March 14, 2023 — Fresno County Board of Supervisors

Documented by Rachel Youdelman

Here’s what you need to know:

  • In closed session, the board voted 3-2 to hire an outside attorney to sue the state of California over AB2022, which removed the word “squaw” from place names. Supervisors Quintero & Pacheco were the “no” votes.
  • Supervisor Mendes, in an emotional outburst, screamed that SB1383 (the state law mandating reduction of organic waste in landfills) was “bull—,” “horse—,” and that the staff’s presentation was “like being in a god— re-education camp.”
  • The board approved consideration of the use of land-secured bond financing, under the Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act of 1982, to fund construction of residential projects in an unincorporated area. The item was on the agenda at the request of Jeff Roberts of the Assemi Real Estate development company.

The Scene

The Fresno County Board of Supervisors held its first meeting of the month on March 14 at 9:30 a.m. All board members were present. Quintero opened the meeting promptly, and Magsig introduced Jon Jo, “Disciple-Making Minister” of the First Presbyterian Church of Fresno, who gave an invocation. Magsig described Jo’s background in detail and said he had a “passion for Christ.” At the lectern, Jo demanded that everyone “bow your heads with me in prayer.” Addressing “Father,” Jo said, “We pray your will be done in the county of Fresno as it is in heaven.” Of the supervisors, he said, “May they lead with the fear of god; father, fill them with the holy spirit.” He went on: “We pray for spiritual renewal . . . Remain standing as we honor the flag.” 

The room was full of people in purple SEIU2015 (long-term, in-home supportive services (IHSS) workers’ union) T-shirts who spoke during the public comment section of the meeting. After three hours, the board adjourned to closed session, returning an hour later for an announcement. The meeting was marked by Mendes’ profanity-laced outburst over organic waste disposal. 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. The next meeting is scheduled for March 28.

Agenda Item 1 The board approved the day’s agenda 5-0.

Agenda Item 2 Consent agenda (items 19-35). These are items which are routine or administrative, grouped together and decided with a single vote. With the exception of item #31, all were approved unanimously. Seidel said that item 31 would be removed and rescheduled; concerned salary adjustments for some SEIU workers, but not the IHSS workers who filled the room.

Agenda Item 3 A retirement plaque was presented to David Rodriguez, who worked for Internal Services for 19 years. Rodriguez started as a janitor and worked his way up to facilities engineer. “I enjoyed my time at the county,” he said; he and co-workers had “lots of laughs, razzin’ each other.” He added, “We also pitched in and helped each other.” Supervisor Brandau thanked him for the 19 years. Quintero asked what he would do in retirement. “Bought a boat, going fishing as soon as I can,” was the reply.

Agenda Item 4 Aracelia “Sally” Marquez was not present to receive her retirement plaque for 29 years with the Department of Social Services. Seidel said she was “under the weather” and that the plaque would be mailed to her.

Agenda Item 5 The board proclaimed March 2023 “American Red Cross Month.” Magsig introduced Jordan Scott, a Red Cross representative who spoke about the work done by volunteers, who “put their lives on pause” to “attend to the needs of others.” Brandau said he attended an awards ceremony with Scott on Friday, but because of the “atmospheric river event” many of the people receiving awards were absent because they were out “serving communities.” Mendes and Quintero remarked on how busy the volunteers were.

Agenda Item 6 The board voted unanimously to adopt changes to the Fresno County state legislative platform. Samantha Buck, Deputy CAO, introduced Paul Yoder and Michael Corbett, the county’s legislative advocates on the state level. They described the major legislative issues and the changes the board had requested.

Major issues include:

  • Supporting increased state reimbursement to health care providers
  • Holding criminals accountable with pre-Proposition 57 methods (Proposition 57 allows parole consideration for nonviolent felons and sentence credits based on behavior, etc.)
  • Combatting the fentanyl epidemic
  • Compensating the county for state elections
  • Supporting health and safety code legislative changes to authorize and fund state- or county-operated foster-youth shelters
  • Supporting efforts to supply water for agricultural use
  • Supporting state investment in local infrastructure, including ensuring consistent internet speed in rural areas

Quintero asked his colleagues if they had comments. Quintero asked Corbett if there was a provision for broadband, which he and Yoder had just mentioned. “Yes,” said Corbett, “(We want to) make it equitable in rural areas.”

