April 25, 2023 — Fresno County Board of Supervisors
Documented by Rachel Youdelman
Here’s what you need to know
- The board voted to continue the local emergency status resulting from the February storms, in anticipation of flooding from melting snow in the Sierras.
- Public commenters spoke in support of the board’s lawsuit against the state regarding the new name of Yokuts Valley and against voting rights.
- The board overturned a Planning Commission denial of an application for a variance to allow creation of a two-acre parcel from a land parcel totaling 33 acres in an exclusively agricultural zone. Local real estate mogul Darius Assemi, whose connection to the land in question was obfuscated in accompanying documents, said he wanted to “farm” the land, but the area is slated for housing development.
Brian Pacheco, 1st District
Steve Brandau, 2nd District
Sal Quintero, 3rd District, chair
Buddy Mendes, 4th District
Nathan Magsig, 5th District, vice chair
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 April 25 at 9:30 a.m. All board members were present. Quintero opened the meeting promptly and welcomed attendees. Magsig introduced the color guard of the Sheriff’s Office and said he would give the invocation himself. “Heavenly Father,” Magsig said, “thank you for another beautiful day” with “bees and blossoms.” He hoped for lots of produce and asked for “blessings” for his colleagues and “for those who keep us safe.” He closed with “in Jesus’ name I pray.” The uniformed members of the color guard marched in with American and California state flags. After the pomp, Magsig led the flag salute. The room was full of attendees. Three members of the public were present to speak in support of the lawsuit brought by the board against the state regarding the new name of the town of Yokuts Valley, and one member of the public wanted the county to follow in Shasta County’s footsteps and roll back voting rights. The meeting lasted over two hours and was held at the Fresno County Hall of Records, 2281 Tulare St., Room 301, and was also live streamed. Agenda and meeting video may be found here. The next meetings are scheduled for May 9 and 23.
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To contact your supervisor about any issues, call or email with your opinion or question:
Pacheco District 1 District1@fresnocountyca.gov (559) 600-1000
Brandau District 2 District2@fresnocountyca.gov (559) 600-2000
Quintero District 3 District3@fresnocountyca.gov (559) 600-3000
Mendes District 4 District4@fresnocountyca.gov (559) 600-4000
Magsig District 5 District5@fresnocountyca.gov (559) 600-5000
Agenda Item 1 The board approved the day’s agenda 5-0.
Agenda Item 2 Excepting items 21, 24, and 25, which were pulled for discussion, items 16-44 on the consent agenda (items considered routine or administrative, grouped together and decided with a single vote) were approved unanimously.
Agenda Item 21 The board voted unanimously to continue the local emergency status resulting from the February storms. A short video, produced by the county’s Public Information Office (PIO), was shown. Nerland introduced the video, which featured, as he put it, “the one and only” Supervisor Mendes and explained why, though the rains have stopped, the emergency status will be maintained for the time being.
In the video Mende was introduced as a “local water expert,” is seen surveying rivers and other bodies of water and says that “this is a wreck in slow motion.” He referred to potential flooding as snow in the Sierras melts and overfills canals, dams and rivers. This year, the snowpack is over 300% the average. The video further explained that the Fresno County Office of Emergency Services (OES) is prepared with sandbags when needed. Residents could be asked to evacuate in the case of flooding, and they are advised to prepare. Residents are also advised to sign up for emergency alerts.
Mendes, smiling throughout most of today’s meeting, said that by being “proactive,” we could “engineer our way out” of the problems of potential flooding. “We never had a team this great,” he remarked, adding that the “hidden deal” is that the snow has not yet melted and “we don’t know how much the Sierras will keep.”
Magsig remarked that the narrator of the video, the PIO’s Joshua Dean, had a “perfect” and “soothing” voice. Magsig also noted that “infrastructure is still buried” and that the Public Works Department will be active as well. Quintero said that we were “in good hands” and that “we’ll make it through.” Nerland said that he was especially proud of the video and asked the head of the department, Sonja Dosti, if the video could be shown on the local PBS television station. Dosti said she will talk to PBS and Univision. Quintero asked if she could arrange to show the video at public libraries.
