Feb. 28, 2023 — Fresno County Board of Supervisors
Documented by Rachel Youdelman
Here’s what you need to know
- Fresno County Clerk/Registrar of Voters James Kus updated the board on voter-registration list maintenance and confirmed that a new staff position will specialize in voter registration, oversight of voter-list maintenance, and management of community groups’ concerns.
- By a vote of 3-0, with Quintero and Brandau recusing, the board voted to initiate litigation for declaratory relief against Fresno City Councilmembers Garry Bredefeld and Luis Chavez, to prevent them from defying a county campaign-contribution rule.
- Decisions were made about water-service rates for the impoverished communities of El Porvenir and Cantua Creek; rates will initially decrease in Cantua Creek, and a further public meeting with residents of El Porvenir who voted against a rate increase will take place, while water conservation methods are meanwhile recommended.
- Brandau pulled two items from the consent agenda. One of them being a 48-unit affordable multi-family housing development in Reedley. Brandau said he objected to the project because it was “very expensive” and that he “didn’t think this is the way to do affordable housing.” He simply said he wanted to “register a ‘no’ vote.” It passed with a vote of 4-1.
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 meeting of the month on Feb. 28 at 9:30 a.m. All board members were present. The room, full at the beginning, ebbed and flowed with attendees as the agenda progressed. The meeting lasted about two hours but there was another hour of waiting when the board went into closed session, after which they briefly reconvened the public portion of the meeting to make announcements about new county litigation, as per the closed-session agenda.
Chairman Quintero opened the meeting, and Clerk Seidel called the roll; all were present. Supervisor Mendes introduced the person giving the religious invocation, a pastor from Sanger First Unified Methodist Church, Saia Fineanganofo. “Saia,” as Mendes called him, told a story from the Christian bible about Jesus curing a leper from Samaria. “Jews hated Samaria” and treated Samaritans as “inferior beings,” he said, but Jesus cured the Samaritan. Then Saia said, “Mighty lord, we praise and honor you; let [the supervisors] love their duty. Lord, we pray for the county of Fresno.” He concluded, “Lord, we ask all these things in the mighty name of Jesus christ, our lord and savior.” Last, Saia led the flag salute.
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 agenda 5-0, but Clerk Seidel noted that some items would be addressed out of order. Seidel as per usual read the agenda items quickly, making it difficult to understand what she was saying.
Agenda Item #2 Consent Agenda (items #19-57). These are items which are routine or administrative, grouped together and decided with a single vote. Seidel pointed out a corrected typo in item #50, and Supervisor Brandau pulled #22 and #50 for discussion. Other items were unanimously approved.
Agenda Items #3 & 4 The retirement of a married couple, Pedro Martinez and Enriqueta C. Martinez, was recognized. Each worked for over 30 years in the Department of Social Services (DSS). Sanja Bugay, Director of DSS, said that “Pete” (Pedro) was “an institution” in the department and praised the two for the “tremendous support this couple has provided.”
Quintero said they were the “first ever” married couple to retire together, and that this was “history.” Brandau said, “Kinda cool—you met on the job? Fresno County has done one thing right.” Pacheco remarked that they attend the same church and that they volunteer a lot there. Magsig said, “My heart breaks, because you are so young.” Mendes said, “Anybody who volunteers in church is a great person.”
When Quintero asked what they planned to do in retirement, the reply was “nothing,” to laughter. Someone said, “Stay out of trouble!” Everyone posed for a group photo.
Agenda Item #5 The board approved with a 5-0 vote a proclamation to declare March Professional Social Worker Appreciation Month. Sanja Bugay encouraged people to apply to work for her department: “We’re a great place to work.” She briefly described the various divisions of the department, which serves “babies to elderly adults” and is “an essential service.” Deputy Director Oralia Gomez gave some statistics regarding numbers of calls received annually and the types of services offered.
Gomez told an anecdote about an 85-year-old man who was reportedly the victim of a potential house-sale scam. DSS made sure he received funds from the sale of his house and that he had another place to live. “Now he wakes up in Argentina,” she said, with his family whom the DSS located on his behalf.
Quintero read the proclamation, which included a reference to “equity, diversity, and inclusion.” No one objected to the use of the word “equity,” as a council member had in Clovis on Feb 21. In June 2022, Brandau had voted “no” to funding a youth non-profit because it used the phrase “social justice” on its website.
Several staff social workers were present. Quintero joked after the vote that the proclamation passed “magnanimously.”