Yoder and Corbett summarized “what’s going on in Sacramento.” They discussed the state budget deficit. They said that Gov. Newsom made a budget projection on March 2 but that specific counties may delay income tax reporting until Oct. 16. Corbett then said that “the state is effectively waiting till Oct. 16 to see if their revenue projections are correct.”

The legislative advocates said that on March 10, the governor moved to speed up the process of recharging groundwater, which was good for the Central Valley.

Other subjects discussed were homelessness (there are four bills currently in the Legislature to “impose accountability” for homelessness on counties), CARE Court (cohort 1 does not include Fresno County), “alleged” oil company profiteering, pending new legislation (2,800 new bills being considered), budget (available June 15, but “won’t get real” until Aug.).

Brandau said he noticed a medical “boot” on Yoder’s foot and joked, “Your soccer days may be over.” Brandau asked about cohort 1 for the CARE Court and if, when Fresno County joins the program, would there be “equity” for counties who join subsequently to cohort 1, which received supplemental funding.

Yoder and Corbett said Fresno County would have the benefit of cohort 1’s experience to learn from. Brandau, pointing to his observation of people who have mental health issues but “don’t want the help,” asked how soon Fresno County could become a participant. Yoder and Corbett said by the end of next year. There was discussion about who can refer people to CARE Court: family members can do so. But changes to the act are proposed, via SB 43, for example, authored by state Sen. Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, and with whom Yoder and Corbett say they are working. Brandau remarked that “law enforcement” could “grab” people from the street but that now they don’t have that “support.” He added that he’d be “super-supportive” of families, rather than “government,” making decisions about committing family members.

Magsig wanted to know if, regarding IHSS workers, was Sacramento proposing to place “additional burdens” on counties. “County programs are going to suffer as costs grow,” said Yoder — there are discussions to return the issue to the state level. Pacheco asked who was proposing the change; Yoder said the state. Pacheco asked regarding “all the people in purple T-shirts,” IHSS workers whose salaries are partially paid by the county and who were in attendance waiting to speak about a salary increase, should all go to Sacramento. The reply was yes, though it was unclear if the decision was final or still under discussion.

Magsig said that the state is “reliant” on income taxes for its revenue and that Silicon Valley Bank, which recently failed, “paid a lot of state taxes.” Magsig said that “some folks” predict a 50 percent loss of income tax revenue to the state as a result, but he didn’t provide any additional details. 

Yoder said the state budget is “overwhelmingly dependent” on income tax collected from “the highest earners.” Then he talked about “an awareness that millionaires don’t have to live here,” something he said he sees “even with the Democratic majority.” He added that “people are studying” who is leaving California and he “assumes” that “people are working on” the related analysis of loss of tax revenue. He conceded that “by and large” the “folks” from Silicon Valley, Hollywood and biotech were “still here,” but “given how reliant we are on those people, why are [revenue] projections so low?” he asked.

Yoder then complained that there were no newly minted millionaires lately and he was waiting for “economists to say something.”

About recent storms and storm damage, Mendes remarked that regarding flooding, “they fail to admit the cause of the problem is their own Fish and Game Department.” Magsig wanted to know what the threshold was for declaring a state or federal emergency, because of the flood damage in his district. He wanted Yoder and Corbett to “push on OES (Office of Emergency Services).”

Mendes complained about what he called “predatory legislation” by the state Assembly; “all they do is end up cuttin’ local control,” he said.

A member of the public who wore the SEIU2015 T-shirt asked if the board would no longer be responsible for her union’s salary negotiations. Would the money come from the county or the state? “It might be a good thing for us,” she said, adding, “What does it mean for local control?”

Yoder clarified that it was the SEIU leadership that was proposing making the changes from county to state, and Quintero repeated the information for the SEIU members who were present. 

Brandau said he agreed about “local control,” which he said he “believed in.” He then mentioned some edits he wanted for the state legislative platform: He wanted to add wording about more funding for services for foster children. He also wanted to change wording under the subject of elections, which should read, “funding and tools to maintain and ‘clean up’ voter rolls, including removal of deceased people and people who have moved out of jurisdictions.”

