion engine, which uses gas.
PG&E needs about five years to plan the grid for use of electric buses, Hance said. She repeatedly emphasized that it was not “if” but “when” conversion to electric would happen. “We must convert,” she said.
Based on the council’s direction, Hance and her staff will write a non-binding roll-out plan and bring it back to the council for approval.
A lengthy discussion followed, with many comments from Mouanoutoua, some from Bessinger and Ashbeck, one from Pearce, and not much from Basgall.
- We’re a victim of our own success, he said, so competing for federal funds will be hard.
- Can we invest in ICE now and “wait out” better electric buses? Katrina Sutton from CalStart replied that she didn’t like to recommend fossil-fuel-powered vehicles and that she wasn’t there to recommend direction.
- Sutton replied to his question about hydrogen: storage of hydrogen can present safety issues, but many other communities, such as Oakland, use hydrogen—“I really like buses,” she noted.
- The goal dates are “arbitrary,” he said, though they align with other goal dates of climate legislation; but he did call his own view “jaundiced,” even though he is a member of the air board. He noted that this area is one of non-containment, meaning the air quality here is worse than the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, and ICE vehicles have high emissions—but even so, we “can’t break the bank” by investing in zero-emission vehicles.
- The state and federal government’s goals of phasing out fossil-fuel vehicles was “fanciful.” “We’re not going to get funding.”
- She said, laughing, that she read “way more of this than I thought” [sic] and took a lot of ibuprofen.
- She “flashed back” to Gov. Newsom’s announcement that there would be no more gas cars, only 100% electric vehicles by 2035 “or whatever it is” and “two days later” announcements said “don’t plug in your electric vehicles, we can’t handle it.” She was “almost frustrated” because “we are nowhere near the ability to undertake the reality of this type of project across the state” [sic]. It was the “habit of the state with its mandates” to “push deadlines.” When would they realize that is “illogical” to set a deadline of 2029, she wanted to know, though she didn’t explain with any clarity what exactly was not “logical.” “My mentality” was “let’s figure out what’s most “cost-effective” for the city and let everybody else “see where things were headed.”
- At another point, Pearce said the roll-out plan should reflect the best means to achieve zero-emissions by the deadline, so it would appeal to grant-writers. At the same time, the city should actually purchase polluting ICE buses to save money.
- He made many comments, often appearing to be thinking out loud: “I kinda go, if ridership is low, time for us to readjust . . . I’m going ‘why 35 buses?’ So, I go ‘why’? Why can’t we do it with 15?” and similar statements. He complained, “Now that transit is a right [sic], we have to supply it regardless of ridership.” But he conceded, “It may be ignorance on my part.”
- Hance responded that ridership and zero-emissions were two different things; she repeated that we have to convert; it’s not a choice. She was always working to improve ridership. The goal is to attract more riders, she said, so instead of shrinking availability, re-design and improve bus routes and provide more frequent service, every 15 minutes instead of every 30.
- Mouanoutoua continued to muse about shrinking service: maybe Clovis could be “the city with no transit,” or cutting the number of buses.
- He raised the issue of other city departmental vehicles requiring conversion and seemed to think there would be priorities for police or fire vehicles.
- The plan should reflect what would prepare the city for state funding, he said.
- He switched his argument a couple of times and said “let’s go for the best,” the cleanest, especially if the proposal was non-binding.
- He confirmed with Hance that her preference was for a hybrid set of vehicles.
- “I want fuel,” she said, referring to ICE vehicles. “It gives us a little time.” Hance did not include ICE in her “hybrid” model, but she said she could. Ashbeck didn’t want the entire fleet to all be the same; it was too risky. “God love the government, but it’s not going to happen,” she said.
- Hance responded that Fresno State will have a training program for zero-emission bus maintenance and emphasized that this stage was an early phase of a 15-year project. She told Mayor Ashbeck that she needed the council to tell her their choices so she could write the plan.
- Ashbeck said she preferred a hybrid model with some reserve of gas. She then remarked that Mouanoutoua’s remarks were “provocative”—maybe we want a fleet of Ubers, she said.
Holt wanted to clarify the direction to give to Hance. The consensus was a hybrid fleet, including, electric, hydrogen, and ICE. Hance repeated that “we are going to convert,” and maintained an upbeat tone throughout the discussion.