Agenda Item #6 The board voted 5-0 to declare March “Pinedale Centennial History Month.” Brandau, who sponsored this item, said that on Mar. 24 Pinedale would be 100 years old. There will be a parade on Mar. 25, which “should be great fun.” In 1923, Pinedale was founded by the Sugarpine Lumber Company and had a street car, said Brandau, who in the past has expressed opposition to public transportation. The lumber mill closed in 1931, Brandau said.
David Rodriguez, “historian of Pinedale,” and Lisa Guzman, president of the Pinedale Community Association were present to accept the honor. Rodriguez said that the parade would feature Aztec, Hmong, and other ethnic dancers. He thanked the board for the chance to represent Pinedale. “Some people don’t like us, but that’s OK,” he said.
Magsig said that it was important to remember “our history.” He said that “the greatness of Pinedale lives” and remarked on the “deep” ties to Pinedale’s “timber industry.” Quintero said that he loves to browse in the National Hardware store in Pinedale, an old-fashioned kind of shop.
Everyone posed for a group photo.
Agenda Item #22 (Pulled from Consent Agenda for discussion) The board voted 5-0 to name a section of Friant Road in memory of Gavin Gladding, a Clovis Unified School District employee who was the victim of a hit-and-run accident there in 2018, an honor typically reserved for members of the military, said Brandau, who along with Magsig sponsored this proposal. The parents of Gladding were present but did not speak. Magsig said that Gladding was “a son, father, husband.” He also showed a copy of a book, “Gavin Gone: Turning Pain into Purpose to Create a Legacy,” written by Rita Gladding, the subject’s mother, and said that he read portions of it when he “delivered a sermon” last year.
A proposed state law, known as “Gavin’s Law,” to toughen penalties for hit-and-run crimes failed to pass in 2020 despite bi-partisan support.
Agenda Item #50 (Pulled by Brandau from Consent Agenda for discussion) The board passed this item with a 4-1 vote, an agreement to build a 48-unit affordable multi-family housing project in Reedley, with Brandau voting “no.” Brandau said he objected to the project because it was “very expensive” and that he “didn’t think this is the way to do affordable housing,” though he didn’t elaborate. He simply said he wanted to “register a ‘no’ vote.”
There was a comment about the matter from a member of the public, Jaime “Carlos” Loza, who regularly shows up to comment. Loza approached the lectern and spoke, but the mic was off, so his comments were inaudible. As Loza spoke, Brandau was seen scowling.
Agenda Item #7 The board heard a presentation by County Clerk/Registrar of Voters James Kus on voter-registration list maintenance. No vote from the board was required. The room was significantly emptier at this point. Kus summarized voter-registration statistics, such as numbers of active registered voters (about 501,000 in Feb. 2023), inactive voters (about 99,000), and numbers of interactions his office has had with voters (about 173,000).
Kus talked about efforts his department was making to maintain accurate voter rolls, per requests by the board to “clean” and “purge” them. Kus discussed federal and state requirements for maintenance of voter rolls and said that citizens who receive incorrectly delivered ballots may return them to facilitate corrections. He noted that younger voters’ signatures are problematic because they often don’t match what is on record. He also mentioned that the “credit rating/address comparison” approach suggested by Magsig in a previous meeting had not “borne fruit” yet.
Kus said that with the board’s approval, he wanted to add a staff person for a new position to specialize in voter registration, who would oversee list maintenance and work with “community groups concerning processes and concerns.”
Magsig said that the new staff position would help “to clean up voter rolls” and “restore faith in voting.” Brandau complained that he “didn’t see an aggressive ‘this is what we need to do to clean up voting rolls’.” To win Brandau’s support, he said, he “needs to see it’s about voter-roll clean-up.” He wanted to see “an even higher level” of commitment between the public and staff. Brandau said that he wanted the new staff person to “be open to suggestions” from “the community” and “not just the government of the state of California.”
Brandau, who has questioned election integrity, said that his “fundamental problem is a lot of people have lost trust in government because of this issue.” He conceded, however, that “some of it is conspiratorial and goofy.” He went on, saying that if he had been on the board for the Voter’s Choice Act decision, he would have voted to remain a “paper and precinct” county. He asked Kus if we could “go back” to “paper and precinct.”
Kus replied that he had to correct Brandau, that there is a paper ballot for every voter. But he said that “we can absolutely go back,” but that it would require significant changes in election finance, new equipment, and processes. By state law, mail-in ballots are required. Per federal law, ballot-marking devices must be provided, he added. Going back to the polling-place method would entail going back to the provisional-ballot method as well, he said.