Agenda Item 24 The board voted 5-0 to authorize approval of the grant of $250,000 of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the Court Appointed Special
Advocates of Fresno and Madera Counties (CASA), which serves foster children in Fresno County. CASA executive director Wilma Hashimoto was present to talk about accomplishments and the ongoing need for funding and support. She cited one young woman named Jamie, now 21, who entered the foster care system at the age of 9 and is now a college student with a double major, who said at a recent event that “your beginning does not define your future.”
Hashimoto thanked the board for the ARPA funds, and Brandau remarked on Sunday that his pastor told a story about Jesus healing 10 lepers but that only one of them thanked him. Quintero said that he attended the “Voices of Hope” annual volunteer-appreciation event and was impressed with how many children stay in touch with their foster parents after they grow up.
Agenda Item 25 The board voted 5-0 to authorize approval of the grant of $1.032 million of ARPA funds for the replacement of dated water meters in the unincorporated community of Laton, a Community Service District (CSD). A woman identified as Carol Wall was present to represent the community. She was tearful and said that, following the presentation about foster children, she felt “guilty” accepting the funds. Mendes remarked that “me and Brian [Pacheco]” represent unincorporated communities and CSDs such as Laton, and this funding was “an example of our commitment” to them.
Agenda Item 3 A retirement plaque was presented to Maricruz Andrade, who worked for the Probation Department for 26 years. Chief Probation Officer Kirk Haynes was present to introduce her. Because her direct supervisor also retired in the same week, David Reese, a deputy probation officer, spoke about Andrade’s accomplishments in the juvenile and the domestic violence divisions. Andrade said that her colleagues were like “family” despite the “overcrowded and understaffed” juvenile facilities. When she was assigned to Sunnyside High School as campus officer, it was her dream job, and she said she was “devastated” when she was reassigned to an adult division. As a result, she retired early and found another job. Mendes said that she looked “too young” to retire, to which Andrade replied, “It’s my moisturizer.” Everyone posed for a group photo.
Agenda Item 4 The board proclaimed May “Older Americans Month.” Several staff members from the Department of Social Services (DSS) were present. Oralia Gomez, a deputy director of the DSS, noted that 12% of the county’s population is “older” and in their “final, golden years.” She described the variety of DSS services available to older county residents, including In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS). Another staff person said that the elderly as a group are a “quiet” population who do not advocate for themselves. Services offered by the Fresno Madera Area Agency on Aging (FMAAA) were described, among which was meal delivery, help with Medicare and access to other resources. Quintero quipped that living in Fresno County, many people are “bilingual, bicultural,” and eventually everyone is “bifocal.”
Agenda Item 5 The board unanimously proclaimed April 23-29 “National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.” The item was brought by Magsig, who said that he had an undergraduate degree in criminology and a certificate in victimology. He said that the focus is usually on perpetrators rather than victims and that there should be awareness of the trauma suffered by victims of crimes. Chief Probation Officer Kirk Haynes pointed to the work of the James Rowland Crime Victim Assistance Center, and had other staff members display a quilt made by family members of victims. Magsig said to Quintero that he wanted a “final word” on the item,” but Quintero appeared to forget and closed the item after the vote.
Agenda Item 6 The board unanimously approved May 14-20 “Peace Officer Memorial Week,” an item brought by Brandau and Mendes. Mendes said, his voice wavering, that the honor was for “officers who give it all” and “officers who serve.” Ed Mayo of the Sheriff’s Office, in uniform and a participant in the earlier color-guard procession, spoke about an annual ceremony, the Fresno County Peace Officers Memorial, which will take place on May 4 in Courthouse Park. The public is invited, he said.
Greg Little of the Fresno Sheriff’s Association was also present, as was another staff person who did not give his name but spoke about the historic number of officers killed in the line of duty. Brandau said that a total of 24,000 American police officers have been killed while on duty, 63 of whom were in Fresno County. Brandau said “the vast majority” of his four colleagues would attend the memorial on May 4. Magsig, however, said he had a prior engagement on May 4 at the New Covenant Community Church “leading the National Day of Prayer” recognition and would not be able to attend.
Agenda Item 7 The board received a presentation from Tyrone Williams, CEO of the Fresno Housing Authority, who has been on the job since late 2021. Williams reviewed accomplishments of the last year, discussed current housing needs, and discussed next steps.