Ashbeck commented that George Jetson, the 1960s cartoon character, was “born” in 2022 and suggested that it was “way too late” already. Then she thanked Hance for “loving transit.”
City Manager Comments
Holt showed a photo of boy scouts placing US flags in Old Town.
Agenda Item #13
Clerk Cha gave an update on Founders’ Day events, as Clovis celebrates its 111th year. All third-graders will come to the civic center to learn about city government. It was revealed that the video made just before the meeting started was for this Founders’ Day event.
Mouanoutoua said that “there has to be a history of us—past mayors, and include ourselves.” [sic]
Basgall had no comment.
Pearce said that she participated in a Zoom meeting with CalCities (also known as the League of Cities) to discuss homelessness. She said that the issue was “pervasive” in the state, but the discussion “reinforced” that “one size does not fit all,” regarding solutions. She lamented the “erosion of local control” and talked about “power in numbers” for “pushing back” against “mandates.” She saw “faux progress,” she said, laughing.
Next, she said she needed to bring up her “frustration” about the process for making and publishing proclamations at council meetings. She said that the proclamation made today for the African-American Historical and Cultural Museum was published online Thursday (preceding the council meeting), and that was the first time she saw it. She didn’t “sign off” on it. Her concern was that the proclamation contained the word “equity.” She said that “equity” meant “equal outcomes,” and that was “socialism.” She wanted to remove that one word, but she “didn’t even get to see it.”
Mouanoutoua remarked that the recipients of a proclamation often provide the language. He rambled: sometimes “they will just say ‘Armenian genocide…’” [sic].
Ashbeck was more articulate. 40 years of proclamations have been done this way. She said that “we don’t each sign off.” Proclamations are ceremonial, and not a single thing is political. Pearce was presenting “a solution in search of a problem.” She could not see a way where each council member would be given a chance to edit.
Pearce laughed anxiously and said her complaint “had nothing to do with the museum” and she was not asking for a chance to edit.
Ashbeck said that such objections were a “slippery slope.” She said that we have all said something which offended someone else. “You on KMJ [Pearce has a radio show] can say [something about] the Clovis City Council I may not like.”
Now Pearce said that “I’m just trying to figure things out.”
Holt said that sometimes the city of Fresno will have a single council member sponsor an agenda item. Holt said he’d “work on a policy.” Ashbeck said she didn’t think it was a problem to solve. The mayor has never rejected a proclamation, with rare exceptions, Ashbeck said.
Ashbeck continued that the energy was not worth spending—if I don’t like a word, then what? she asked. What would you do? Pearce said she didn’t know, because she “didn’t get a chance to find out” [sic].
Bessinger talked about a health-care crisis “coming our way.” Anthem and Community Hospital were having trouble negotiating insurance terms. “All the prisoners” from Chowchilla are “funneled” here, he said, and worried that they would show up in the St. Agnes hospital as well. “People could die,” he said and suggested sending a “strongly worded letter” to Community and St. Agnes hospitals to tell them to “get their crap together” [sic].
Basgall’s comments were unintelligible, as his mic was off.
Ashbeck said she attended a “celebration of life” for Dr. Farid Nader, an engineer who designed Route 168. She then asked Holt if “fruit stands” she has seen on the road were permitted. Holt said that if they were in the city right-of-way, they were not. About to close the meeting, Mouanoutoua said, “You forgot about me.” She had.
Mouanoutoua said that he attended the funeral of the Sanger police officer who was killed in the line of duty and that it was very “touching.” Then he complained that when police kill someone who “breaks the law,” people are “up in arms,” but when a police officer dies when “doing their duty,” no one is “up in arms” [sic]. He added that he met with Kevin McCarthy, though he didn’t say what the nature of the meeting was. He also said that Bessinger and Pearce met with McCarthy’s staff but didn’t say what that meeting was about either.
Pearce added that she would be absent on Mar. 6 because she would be taking a trip planned even before the election last Nov. Ashbeck joked about wanting “equitable” souvenirs.
The public portion of the meeting was closed at 9:52 p.m. Cross said that there would be no action to report from the closed session, which followed.
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