Brandau said when he reviewed the board’s video of the Voter’s Choice Act discussion, he found that none of the “promises” made about it were fulfilled. He said that “a group” had turned in a list of over 30 “problems” they said they found, such as “dead people voting.” He added that he had a request for a follow-up meeting with Kus and “a group” about these matters. He did not identify the “group.”
Mendes commented that “voting” and “voter rolls” were “apples and oranges.” He expressed concern about voting centers being connected to “our system” as opposed to an “outside system,” but did not elaborate. He said the lines of voters were now lines in the signature-checking machine.
Kus clarified that because people wait until election day to return their ballots, signature confirmation takes some time. Mendes repeated the false claim that Los Angeles had “more votes than eligible voters.”
Kus said that his predecessor, Brandi Orth, had put into place practices of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) and the “8D2” provision (a residency confirmation card, sent first-class and forwardable to a registered voter who has been made inactive; these cards are used to update the voter registration file and are sent to voters to give them another chance to be sure they don’t live there anymore) long before other counties.
Public comment was opened on the matter. There were three commenters; in past meetings, closer to the time of the most recent presidential election, several people whose candidate lost showed up to claim voter “fraud,” question voting “integrity” and deny the results of the election. The first was Tammy Richardson; she talked about “dirty” voter rolls full of “dead” voters. She had seen “evidence” of a lack of “integrity,” and said she knew about “families” who had received ballots for people who no longer lived in the house where the ballot was delivered. She said that making voting exclusively in-person would mean there was no need to fund a new staff position in Kus’ office.
The second commenter was Rose Winn, who said “we” had a “lot of discussion with Mr. Kus” about what she called “dirty” voter rolls. She also wanted to go back to precinct-based, in-person only voting, with a requirement to show ID. She wanted to “pull Fresno out of the Voter’s Choice Act” and remove Dominion voting machines, despite current news reports which appear to expose the false claims that have been made about them. She did not cite statistics or sources, but she said she knew that “people not qualified to vote” were “still receiving ballots.” She wanted to override state and federal laws but did not propose how that would be accomplished.
The third commenter was Brent Burdine, a fairly regular commenter who has appeared often in previous meetings to comment on vaccination requirements, said that he was “very encouraged” by the work done by Kus and the board. He also said without any evidence that people were receiving “multiple ballots.” He wanted “reconciliation” of the numbers of ballots, but his point was unclear.
Agenda Item #8 The board voted 5-0 to agree to reduce by one hour per day the opening hours of the Department of Behavioral Health Urgent Care Wellness Center, per the request of Susan Holt, Director of the Department of Behavioral Health. She emphasized that the request did not entail a reduction in services; currently the center is open from 8 a.m to 6 p.m. Because there are so few patrons after 5 p.m. and they are experiencing a staffing shortage, she asked that the center close at 5 p.m. She noted that there is a 24/7 access line for people to receive services. By reducing the weekly hours from 50 to 45, $16,000 annually would be saved on the budget. Magsig said he appreciated the maximizing of the department’s limited resources. Quintero wanted to know if a notice would be posted on the facility door, and if it would be posted in Spanish and Hmong. Holt said posting in Spanish and Hmong was required by law.
Agenda Items #10 and 11 The board approved 5-0 a vote by El Porvenir residents to block a water fee increase, while approving a plan to follow Cantua Creek’s vote to accept water service fee changes, which initially reduce the fees for customers. The board considered these items after votes were tabulated; both items were public hearings for property owners in El Porvenir (#10) and Cantua Creek (#11) who receive water service from Fresno County, about a proposal for annual increases in the cost of the water service. Chris Bump of the public works department gave a brief presentation; he said the hearings were to restructure fees.
Mariana Alvarenga from the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability spoke on behalf of the residents of these communities. She said that most residents were low-income families and that they have been asking for water-debt relief for years. Service rates are too high even with subsidies. She suggested that the debt be eliminated from the proposed new fee calculations or that assurance be given of a rate reduction once the debt is paid. She again suggested, as she and colleagues have at previous meetings, that the debt be changed to a loan and then discharged.
Supervisor Pacheco remarked that public meetings had been held in the communities in question and that now we need “the will of the people,” referring to the votes of each community. The votes were to be tabulated at this meeting; while the board addressed agenda items #9 and 12, the votes were counted.
