May 8, 2023 — Clovis City Council

Documented by Rachel Youdelman

 Here’s what you need to know

  • An agenda item regarding a liability claim made by an individual against the Clovis Police Department for excessive force resulting in bodily injury was grouped in the “consent agenda,” a set of items usually routine and decided on with a single vote. The claim was thus summarily denied without any discussion.
  • Council member Diane Pearce asked that an item be added to the next agenda to allow the council to make the decision on which flags to fly at Clovis City Hall rather than the city manager. No council members agreed with her, but she continued to make the point.
  • The council voted to postpone a decision about raising developer impact fees. Several real estate developers were present to represent their business interests. There was no mention of how the city’s responsibility to the state to account for affordable housing figured into current or future plans..
  • For the third week since the city lost its appeal, on the closed-session agenda was the affordable housing case, Desiree Martinez v. City of Clovis, et al. According to City Clerk Karey Cha, during the May 1 closed-session the council voted 5-0 to have legal counsel file a request for “depublication” with the California Supreme Court. “Depublication” means that the judgment can’t be cited as precedent, creating the perception that the decision has been censored.

Follow-up questions

  • Why were the individual allegations against the Police Department, not routine, included in the consent agenda?
  • Why were City Council members discussing private religious meetings? 

Council and Staff

Lynne Ashbeck, mayor

Vong Mouanoutoua, mayor pro tem

Drew Bessinger, council member

Matt Basgall, council member

Diane Pearce, council member

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 May 8, 2023, for the second meeting of the month. Opening the meeting on time at 6 p.m., Ashbeck welcomed everyone (“Nice to see you all”), and Pearce led the flag salute with a “ready, salute.” Clerk Cha called the roll; all were present. There were a number of in-person attendees and about six people attending remotely at the start of the meeting.

Several written comments were submitted regarding items not on the agenda, including the decision at the May 1 meeting not to allow backyard chickens. The written comments were not read aloud but will be included with the meeting minutes when they are published. Others made comments on other topics not on the agenda.

The meeting was a long one, lasting more than four hours. Much time was spent discussing potential increases in service fees at the senior center and in developer impact fees. As the meeting wound down after 10 p.m., Pearce persisted in discussing her suggestion to limit the number of flags flown at Clovis City Hall, and to make the decisions about flags the responsibility of council members rather than the city manager, even after all other members showed no interest.

There are several ways to participate in the council meetings: in person, you may comment on specific agenda matters as they are discussed, or on those not on an agenda at the scheduled time for public comment. Commenters are limited to five minutes each. Note that laws regarding public meetings preclude council members from making definitive responses about matters that are not on the agenda. You can also call in to a Webex when the meeting is in progress, or you can submit a written comment. Easy instructions are found here.

All council members are elected at large; none represent specific districts of Clovis. To contact any of them with questions or to comment about issues, phone 559-324-2060 (one phone for all) or email:

Lynne Ashbeck

Vong Mouanoutoua

Matt Basgall

Drew Bessinger

Diane Pearce

Members of the public may attend meetings at the Council Chamber, 1033 Fifth St., Clovis, CA 93612, or online via Webex. The next meeting is Monday, May 15 at 6 p.m. Videos of past meetings and agendas are available here.

Public Comments regarding items not on the agenda. A Webex participant, Zoie McColm, called in to comment, but her concern was about something on the agenda, increased developer impact fees. The fee quoted to her by Granville Homes was $57,000, and she said Granville told her that if she delayed her purchase, the fee could rise another $10,000. Mayor Ashbeck responded, saying, “I assume you are not calling because you think it’s a great idea.” There were some written comments received, described as a “stack” by Ashbeck, in support of the denial of the backyard chicken proposal but no other in-person or online comments about items not on the agenda.

Consent Agenda, Items 1-6 The council passed these items unanimously. “Consent agenda” items are grouped together and decided with one vote, because they are considered routine or administrative. However, item 4 raised questions because it concerned unwarranted use of force by the Clovis police. Per the agenda, “On April 4, 2023, a general liability claim was filed against the city of Clovis by Edgar Lawson, Jr. The claim was considered legally sufficient and timely. Mr. Lawson alleged that on Nov. 8, 2022, the Clovis Police Department detained him while he was sitting inside a restaurant and used excessive force that caused bodily injuries. Mr. Lawson seeks damages for reimbursement in the amount in excess of $25,000.” The claim has been filed as a ‘civil unlimited case.’” The agenda item states that “the city is not liable for this claim.” No comments were raised on this matter.

