March, 7, 2023 — Clovis City Council

Documented by Rachel Youdelman

Here’s what you need to know

  • The council approved a “resolution of necessity” to initiate eminent domain proceedings, if necessary, for the acquisition of two properties located between Locan and DeWolf Aves. However, it was felt that the city and one property owner were very close to reaching agreement—in one case only a signature on a contract was needed, but in the other, the property owner had reportedly not yet responded to the city.
  • The council effectively rejected the decision to permit the building of a 12-unit multi-family apartment building on a 1-acre lot on the north side of Alluvial Avenue between Sunnyside and Fordham avenues.
  • The council voted to approve a $25,000 contract with Kosmont Companies, a consultant, to provide a “fiscal impact and economic benefit analysis” for the redevelopment of existing retail space in the Shaw Ave. corridor.
  • The council named a total of 10 people to a newly formed Historical Preservation Committee.

Council and Staff

Lynne Ashbeck, Mayor

Vong Mouanoutoua, Mayor Pro Tem

Drew Bessinger, Councilmember

Matt Basgall, Councilmember

Diane Pearce, Councilmember ABSENT

John Holt, City Manager

Andy Haussler, Assistant City Manager

Scott Cross, City Attorney

Karey Cha, City Clerk

The Scene

The Clovis City Council met on Mar. 6, 2023, for the first meeting of the month. Councilmember Pearce was absent for a pre-planned vacation. After Clerk Cha called the roll, councilmember Basgall led the flag salute. The agenda was long and entailed several complex items; two items were continued to later meetings. 

The meeting was opened at 6:03 p.m. by Mayor Ashbeck and lasted four hours. It was characterized by lengthy questions asked and opinions given about some of the items by Councilmembers Bessinger and Mouanoutoua. Ashbeck was vocal as well, while councilmember Basgall made minimal comments. As some agenda items concerned real-estate development, several developers were present to comment, as were a few people from neighborhoods where development was proposed. Ashbeck, who usually speaks in an upbeat manner, commented several times about the tedious nature of the long meeting (“We’ll be here till 11 p.m.,” she remarked early in the meeting. Some items were considered out of order. 

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. 13 at 6p.m. Videos of past meetings and agendas are available here.

Agenda Item #1 The council voted 4-0, 1 absent, to proclaim Mar. 11 Arbor Day. Basgall read the proclamation and no one objected, which had occurred at the previous meeting. Parks Manager Eric Aller spoke briefly and said that 51 trees, donated by the Clovis Community Foundation, would be planted on Sat. Mar. 11 at Dry Creek Park — 51 city trees were lost in the recent torrential rains. The public is invited to participate in the planting, said Aller. Ashbeck thanked Aller, and when public comment was opened on the item, Dwight Kroll, retired director of Planning and Development, spoke; he thanked Aller and his staff.

Public Comment about items not on agenda. Ashbeck mentioned the receipt of a written comment asking the council to reconsider the subject of permitting residents to keep backyard chickens. There were no other comments.

Agenda Items #2-11, Consent Calendar These are routine administrative items which are grouped together and decided with a single vote. Ashbeck recused herself from item #6 which concerned renewal of a lease for the Clovis Big Dry Creek Historical Society, Inc., because she is a member of that board. Items #2-11 (excluding #6) were approved 4-0, 1 absence; and item #6 was approved 3-0, 1 recusal and 1 absence.

Agenda Item #19 The council voted 4-0, 1 absence, to name a total of 10 people to a newly formed Historical Preservation Committee: Ashbeck appointed Sayre Miller and Adam Holt; Mouanoutoua appointed Tom Wright and John Wright; Basgall appointed Desiree Haus and Rachael Orlando; Bessinger appointed Ron Silva and Greg Newman; Pearce appointed Cora Shipley and Mark Wall.

City Manager Holt explained that the committee was ad hoc and would meet until its objectives were met. The committee is subject to Brown Act rules regarding public meetings. The committee will identify criteria warranting historic preservation, assess such criteria, and make recommendations to the city for preservation of specific sites or structures.

Mouanoutoua asked a question about how the committee would “move forward,” but his meaning was unclear. Nevertheless, Holt said he could include more “formal” information regarding processes. Ashbeck thanked the appointees for coming to the meeting and for agreeing to serve. They had no comments but Ashbeck, calling their task an “unchartered path,” asked them to stand, and they were applauded. Ashbeck said that this sort of endeavor is “what makes Clovis special.”

Agenda Item #12 After a very long and fraught discussion, the council effectively delayed the decision to permit the building of a 12-unit multi-family apartment building on a one-acre lot on the north side of Alluvial Avenue, between Sunnyside and Fordham avenues.