Williams outlined the four main functions of his department: development of affordable housing, administration of public housing, distribution of “choice vouchers” (also known as “Section 8”) and “resident empowerment.”
Summarizing 2022 projects across the county, Williams noted that two funding awards were pending (for 122 units, 63 of them for seniors), construction was underway for 59 family units and construction was completed for 46 senior housing units. Partnerships with other county departments in 2022 yielded results: nearly 200 units with the Department of Behavioral Health and an undisclosed number of units with the Department of Social Services. Other projects are in pre-development (50 units), awarded (67 units) and under construction (89 units).
Neither Williams nor anyone else mentioned if these numbers met the total number of housing units required to be built per the county general plan’s housing element.
In 2022, a project in Huron (60 family units), began with the sale of land by the city of Huron for $1. Huron waived impact fees, and Fresno Housing partnered with Huron officials to design and build a city hall, which will be leased to the city for $1.
Williams called the housing crisis “colossal,” and said that rents in Fresno County rose more than 10% between 2020 and 2021. In 2021, the average rent was $1,200 per month. He showed a chart outlining hourly wages for a variety of local occupations and said that renters, including county employees, need to earn 1.6 times the minimum wage to afford that average monthly rent — the state minimum wage is $15 per hour, but a person needs to earn $23.50 per hour to afford a rental at that rate. Home health care aides, who often show up to board meetings asking for higher salaries, earn $14.38 per hour.
Williams said that there was an increase in the number of unhoused people looking for housing. There are about 2,000 “interim and permanent” housing units for people experiencing homelessness. In 2022, 793 people were provided shelter; 379 of these people had been living outside. More than 200 people then went to temporary housing, about 180 to permanent housing, and four to substance abuse treatment centers.
In April, May and June of this year, Williams said, Fresno Housing will meet with mayors of several towns in the county to discuss specific needs of the communities. Clovis, which just lost an appeal of a ruling which determined that the city failed to provide for development of affordable housing, per state law, was not on the schedule.
Discussion ensued, with supervisors commenting and asking questions. In response to a question from Magsig, Williams pointed out that all services of his agency are “cross-boundary” between city and county. “People [who are looking for housing] don’t look for jurisdictional boundaries, they look for opportunities,” he said, adding that housing development is across the county and that “everyone in need of affordable housing can be served.”
Mendes said, “I’ll give you a history lesson,” and pointed out that Kingsburg, which historically has had a Swedish-immigrant population, was resistant to building affordable housing until a project was built in Swedish style.
Brandau said that there were “real cool facts” in the presentation.
Pacheco asked Williams how long he’d been in his current job; the reply was 1½ years. Pacheco then remarked that all of the “affordable” housing built in Kerman and Firebaugh looked no different from “market rate” buildings. “I welcome you in District 1, the sooner the better,” he added.
Quintero thanked Williams for a tour of the Monarch apartments in Chinatown, which he called “great, tremendous, a rebirth of the area.”
Public comment was opened, and one person approached the lectern. Brandi Nuse-Villegas, a regular commenter on homelessness, said she was grateful for the supply of supportive housing and asked that homelessness prevention be made a priority. She also pointed out that elderly people on fixed incomes are priced out of housing.
Nerland said that “we’re in this together” and cited cross-departmental collaboration.
Agenda Item 8 The board voted 5-0 to overturn a Planning Commission denial of an application for a variance to allow creation of a two-acre parcel from a land parcel totaling 33 acres in an exclusively agricultural zone at 2768 N. Highland Ave, one half-mile south of the city of Clovis. The Planning Commission, with a 4-1 vote and three members absent, had voted to deny the application, and now the applicant was appealing the decision. A discussion followed a presentation made by Will Kettler of Public Works.
There are four technical findings that must be met to ensure approval of a variance. Magsig said he wanted to hear from the applicant before he determined if the conditions were met. Though his name did not appear on any documents related to this item, Darius Assemi, a local real estate developer, appeared as a representative of his company, Granville Homes, to comment in support of the applicant, identified as “Bret Giannetta” on documents associated with the agenda item. Giannetta is an engineer who works for Granville Homes, but “Granville Homes” appears nowhere on any of the applicant’s documents. Assemi said he disagreed with the denial and that 100 properties in the area had already secured similar variances. In response to a question from Magsig, Assemi said that he wanted to continue to farm the land for five years, “until the infrastructure arrives.” He pointed out that the property was within the Southeast Development Area (SEDA), the future development plan for the city of Fresno in southeast Fresno, and that the entire area is scheduled to be developed in the next few years. He insisted that he had no plans to build houses.