Brandau falsely said that there was significant evidence of “deceased people voting.” Mendes said that “Sacramento is going to give us money so fake people can’t vote for them anymore.” Neither Brandau nor Mendes questioned their own election to office.

Agenda Item 7 The board voted 5-0 to consider approval of the use of land-secured bond financing, under the Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act of 1982 for residential projects in an unincorporated area. Greg Reinke and Brian Melikian of the CAO’s office explained the arcane act in detail. Pacheco said County Service Areas (CSAs) want the board to “solve their problems.” He said they should form their own Community Service Districts (CSDs) and “control their own destiny.” It was not the board’s problem, he said. “We talk about local control,” he said, so they shouldn’t default to the board.

Jeff Roberts of the Assemi Real Estate development group was present to make the case for approval of the item. He noted that this type of financing had not been looked at in 26 years and that he hoped to hear “please go forward,” at which time he will bring a proposal to the board. The reason for the request was CSA34, the Millerton Specific Plan; deficient infrastructure needs upgrading, and he wants reimbursement via the Mello-Roos Act.

Brandau asked Nerland to confirm that this was not about a particular project but was “a tool, right?” Nerland said, “Absolutely, yes,” and that the policy amendment would allow for future projects. Brandau asked what else, aside from CSA creation, could be added to further protect the county. Nerland said that disclosure risks are not covered. Melikian said that the SEC could hold individuals responsible if there is a default and that “precautions” would have to be prepared to minimize risks if they did decide to use Mello-Roos. Mendes asked if this decision was “a procedural deal,” and if today’s steps were approved, would it come back to the board for the next steps. Melikian said yes, most likely more than once.

Agenda Item 8 Staff gave a presentation to update the board on the implementation of SB1383, the Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction law, which requires separation of organic waste, such as food waste, so it won’t go to landfills. As staff prepared to show slides, Mendes remarked, “This is the garbage army?”

A Public Works staff person began showing slides and talking. After a few minutes, Mendes shouted angrily, “This is like being in a god— re-education camp!” He continued that if he were chairman, “I’d a told you to stop talking!” “They can shove it up their a—! That’s bull—! That’s horse—! This whole thing is bull—!”

Though the Public Works staff had shocked expressions on their faces, no one, including Quintero, admonished Mendes for his behavior. 

Quintero said with a smile, “We appreciate the comments,” but that staff was doing their best to comply with the law. Pacheco then said “We don’t mean to shoot the messenger.” Then he complained about the law, which passed in 2016 and has gone into effect incrementally. He could not find “a correlation between trash and food security.” He added, addressing staff who were interrupted by Mendes’ temper fit, “I don’t envy you.” He mentioned visiting a “massive landfill” and how impressed he was with its size, but he didn’t connect the need to stop adding organic waste to it, which is the purpose of the law and which was just “another regulation we’ll have to comply with.”

Others joined in the complaining about the law: Brandau said it was “fighting thousands of years of human nature.” One of the Public Works staff called the law “an unfunded mandate.” Mendes grinned and said, “Sorry about shootin’ the messenger.” Magsig asked if there were fines for not meeting goals of the law; yes there were, he was told.

Quintero then thanked everyone for what he called the “good banter” about the subject.

Agenda Item 9 The board approved by a 4-1 vote an allocation plan for funds received from HOME Investment Partnerships and American Rescue Plan (ARPA) for affordable housing, with Brandau the sole “no” vote. Jennifer Kish Kirkpatrick of Public Works gave an extremely brief presentation.

There was one comment from a member of the public. Ofelia Ochoa of Mendota spoke through a translator and said that housing was needed in Mendota, where rents are too high.

Agenda Item 10 The board, sitting as both the Board of Directors of Waterworks Districts 37, 38, 40, 41W, and 42, and as the county Board of Supervisors on behalf of County Service Areas (CSAs) 1, 5, 10, 10, 14, 23, 30, 32, 34; Zones A, C, D, F, & G, 34B, 39AB, 43W, 44C, 44D, 47 and 49 voted 5-0 to approve implementing water conservation stages for these areas and districts.