A second claim against the city (item 5), made by Christian Perez for workplace discrimination, was similarly rejected without any discussion or comment. The Clovis Police Department was implicated in this case as well. Per the agenda, “On April 24, 2023, a general liability claim was filed on behalf of Christian Perez against the city of Clovis. The claim was considered legally sufficient and timely. Mr. Perez alleged that on Feb. 17, 2023, the Clovis Police Department failed to accommodate his disability and wrongfully terminated his employment.”

Agenda Item 7 The council unanimously approved the 2023-2024 Annual Action Plan for expenditure of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. Claudia Cazarez, a management analyst for the city, made a presentation. She noted that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires that the city adopt the annual action plan, which identifies projects for the spending of CDBG funds.

For the coming year, the city will have about $720,000 for projects such as alley improvements; housing rehabilitation for seniors, disabled, or low-income residents; code enforcement, and the like. Cazarez reviewed recent projects, including some freshly paved alleys and safety enhancements for senior residents of mobile homes.

Cazarez said that the total budget is a combination of about $650,000 in HUD allocations and nearly $70,000 in savings from past projects. The total represents a reduction in almost 7% compared to the last budget. Assistant City Manager Andy Haussler pointed out, in answer to a question from Basgall, that as more cities receive funds, the “slice of the pie” gets smaller; in other words, the amount of the Clovis allocation per se has not been reduced. Cazarez added that HUD also runs its own programs, such as those for first-time homebuyers, which also accounts for some of the spending.

Discussion followed Cazarez’s presentation. Bessinger spoke about his time as a police officer on patrol when he noticed that dirt alleys led to unauthorized trash dumping, graffiti and residents’ fears of gang activity. Paved alleys were good for neighborhoods, he remarked. Mouanoutoua asked what specific plans there were for the money in the coming year’s budget; Cazarez reminded him that last year the council had approved a project related to affordable housing. She mentioned that “Clovis is not prioritized” by Sacramento for tax deductions for such projects, since it is a relatively wealthy community. Mouanoutoua said he was confused: was it big projects or smaller ones such as alleys and the like? Cazarez replied that all types of infrastructure was included in the plan.

Pearce wanted to know if private individuals or entities could make donations to public projects. Cazarez said that such contributions would “trigger a myriad of federal regulations,” but that nothing prevented it.

Ashbeck expressed hope that a “health element” would be included in the general plan, noting that some of the housing rehab work Cazarez’s department had completed involved replacing moldy windows — mold is a health hazard, and a simple window replacement will prevent more costly and serious eventualities such as emergency room visits. She praised the work the city does to promote community health, noting that “the difference we make is big.”

A member of the public named Paul Williams spoke. He said that reviewing the information he received about the program from Cazarez was “like studying for a final exam.” He was pleased with the proposals for the block grants and commended her. Regarding funds spent to help homeless people, he said that “we’re doing this right.” Williams remarked that some years ago, he was “headed to Texas” and put his Clovis house up for sale. Then he realized that he didn’t want to give up the Clovis walking trails and decided to stay, which drew a hearty, appreciative laugh from Ashbeck, who said that Williams was “one of the most heartwarming individuals to ever come before this council.”

Agenda Item 8 The council voted 4-1 to update the community services fee policy, with Ashbeck the sole “no” vote. Amy Hance, city general services manager, gave a detailed presentation about fees for senior center classes. She noted that for some classes, costs (e.g., for painting class materials) are not recovered, so the proposal was for modest increases to offset some costs, to be decided upon after the new senior center opens, which will be within the next month or so. She emphasized that there would be no changes in fees charged to participants until six months after the new center opens and that increases would be instituted only if needed. The new center will be bigger, can accommodate more people, and will collect a bigger total in fees paid, so increases may not be needed at all. But Hance wanted to “put the policy in place, pin it, then request (fee increases) as needed.”