They made the following three determinations on this public hearing concerning a proposed 12-unit multi-family real-estate development: (a) a General Plan Amendment (GPA) and re-zone was approved 4-0, 1 absence; (b) a request to re-designate the General Plan from “low density” to “medium-high density” was denied without prejudice by a 3-1 (1 absence) vote; and (c) consideration of an ordinance to rezone from single-family residential zone district to multifamily medium-high density residential zone district (no vote was taken on this last point).

Senior Planner Lily Cha presented the item. She explained that currently the one-acre corner parcel is vacant. It is bordered by streets on two sides and on two sides are single-family houses. To the west is a large lot with a church on it. A local developer, Arman Zakaryan of Stallion Development and Construction, is proposing the multi-family development, which necessitates a rezoning from single-family. The proposed building as designed is 25 feet high, will be bordered by a privacy fence on the sides facing other houses, and will include 5,200 feet of open space. There are 26 parking spaces and there will be storage space inside the garages.

Cha explained that the planning commission approved the project unanimously on Jan 26. Three neighborhood meetings have been held, at which concerns such as fears of increased crime, traffic, noise, and the like, were expressed and mitigating remedies were offered.

Council members began a discussion, with Bessinger expressing concerns about traffic, because he has seen a “ton” of collisions in the area. He asked if traffic issues had been considered. Mike Harrison, a city engineer, said that they were aware of needed improvements to the streets. He foresaw completing the road project concurrently with the building project.

Bessinger then expressed worry that “college students” or “people from the California Health Sciences University” would move in and asked if there would be enough parking. Cha said that the plan meets city requirements for parking. What if people are “double-bunking,” Bessinger asked.He said that since rents would be between $2,500 and $2,800 per month for a two-bedroom apartment, so maybe there would be four unrelated people in each apartment. Later Bessinger said that “we do need housing” for “our” health-care workers, students, and “regular folks.” The traffic issues, he now said, were not caused by the developer. On the other hand, Harrison, the city’s traffic engineer, was retiring in July, so that could leave the street improvements in limbo. Harrison assured him there were capable staff to continue the work after his departure.

Mouanoutoua made many comments and asked a number of questions, the meaning of which was not always clear. He wanted to know if anyone recalled the last such project when there was a GPA to allow for a higher-density project. Dave Merchen of the Planning Department said he remembered one which was denied and referenced a proposed two-story development that was denied by the council in November 2021. He asked what could be built without the need for a public hearing and Cha replied that two single-family homes would be permissible, each with an accessory dwelling unit (ADU). Mouanoutoua wanted to know what could be seen from second-story windows of the surrounding single-family homes and who would manage the parking garages. He said it was rare that they would get a “product” like this proposed building from a local builder; it was market-rate and multi-family. “I look and I go, ‘I think it can be done,’ we make him [the developer] jump through all the hoops and we go ‘yes, you know, they did that . . . I go ‘we have to support applicants who come forward with a product like this’ . . . I look at that and I go ‘good people want to live in Clovis . . .  people deserve a chance to live in our great city.”

Basgall made few remarks. He asked if there have been any similar projects, and if there was any follow-up on negative “impacts.” Cha said there have been none. He asked about the attendance at the neighborhood meetings. Merchen said there were between five and nine people at each meeting. Basgall said that his concern was changing zoning in one lot, but he didn’t describe why. He was also concerned about traffic. He was “all for” multi-family buildings, but he also felt responsible to the “people who were already there.”

Ashbeck said that infill projects were “always a challenge” and wanted to know how many individual lots could be built on the property. Cha repeated that four were allowed. Ashbeck asked “to what extent do we make infill projects look like they belong rather than dropped in?” Then she said, having seen slides of renderings of the proposed project, that there was “nothing about this project that says ‘welcome to the neighborhood” and added that “we have an obligation” to make infill projects look like they belong.

Public comment was opened on the matter. Dan Zack, a representative of Stallion Development, said that the developer was a “family-owned” company based in Clovis. He addressed some of the concerns raised by councilmembers and talked about plans for the types of foliage to be planted on the property. Ashbeck asked him what other projects were considered for the site, because this one “wasn’t very interesting.” She called it “a square on a square lot.” She asked why not 12 single-family homes? Merchen addressed the latter question: on a lot of this size, 12 single-family houses would be cramped. The proposed project has ample open space and the best buffering from surrounding properties. That was a “great answer,” said Ashbeck.

Linda Alford, a resident of the neighborhood near the proposed project, was present to express opposition to it. She said there could be four single-family houses built on the lot, each of which could be sold for over $500,000 and would generate tax revenue for the city, which is what “many of us expected,” she said. She and others attended planning commission meetings and felt “chided” by one member of the commission because of their opposition, she said. She wanted the council to consider “other options” for the land.