Another member of the public whose name sounded like “Corinne Parem” was present to speak against the applicant’s request. She lived and farmed in the neighborhood in question and wanted to preserve it as an agricultural zone. But if Assemi merely wanted to farm and not build houses as he claimed, why was it an issue?
Pacheco said that as a fourth-generation farmer, he sympathized with her concerns and would vote no, but told her that “you live where growth is coming.” He said that 20 years ago city leaders voted to develop this area, that a school was already being built there, and that other development would follow. He said that the commenter “deserved a response” and that “if you lived anywhere else, I’d support you.”
Quintero corroborated what Pacheco said, noting that he had been on the Fresno City Council at the time the decision was made and had voted in favor of it. “The plan is the plan,” he said, and “folks” started making the plans 20 years ago. Can’t satisfy everybody, he concluded.
Magsig pointed out that the land in question was in his district and that his office was available to “impacted” residents.
Agenda Item 9 Supervisor reports
Mendes said he would hold a town hall meeting on April 27 at 6 p.m. He said that Dave Merritt of the Kings River Conservation District (KRCD) would be there to talk about water. Mendes mentioned that the video shown earlier was filmed near “one of” his ranches.
Magsig said that he attended a California State Association of Counties (CSAC) meeting and mentioned a three-hour panel on homelessness. He then mentioned his concern with the state budget and the fight over the federal debt ceiling and how these issues affect “the market.” He also noted that the Clovis Rodeo was happening on the coming weekend and that a parade would take place on April 28. He said that the rodeo would feature an event called “extreme bulls” but offered no detail.
Pacheco had no comment.
Brandau made no remarks.
Quintero said that on the previous Saturday, he had attended Earth Day events and thanked participating county departments. “Steve White [public works director] even had a smile on his face,” he quipped. He then related an anecdote about an awards event at Fresno State when a speaker had a heart attack mid-speech and was saved by Dr. Danielle Campagne, also in attendance, and who recently made several appearances before the board to speak about the state of emergency following the closure of Madera County Hospital. “She should have worn a cape,” said Quintero.
CAO Nerland introduced Ed Hill, the county’s new COO, who was attending his first board meeting. Hill spoke briefly, reciting his accomplishments and work history.
Agenda Item 10 Board appointments. There were none.
Agenda Item 11 Public comments regarding items not on the agenda. First, Joshua Babcock, field representative for Rep. John Duarte the 13th congressional district, which covers parts of Fresno County, R-Turlock, that covers some of Fresno County, summarized Duarte’s pending legislation.
Next, four people were present to comment on the new name of the town of Yokuts Valley. They cited their long family histories in the area and noted that “fine Indian baskets” came from the region. They supported the lawsuit brought by the board against the state in opposition to the name change. One of them, Jocelyn Harper, a resident of Yokuts Valley, quoted Aristotle and said that the name change was a “violation of the Tenth Amendment.” She said that the state of California and the federal Department of the Interior “conspired to quash rights” and that the name change was “illegal.” Then she said that there was no room for “passion,” just “logic.”
The last public commenter, who identified herself as Patricia Hebert, said that she wanted Fresno County to follow in the footsteps of Shasta County by removing voting machines and reducing the voting period from one month to one day. She then switched subjects and remarked that she was “appalled” that children get “mutilated surgery [sic]” without parental knowledge. Returning abruptly to the subject of voting, she said she had spoken with “Mr. Kus” (James Kus, County Clerk and Registrar of Voters) and presented her suggestions to him. “I can’t be quiet anymore. I’m supporting the county to take charge over elections, and that is doing away with voting machines,” she said, despite the recent settlement between Dominion Voting Systems and Fox TV (Fresno County uses Dominion voting machines).
County Counsel Cederborg said that there would be nothing to report from the closed session, and the public portion of the meeting concluded about 11:45 a.m.
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