The Fresno County Supervisors overturned a Planning Commission decision for Darius Assemi and voted for Commissioner Austin Ewell to retain his seat despite already missing four of five meetings this year.

April 25, 2023 — Fresno County Board of Supervisors

Documented by Rachel Youdelman

What happened: The Fresno County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to overturn a Planning Commission denial of a variance application to allow the creation of a 2-acre parcel from a 33-acre parcel in an exclusively agricultural zone at 2768 N. Highland Ave., a 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 on Feb. 23 and now the applicant, Bret Giannetta of Granville Homes, was appealing the decision.

During the meeting, Darius Assemi of Granville Homes said that he wanted to continue farming the land for five years, “until the infrastructure arrives.” He pointed out that the property was within the Southeast Development Area (SEDA), the stalled future development plan for the city of Fresno, and that the entire area is scheduled to be developed in the next few years.

A nearby resident spoke against the request, saying that she wanted to preserve it as an agricultural zone. Supervisor Brian Pacheco told her that as a fourth-generation farmer he sympathized with her concerns but told her “you live where growth is coming.” He said that 20 years ago city leaders voted to develop the area, that a school was already being built there, and that other development would follow.

And also: With a single vote and no discussion, the board approved 25 items on its consent agenda, including a petition for waiver of absences for Fresno County Planning Commissioner Austin Ewell who has already missed four of five meetings this year.

Ewell is the president of the Ewell Group, a land development firm with real estate interests in Fresno and Madera counties consisting of 3,500 acres, according to its website. He formerly worked in the Trump administration as the deputy assistant secretary for water and science in the Department of Interior.

If the petition had not been approved, Ewell would have been deemed as having resigned upon missing his fifth meeting in 2023. He had already missed the Jan. 26, Feb. 23, March 23 and April 13 meetings this year.

His justifications for the waiver included being “out of town,” “out of country” and on a “trip to Washington, D.C. for portrait unveiling for the Honorable David L. Bernhardt” who served as the former interior secretary for the Trump administration.

According to the petition, Ewell was appointed to the Planning Commission on Jan. 26, 2021, for a four-year term ending Jan. 6, 2025.

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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...