Another resident, whose first name was Brent, said he “echoed” the previous commenter and also complained about potential traffic problems. He said that he was offended by the attitude of Mike Cunningham, a planning commissioner, when residents met with the commission. Cunningham, he said, told residents that developers could not make money from single-family houses, and that was paramount, but at this meeting, it was not permissible to mention property values of houses belonging to current residents.

Mouanoutoua said that the residents who commented were “so well-prepared and courteous” and added “that is special.” He apologized for the planning commission’s behavior, because they were “appointed by us.” He talked about the term “multi-family” and said it “conjured preconceived ideas about who lives there. . . no one says, ‘Do your parents live in a multi-family?’” 

Ashbeck suggested the item be continued to a later date, but that idea did not advance. She and Basgall were clearly not supportive of the project, though Bessinger wavered. In the end, Bessinger sided with Ashbeck and Basgall, and Mouanoutoua was in support of the project as-is. Mouanoutoua also raised the issue that the project had been unanimously approved by the planning commission only to face denial by the council—he wondered if applicants should make their requests to the council first. From the applicant’s perspective, “I look at it and I go, ‘How can I trust the process?’” he said.

Discussion continued about how to resolve each of three action items: (a) approve an environmental finding for a GPA and a rezone, (b) re-designate the General Plan from “low density” to “medium-high density,” and (c) approve an ordinance to rezone from single-family residential zone district to multifamily medium-high density residential zone district. A couple of motions were made for (b) with various details and failed before agreement to have the applicant bring back the project within a year. The vote for the latter was 3-1, with Mouanoutoua dissenting, and 1 absence.

Agenda Item #13 The council voted 4-0 (1 absence) to approve a “resolution of necessity” to initiate eminent domain proceedings, if necessary, for the acquisition of two properties located between Locan and DeWolf Aves. The item was continued from the Feb. 21 meeting, because it was anticipated that the parties would soon reach agreement. In one case, a contract for an agreement was awaiting a signature, and in the second case, the city was waiting for a counter-offer but had not yet reached an agreement. Ryan Burnett of the engineering department made the presentation; he noted that with only 4 council members present a unanimous vote was needed to pass.

Agenda Item #14 An Economic Development, Housing and Communications update was continued to the next meeting on Mar. 13.

Agenda Item #15 The council voted 4-0, 1 absence, to contract with Kosmont Companies, a consultant, to provide a “fiscal impact and economic benefit analysis” for the

redevelopment of existing retail space along the Shaw Ave. corridor. A presentation was made by a representative from Kosmont and Chad McCollum, director of the Economic Development, Housing & Communications Department.

Kosmont’s presentation, a retail-market survey and land-use evaluation, covered elements such as city tax revenue (sales tax 35%, transitory occupancy tax 3.8%, property tax 41.2%), quantities of office space, industrial space, mall and big-box-store closure rates, hotel occupancy rates, employment rates, demographics, and the like.

Discussion followed the presentation. Mouanoutoua asked questions, such as one about granting liquor licenses based on business maps rather than census tracts. Holt said the subject was beyond the scope of what they were talking about.

Assistant City Manager Andy Haussler said that the city needed to consider types of land use for new types of businesses and plan five to 10 years into the future, now that national brands (such as Sears) were beginning to close and depart the area.

Ashbeck said that the larger question is about being proactive about how to fill in an empty big-box store building. She remarked that we “never thought Sears would be gone, but it is,” leaving a huge, empty building.

The Kosmont rep said that much of the available retail space in Clovis is along the Shaw Ave. corridor and that about 700,000 square feet could potentially be “re-imagined” as “blended-use” space. By “blended” use, it was meant that abandoned retail space could encompass residential, office, hotel, and industrial in one location. Housing, said Kosmont’s rep, can generate tax revenue, and “industrial” doesn’t mean “smoke stacks.”

Ironically, following decisions on agenda item #12, with the council delaying but effectively denying a multi-family housing project, the consultant also emphasized how important it was to develop multi-family, higher density housing units. He noted that since 2020, there have been seven new projects built in Clovis (five market-rate buildings totaling 877 units; two affordable buildings totaling 135 units—1,012 units in total).

Public comment was opened on this item. Dennis Prindiville, a former mayor of Clovis, spoke. He said he was a trustee of the Sierra Vista Mall. He said he wanted copies of the last five projects similar to what was under discussion, and he didn’t want to hear about projects in “Kalamazoo,” he wanted to hear about those in towns similar to Clovis. He said, “You don’t want three nuns sitting in the audience and arguing against low-cost housing.” He then said that low-cost housing brings crime. He spoke in an agitated manner. After he left the lectern, Ashbeck joked that the “mayors have gotten much nicer in Clovis” since Prindiville’s era.

Agenda Item #16 was postponed to a future meeting.