Hance explained that a fund composed of donations is available for those who are not able to pay the fees, and she was emphatic that no one who wants to participate would be excluded because they were struggling financially.

A long discussion ensued with many remarks and questions from Mouanoutoua and some from Ashbeck and Basgall. Pearce again only wanted to know if private individuals or corporate entities could donate funds for the operation of the senior center. Hance said that they already have corporate relationships and that a guide and a formal agreement are available for anyone interested in becoming a donor.

Mouanoutoua asked if the proposed fee increase had been “run by” any participating seniors and noted the outcry a couple of years ago when a $1 increase had been suggested. Then he asked her to predict their reaction to this one. “I hesitate to predict,” said Hance, noting that participants love and value the center.

Bessinger suggested that a fee be collected from nonresidents of Clovis who use the center.

Ashbeck agreed that it would be helpful to share the proposed increases with senior-citizen participants before putting any policy in place and noted that the senior center represented a “huge mental health investment” in “our seniors.”

Mouanoutoua then said, addressing Hance, that “at least one council member” (himself) wants to “take care of the seniors” who are “our building blocks.” He continued that “at least one council member” (again referring to himself) would vote on behalf of seniors, but no one was arguing this point. Indeed, his point was unclear. He added that “we can get some equity out of it,” but to what he was referring was not clear. Did he mean economic equity? If he meant social equity, Pearce made no objection, as she has in the past. Hance said that she just wanted to be able to recover some costs.

Despite his comments about being supportive, Mouanoutoua moved to continue the item to a date uncertain, so the input of seniors could be counted. He didn’t suggest a timeline or a means for collecting their opinions, however. Bessinger said that he didn’t want anyone “wagging their finger in his face” about fees raised without their knowledge. Basgall wanted the new facility to open before making any decision. Hance reiterated that she wanted to have a policy in place, move to the new center, wait six months, let participants know about possible fee increases, then bring the matter back to the council before implementing. Ashbeck was unconvinced.

Agenda Item 9 The council voted 5-0 to (a) increase the Planning Department’s plan check rate from $140 to $145 per hour, (b) approve a new Planning Division fee schedule and (c) update fees to reflect new laws regarding online availability of permission applications for installation of residential roof-top photovoltaic systems (also known as solar panels).

Brief presentations were made by staff engineer Sean Smith, the Planning Department’s George Gonzale and Doug Stawarski of the Building Department. Each of the three components of the item passed.

Agenda Item 10 The council voted 5-0 to continue to a date uncertain the question of raising developer impact fees (DIFs). A detailed presentation was made by Sean Smith, a supervising engineer. Smith noted that a large fee update had been approved in 2021 after many years (the previous one was in 2009), so smaller incremental increases, it was agreed, would be made annually.

DIFs are fees the city charges a developer for their project’s share of the cost of infrastructure which serves the particular project. By law, a nexus (a connection) between the fee, the project’s impact and the need for the facility is required. Some facilities and their fees are either citywide (e.g., sewer, water) or area-specific (those focused on a specific project), said Smith.

Smith reviewed 2022 DIF history. There was a 15% increase cap on sewer, water and street fees, for example, but limiting increases will have consequences in the form of lost revenue, and property owners will have to pay for sewer and water as increased taxes. Water fees have increased 60%, while sewer costs have increased just 3%, noted Smith.

Smith discussed means of financing alternatives to DIFs, such as creating a Mello-Roos tax district, which entails a special tax imposed upon property owners.

Next Smith talked about Assembly Bill 602, a California law in effect for about a year that requires that DIFs be determined by the square footage of a property rather than by other means. Clovis had used other means until now, but to continue using those other means, the new law requires (1) an explanation of why square footage is an inappropriate metric for calculating developer fees, (2) an explanation of why any alternative means of calculating developer fees is reasonable and logical, and (3) assurance that smaller projects are not charged disproportionate fees.

Smith and staff asked the council to approve the required AB 602 findings and to approve the DIF update as presented for fiscal year 2023-2024.

A long discussion followed. Mouanoutoua asked if the DIF figure quoted earlier by public commenter Zoie McColm ($57,000) was “accurate.” Smith said that it sounded like the right range, but City Manager Holt said that they could not verify the numbers. Mike Harrison, soon-to-retire city engineer, said that if fees are held back, costs may not be recovered.