Seidel read the agenda item very fast, almost gasping. Mendes, now in a jocular mood, grinned and said, “You didn’t take a breath! Pretty good, Bernice!” Then he joked, “So we’re going to pass this in a flood? I love it!” As he seconded the motion to vote on the item, Mendes said, grinning and addressing the staff person making the presentation, “I’ll second the motion so you can sit down!”

Agenda Item 11 The board voted 5-0 to approve the real estate Assessor-Recorder’s “Restrictive Covenant Modification Implementation Plan” to redact now unlawfully restrictive covenants used to discriminate against certain groups and segregate neighborhoods. Staff members JoAnn Ebisuda and Georgina Luna made the presentation and described the work necessary to amend the millions of documents.

Pacheco said that he had “mixed feelings” about the matter, because “these atrocities” should be removed but they are “a part of our history.” He said that the law mandating the removal of the covenants was passed over a year ago and “we’re late to the party.” He said that a press release criticized the board for not addressing the matter until now. “We don’t need to raise fees to comply with the law,” Pacheco said. 

Magsig asked why it took so long to bring the matter before the board. Assessor staff said it took some time to put a plan together. Magsig asked, “Has the board slowed you down?” The answer was no. Magsig said that their press release made the board sound obstructionist.

The discussion centered around money the assessor’s office wanted the board to approve to fund the work of amending the documents. Magsig pointed out that there was $13 million in a modernization fund available — why not use that? He repeated that he “didn’t appreciate” the board being “pitted” against the assessor’s office, as per the press release.

Brandau said that some old documents have “horrifying” language; could the board OK removal of the language without a fee increase? Ebisuda said yes, but the fee would help pay for the labor. CAO Nerland said the item could be approved without approving a fee.

Mendes asked, “How the hell does this work?” Then he said, “I was born at night, but not last night.” He appeared to be angry again.

Counsel Cederborg said that it was acceptable to use the $13 million modernization fund to finance the work. Pacheco said that 10 of 15 counties are not charging fees, adding that he fully supports the removal of the covenants, but he doesn’t like fees and he didn’t like the press release.

Paul Dictos, assessor-recorder, was present to say that the modernization fund was for upgrading, not for operations. He didn’t want to add staff to do the extra work without funding. But the board approved the item without funding.

Agenda Item 12 Supervisor Reports and Comments

Brandau talked with the sheriff about closing down the San Joaquin River for recreational use, given the current heavy rains and flooding. Nerland interjected that both the San Joaquin and the Kings rivers will be closed for recreational use.

Magsig said that areas in his district were affected by the storms and that he has communicated with the offices of state Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield and speaker of the House, about possible state or federal assistance. He thanked Caltrans and other agencies for their help.

Mendes had no reports or news but noted that he wanted to say “publicly” that we are “looking at” 1982-83 snow levels.

Pacheco thanked the OES and said that flooding would be happening through July.

Quintero thanked EMS Director Dan Lynch for help with evacuating homeless people as rising canals flooded. 

Agenda Item 13 Board appointments. Brandau made one, Pacheco three, Magsig three, and Mendes one appointment to various local committees.

Agenda Item 14 Public comments regarding items not on the agenda. There were 11 people present to comment on various matters. Six people were SEIU members and asked the board to consider raising their salaries; three of them spoke via a Spanish-language translator, and two of them spoke via a Hmong translator.

One commenter said she was new to Fresno and that she had not been permitted to enter the Department of Social Services and that she was threatened with arrest. She didn’t say when. As she spoke it became apparent that she had refused to wear a mask inside the building, something she falsely called an “experimental device” and referred to as an “illegal mask mandate.” She said that the DSS director should resign.

Two commenters objected to the changing of the name of Kings Canyon Road to “Avenida Cesar Chavez.”

At 12:40 p.m., the board went into closed session. Cederborg said there would be an announcement from the closed session; an hour later, the board returned, and Cederborg said that the board voted 3-2 to initiate litigation against the state regarding AB2022, a law that removed the word “squaw” from place names in California. Magsig, Mendes, and Brandau voted “yes;” the 2 “no” votes were Quintero and Pacheco.

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The Fresno Documenters are a group of local residents who are trained and paid to attend and take notes at local public meetings where officials decide how to spend public money and make important decisions...