Agenda Item #17 The council voted 4-0 (1 absence) to initiate a prezoning of property within the area of Shepherd Ave. on the south, Willow Ave. on the west, the Enterprise Canal on the north, and the Peach Ave. alignment on the east and to authorize staff to prepare an annexation application for the area.

As Dave Merchen of the Planning and Development Department explained, Clovis has plans to annex and develop property (“Heritage Grove,” per the General Plan) along the Willow Ave. corridor and has been negotiating with property owners and real-estate developers. The area in question will contain residential development which will count toward state housing requirements. Staff recommends that the council initiate the prezoning process and annexation process now, because annexed parcels should be counted in the city’s housing inventory before the end of 2023.

Merchen emphasized the following points regarding the housing element:

  • Inventory of sites is required to demonstrate capacity for approximately 9,000 housing units.
  • Approximately 4,500 units need to be identified where general plan and zoning designations allow at least 30 units per acre.
  • Sites need to be within city limits by the end of 2023 (before the next planning period starts).

Public comment was opened, and Shawn Beaty, pastor at Clovis Hills Community Church spoke. He wanted the area on which his church was sited to be annexed, but there was a problem with the source of his water, which was not in the appropriate jurisdiction.

Holt asked Merchen to explain the water conundrum. Merchen said that sites must be suitable for housing and must have a water allocation; they must be “eminently developable” to be included in the housing element.

Bill Smittcamp spoke and said that his family owns some of the property in question. The Garfield Water District doesn’t have the right to transfer water rights to “y’all,” he said, adding that he was on the Garfield Water District Board. He asked, “Can’t you fix this?” and said, “We can’t allow our community not to grow because of water.”

A real-estate developer named Manny Penn spoke next. He wanted to find a way to make Clovis Hills Church a part of the annexation.

Scott Redelfs, Public Utilities director, said that water for property north of Enterprise would have to be found and that LAFCo may not allow annexation of land without a water source.

Director of Planning Renee Mathis said that the area north of Enterprise had been prezoned in 2019 and suggested that perhaps in the spring the Garfield issue could be resolved.

Merchen said that inclusion of an analysis of the Clovis Hills Community Church site parcel would be contingent upon resolution of water issues.

Agenda Item #18 The council resolved 4-0 (1 absence) to oppose the “Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act,” which is sponsored by the California Business Roundtable and which will appear on ballots in Nov. 2024. City Manager Holt explained that the measure would amend the state constitution to count all state and local “levies, charges, and fees” as taxes and would require any new state taxes to be enacted only by a two-thirds vote of the legislature, with voter approval of a two-thirds vote.

Bessinger said that even fees of $2 would have to come before voters for approval. Attorney Cross said that the proposed law could be far more onerous than it appears on its face, because it could allow for challenges to any revenue-raising measure whatsoever. Mouanoutoua said, “I’m in support of ‘local control,’ and they’re taking that away.” Basgall said he agreed. Ashbeck said the proposed law would prevent anyone from doing anything.

City Manager Comments Holt showed photos of a four-year-old girl, a Clovis resident, who wanted to meet her street’s garbage-truck workers for her birthday. The photos of the little girl meeting with the sanitation workers were posted on Facebook, Holt said. Someone remarked that police and fire-fighters think they are the best, but this was proof to the contrary.

Council Comments

Bessinger said he sent a letter to Anthem Blue Cross and to Community Hospital about their inability to resolve contractual issues and received a response. He will meet with them on Mar. 16.

Basgall said that he went to a robotics exhibition at Buchanan High School. He also asked that the council consider writing a letter in opposition to AB 742, which would ban the use of an unleashed police dog by police officers in arrests of individuals or for crowd control. Basgall said it would ban all use of dogs by police, but per the language of the bill, that is not the case. Basgall said that police dogs “deter things from occurring” and that officer injuries increased when they didn’t use dogs. He added that “dogs bite on occasion, but . . .” Shop talk between former police chief Basgall and former police officer Bessinger ensued. They asked if the letter could be from Basgall alone or should it be from the council. Holt said if the letterhead were “from the desk of,” it could be from Basgall alone, otherwise he would add it to the council’s agenda, so it could come from the council. Holt said he would write a draft and present it at the April 3 council meeting.

Mouanoutoua said he attended an awards ceremony at the African-American Historical and Cultural Museum and an African-American Student Union event at Clovis High School. He had been invited by “a young lady.” Bessinger interjected that he had also attended and that he bestowed a Clovis “challenge coin” on the young lady, who he said had a “leadership presence.” Ashbeck said she felt bad that she had not been invited.

Ashbeck said she witnessed a Craigslist transaction in the “Exchange Zone” designated by Clovis police for safe transactions. It was “sweet” to see it working, she said. She then said she would be absent for the Mar. 13 meeting, as she will be participating in a Clovis Unified School Board meeting about the search for a new superintendent.

The meeting was adjourned at 9:56 p.m.

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