In reply to some questions, Smith indicated that DIFs could ultimately be passed on to property owners in the form of higher real estate taxes, which explains McColm’s predicament.

Haussler explained alternative financing mechanisms: state law permits developers to spread their costs over time but that the need for funding infrastructure doesn’t change. Borrowing by the developer, via Mello-Roos, for example, only results in higher property tax payments for homeowners, he said. Why was the former Clovis mayor, the late Harry Armstrong, opposed to Mello-Roos, asked Ashbeck? Haussler replied that it was because it could cost homeowners a lot of money.

Mouanoutoua and Ashbeck asked most of the questions. Basgall and Bessinger were relatively quiet. Mouanoutoua, not understanding that the alternative to AB 602 was legal and permissible, asked several questions about crafting a “defensible” position for not calculating DIFs based on square footage. “Did we look, and go, ‘oh we are doing better?’ ” he said, asking if comparisons in methods had been made. Smith said that “we didn’t see a good connection” to look at that, meaning he felt there was no reason to compare. Basgall also seemed to misunderstand the requirements of AB 602 and asked “how do we avoid (it)?” City Attorney Cross repeated that they were in compliance.

Cross suggested that over a year’s time, the total square footage of all housing built and fees calculated based on the square footage could be estimated to compare with the results achieved by the current methods. Smith said that they could certainly try, and noted that the intent of the law was to benefit smaller units. Ashbeck agreed that a case study would be helpful, even though “their logic” doesn’t hold up, presumably referring to authors of AB 602 but offering no details.

Pearce said that she hoped she could articulate her thoughts. Was state law telling them what to do again? Was state law responsible for the 60% increase in water fees? Smith said no, that the laws have been in place for a long time but that the cost of water treatment and building water systems has gone up ”for whatever reason.” Nevertheless, Pearce said that she couldn’t “wrap her brain around” the information in general, maybe because she was a “rookie,” but she thought that before voting on anything, a workshop in which she could learn more would be “incredibly helpful” because the conversation was “incredibly significant.”

Ashbeck then remarked that learning is important but that “this is a moment for the city” which will need to be able to manage development not just now but in 25 years. These matters are “big policy questions,” she said, and in the long term we can’t fund the city’s growth with developer fees. We need to “re-imagine” a solution, she said, and said that a “moment of reckoning” was here.

Holt asked her if development should pay for itself, to which she replied, “100%,” and that “you don’t have to drive very far to see what we could become,” presumably meaning Fresno, often the subject of cynical remarks and portrayed as the “dark side” among council members.

Holt mentioned a letter received from the Building Industry Association (BIA) which presented some demands or requests and seemed to suggest that it should be taken into account when voting on the item.

Public comment was opened on the matter, and several local prominent real estate developers, or members of “the development community,” attended to make the case for not raising fees. Aside from McColm, a resident who wanted to purchase a house, no one represented potential residents, not to speak of the affordable housing sector. Sayre Miller was a possible exception as well, as she is a landowner and was present to complain about who pays or doesn’t pay for water. Her family pays, she says, effectively subsidizing water for the Heritage Grove development.

Other commenters were Mike Prandini of the BIA, who said that “we need to go back and look at how we finance this stuff,” and noted that “there are no entry-level homes being built in Clovis” now. Arakel Arisian, a local architect and developer, said that the BIA proposals (not discussed in detail by Holt, who brought it up), were “consistent with the clients he represents.”

Darius Assemi, one of the most influential real estate developers in the area, was present to thank “Sean and Mike” for “spending time with him” about the subject. He suggested inviting experts to workshops and said that Proposition 13, the 1978 law limiting property tax, took revenue away. He repeated what Ashbeck said, that the city was at a crossroads and needed different ways to “deploy financing.” What would be “equitable”? In terms of “equity,” he said, before AB 602, a 700-square-foot apartment would entail the same fees as a 3,000-square-foot house, “so AB 602 is good.” Assemi concluded by saying, “Let’s find a smart person and give a workshop.”

Drew Phelps from Granville Homes, of which Assemi is CEO, was present to agree that Clovis was at a “transition point,” that it was between a small and a big city, and he wanted to continue to “explore options.”