In the case of El Porvenir, of 56 ballots, 31 were returned with a majority protest, rejecting the service-fee increase. Per the agenda text, a majority protest means abandoning the proceedings regarding the proposal for an increase in the cost of water service; the Department of Public Works will hold a future public meeting with tenants and property owners who receive water services and will recommend cost-saving steps that include water conservation.
In the case of Cantua Creek, of 81 ballots, only 1 was returned, so there was no majority protest to its rate change from $70 to $59 per month initially for residential customers, then annual increases of 3%. Per the agenda text, the board may adopt a resolution authorizing annual increases in the water service fees for Cantua Creek beginning Mar. 1, 2023 continuing through Feb. 29, 2028.
Agenda Item #9 The board unanimously approved a resolution approving “design-build” as a method of contractor procurement. Design-build procurement entails both a design and a construction firm as a single design-build entity under a single procurement process. Steve White, Director of Public Works, made a brief presentation to the board. For a given project, there would be one contractor for the “full package” of a given project, he said. Magsig asked about the outreach process, and Mendes said he had used this method in another jurisdiction. According to the agenda, these dual contracts do not require a competitive bidding process.
Agenda Item #12 Supervisor committee reports and comments.
Brandau made a tour of the remodeled Fig Garden branch library, which is now doubled in size and includes many new amenities and features.
Magsig attended a National Association of Counties meeting as chair of the Finance, Pensions, and Intergovernmental Affairs Steering Committee. He met with staff of federal elected officials (Congress was on a break). He reported that the offices of Senators Feinstein and Padilla were responsive to his requests about farm and water bills. Magsig then rattled off the names of several local schoolchildren who won wrestling championships, including the child of a county employee. Next, he talked about power outages for 160 residents of “Squaw” Valley. Since January this year, the name of the town has been “Yokuts Valley,” but Magsig, who opposed the name change, made no acknowledgement of the new name, and no one corrected him. Finally, he said that a committee appointee announced at the previous meeting had to decline the assignment.
Mendes said that he heard from someone who lives in “Squaw” Valley (he also repeated the rejected name) that PG&E won’t reinstate energy supply “until it’s safe.” Then he talked about a webinar attended by the California State Water Resources Control Board and other agencies and said that he was “saddened” by what he said were “untruths” uttered by “people running departments in this state.” He said that the head of the California Department of Water Resources called the recent number of atmospheric rivers (9) “unprecedented” and not seen since 1924. Mendes said, without citing any source, that atmospheric rivers have only been calculated in the last 20 years and that furthermore, 1924 was a “dry year,” so it was a “double lie.” Nevertheless, Mendes expressed outrage because he felt that the public officials “couldn’t get their propaganda straight.” Per the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there were indeed nine atmospheric rivers within a few weeks, between late Dec. 2022 into Jan. 2023. Mendes has made comments denying climate change on his Twitter account.
Quintero talked about an upcoming Earth Day event, sponsored by the county, on April 22 at the Fresno Fairgrounds. It will be a “potpourri” featuring the “best of Fresno County.” Firetrucks and the like will be on display, and Steve White of the public works department has promised to lend “the biggest of his bad boys.”
Agenda Item #13 Board appointments. Mendes made two and Quintero three appointments to various local committees. According to the agenda, many have vacancies.
Agenda Item #14 Public comments regarding items not on the agenda. There was only one member of the public who commented at this time, Jaime “Carlos” Loza. He said that “god put me on an investigation.” He said he had “evidence” that his children suffered carbon monoxide poisoning (he has talked about this in previous meetings), and he wanted to file charges for conspiracy to commit a crime. “Another challenge” (also a frequently mentioned topic of his comments) was that Sanger police were using Pom Wonderful’s parking lot. Then he said that security guards filed charges against him for violating a restraining order.
At 11:36 a.m., Chairman Quintero asked Counsel Cederborg if there would be any action to report from the closed session. Cederborg said there would be, so Quintero called a recess to a time uncertain after the closed session. At 12:30 p.m., the board reconvened to make these announcements: In one case, the board authorized initiation of litigation against a couple whose surname is Carter, involving excessive tax-sale proceeds in tax year 2021.
In the second case, by a vote of 3-0 with Quintero and Brandau recusing themselves from both discussion and voting, the board voted to initiate litigation for declaratory relief against Fresno City Council members Garry Bredefeld and Luis Chavez, to prevent them from disobeying a county campaign-contribution rule.
The next meeting is Mar. 14 at 9:30 a.m.
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