March 6, 2023 — Visalia City Council

Documented by Jackie Schuster

Here’s what you need to know

  • At the March 6 Visalia City Council meeting, council members approved 10 items on the consent calendar, including the 2023 Water Management Plan and a mural to be placed on the south-facing facade of the Valley Strong Stadium.
  • Council members also authorized the city manager to enter two separate contracts for $374,414 and $11,885 to purchase 134 software licenses for automatic license plate readers and one mobile audio/video system.
  • The council addressed concerns raised by the CEO of The Sun-Gazette Newspaper about a bid to publish the city’s legal advertisements for up to $90,000, awarded to the Visalia Times-Delta over his paper. 

Follow-up questions

  • When will the mural be completed?
  • Will action be taken to address community members’ concerns about the S. Mooney Boulevard Dutch Bros Coffee site?

Visalia City Council Members 

Liz Wynn, District One

Vice Mayor Brett Taylor, District Two

Mayor Brian Poochigan, District Three

Emmanuel Hernandez Soto, District Four 

Steve Nelsen, District Five

The Scene

The Visalia City Council meeting took place on March 6. It started at 7 p.m. with all council members present. 

Actions/Discussions/Public comment

  • Public Comment
    • Laura Duarte, who lives on South Edwards Court, commented on the Dutch Bros Coffee near her home. Duarte said that she did not want to be at a meeting or talking about ordinance violations again, but asked the council to “fix the mistake” they made.
    • Stephen Tootle, a Visalia resident, spoke about the Dutch Bros site. He said he felt that during the mediation with the property owners, the owners seemed to feel that they don’t have to follow the rules. Tootle said that during the mediation, the owners told them, “We are a multi-billion corporation with more money than you have.” He said all he asks is that the property owners build what they told the planning commission they would build on that site. 
    • Reggie Ellis requested Item 7 be pulled from the consent calendar. 
    • Michael Kreps from the Arts Consortium invites people to take the free South Valley Arts Tour the consortium is hosting March 25-26. 
  • Consent Calendar
    • No other items were pulled from the consent calendar. Councilmember Nelsen made a motion to approve all other items, and Councilmember Taylor seconded it. The motion passed unanimously. 
  • Consent Calendar Item 7
    • Per the meeting’s agenda, this item was to “award RFB-21-22-34, a one-year contract for Publishing Legal Advertisements to the Visalia Times Delta in an amount not to exceed $90,000.”
    • Reggie Ellis, the publisher and CEO of The Sun-Gazette Newspaper, said that public funding is necessary to keep local journalism alive, so he is disappointed that the city is choosing to give the contract to the Visalia Times-Delta instead of his paper. Several years ago, Ellis made a “significant investment” to take the steps needed to be able to publish city legal advertisements in The Sun-Gazette, gaining adjudicated status. 
    • This year, he filled out the bid application to publish the city’s legal advertisements, but The Sun-Gazette was eliminated from the bid because they do not have the ability to publish their paper three times a week. 
    • When he asked why the city could not select both newspapers to publish legal advertisements, Ellis was told by city staff that the city could not advertise within two different newspapers because it may be confusing to city residents and newspaper readers. Ellis said that he hopes in the future city policies better support local businesses. 
    • Elizabeth Forrester from the city’s finance department said that they worked closely with other departments to come up with a  bid that would work for the city and how often it needed advertisements published. The city charter requires the council to call for bids annually for this service, but this was the first attempt at that. 
    • Forrester said that when the city received both bids, Sun-Gazette didn’t meet the minimum specifications for publishing. The city has the opportunity to publish advertisements two to six times per week, and so to meet the needs of the city, they decided the minimum publishing requirement is three times per week. This was noted in the bid, she said.
    • She said that the Sun-Gazette was notified why they didn’t get the bid and also informed of what they could do to appeal the rejection before it went before the council, but the city received nothing from the Sun-Gazette. 
    • Forrester clarified that both the Visalia Times-Delta and Sun-Gazette bid the exact same amount of money, but as the Sun-Gazette did not meet the publishing minimum they were disqualified. 
    • Ellis said that while everything Forrester said was true, he doesn’t understand how he would be able to appeal a decision if there was nothing he could appeal on. He wants to know what the point of him investing the time to get The Sun-Gazette adjudicated status was, and said he feels that he wasted his time. 
    • Forrester said that if Sun-Gazette had the ability to publish three times a week, the city would have awarded the bid based on the lowest cost to reach each subscriber, and that was noted in the request for proposal (RFP).
    • Ellis said he still doesn’t understand why if there are two papers that have adjudicated status, one that is “offering a better deal per subscriber,” the city can’t have two papers publishing legal advertisements. 
    • Stephen Tootle wanted to know that when we’re talking about subscribers, how do we know which subscribers are being reached with an online subscription versus a weekly printing?
    • Gail Zurek, Visalia Chamber of Commerce CEO, was curious to see if it would be a possibility to support both papers.
    • Ken Richardson, the city attorney, was asked if it is possible to go around what the city charter said and give it to two bidders, instead of one bidder as is stated in the charter. 
    • One city staff member said they are concerned that since there are processes with certain timeline requirements that depend on when notices are published, it may change those processes if the city lets both newspapers publish the advertisements.
    • It was clarified that the criteria established in the bid are supported legally. 
    • Nelsen says that if this was noted in the RFP and bid package, then the concerns The Sun-Gazette has should have been addressed when they were submitting their bid. Now that the bid has already been completed, Nelsen said the city should be looking at the future to see if the bid can be changed the next time it is conducted. He also said that he thinks the city should be looking at posting public notices on social media more than in the newspapers.
    • Richardson noted that this bid will be an annual process now. 
    • Councilmember Wynn said the city should look at being able to consider counting digital publishing as part of the requirement.
    • Councilmember Soto seconded what Zurek said about considering splitting the contract between the two newspapers.
    • Poochigan said that this isn’t about how Sun-Gazette covers news because he thinks that the paper may be one of the best in the county at local news coverage. Since this will be an annual process now that there are two adjudicated papers, he said the city should reexamine the requirements next year. 
    • Nelsen motioned to give Visalia Times-Delta the contract and reexamine the bid requirements next year. Taylor seconded the motion, which passed unanimously. 

With nothing to report from the closed session, the meeting adjourned at 7:33 p.m. The next Visalia City Council meeting will be held on Monday, March 20 at 7 p.m. in the City Council Chambers.

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