The idea of hiring a “smart person” to conduct a workshop seemed to have taken hold, and Bessinger asked Holt if “we were required to hire a consultant.” Bessinger said that “the development community” should pay for a consultant. Ashbeck addressed a question to Assemi, who said we don’t need to hire a consultant for a six-month term, just a one-evening workshop would do it.

Holt remarked that staff recommended the council approve the two components of the agenda item, otherwise, six to eight months would be needed to come up with an alternative plan.

Pearce repeated much of what had just been discussed, then said she felt “woefully behind in trying to understand” the issues. Everyone else agreed to continue the matter to a date uncertain.

Agenda Item 11 The council voted 4-1 to confirm assessment costs for nine property owners who have not responded to the city’s requests to clear trash, remove old cars, cut weeds, etc., from their property, resulting in multiple code enforcement citations. Mouanoutoua was the “no” vote. Haussler made the presentation. Two people were present to respond to the item. One said that he now had power of attorney regarding the property in question, and elder abuse had been a factor in the neglect of the property. His fines were waived. Another property owner was present to defend herself, but she wavered in her assurances that she would address the violations she had been cited for, so the assessment stood.

City Manager Comments Holt had none.

Council Comments

Pearce said that she attended a “National Day of Prayer” meeting. It was not city-related business, though she said that the council members were “prayed over.” She added that she attended an event held by the local Smittcamp family. Next she mentioned that Clovis had an administrative policy about flags that allows for just three flags to be flown on the Clovis City Hall property (the U.S. flag, the California state flag, and the Clovis city flag). Pearce then read a prepared speech about changing the policy so that decisions regarding which flags may be flown would be a decision by “elected” officials, meaning the city council. (The city manager now makes those decisions.) Pearce wanted the matter added to the next agenda. She was following Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau’s similar proposal which he planned to introduce at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting on May 9. Brandau, an ally of Pearce, and others have made flags an issue after local conservatives opposed a rainbow “pride” flag flown at Fresno City Hall.

A discussion ensued before council comments could resume. Bessinger said that he wanted to keep the management of flags with the city manager, because he didn’t want “25 people showing up and telling us why they disagree.” Such a new rule would “invite contention,” and he “didn’t see a need for a public row over it.”

Ashbeck said she agreed with Bessinger, that politics should be kept out if it; the policy was fine as is, no public discussion needed.

Pearce argued, saying she didn’t understand “why we don’t want the policy changed at the level of elected” [sic]. She said that “our community is supportive,” though she offered no evidence of anyone’s support, even as her own fellow council members clearly voiced their objections. Basgall said he didn’t see a need to change. Pearce continued to repeat her argument. Ashbeck said, “Three people are not interested in putting it on the agenda — Vong?” (addressing Mouanoutoua). He said he liked it at the administrative level. Pearce simply continued to argue and repeat the case she was making. She was “disappointed” in the council, and she said “the community is disappointed, too,” though it was unclear how she knew that. Ashbeck said, “No one will be disappointed.” Pearce continued to make her argument, that, regarding flags, elected representatives should be accountable, to which Ashbeck said, “But not today.”

Bessinger’s report on his committee work was unintelligible; his mic appeared to be off.

Mouanoutoua said that he had attended the “prayer day” event mentioned earlier by Pearce. “They prayed for all of us,” he said. He also said that he toured the new senior center with members of Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s, R-Bakersfield, staff. Mouanoutoua also attended a speech night at Clovis Community College and a commencement at Fresno Pacific University, at which Ashbeck gave the commencement address, he said.

Ashbeck will meet with Fresno Mayor Dyer next week, she said. She also attended the Smittcamp family event mentioned by Pearce. Ashbeck mentioned the sudden death of H. Spees, a former Fresno pastor and homeless activist.

At 10:15 p.m., the council adjourned to closed session. On the closed-session agenda for the third week since the city lost its appeal, was its affordable housing case, Desiree Martinez v. City of Clovis, et al. (case number F082914). At the May 1 meeting when the item was on the closed-session agenda, the council voted 5-0 for legal counsel to file a request for “depublication” with the California Supreme Court. “Depublication” means that the judgment can’t be cited as precedent, creating the perception that the decision has been censored.

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