May 15, 2023 — Clovis City Council
Documented by Rachel Youdelman
Here’s what you need to know
- Despite a 4-1 vote at the May 8 meeting to maintain the current policy regarding flag-raising on city property and not change it according to Council member Diane Pearce’s request, Pearce recorded a video and posted it to social media in which she asked her followers to show up at this meeting and comment in her favor. Ten people showed up. Mayor Lynne Ashbeck said that in 22 years, she had “never seen someone who doesn’t win a vote, then take it to the public,” and she and other council members expressed anger about her behavior.
- The council approved pre-zoning and annexation of a total of 500 acres of propert,. bound by Shepherd Avenue on the south, Willow Avenue on the west, the Enterprise Canal on the north and the Peach Avenue alignment on the east. The annexation will bring properties into the city to increase its inventory of housing sites, and it must be completed by the end of the calendar year. The source of water supply for a church on the site remains a problem to be resolved.
- The council received a summary review of the 2023-2024 annual budget of $330 million. The matter will be continued to the June 5 meeting to continue the approval process, which must be final by the end of the month.
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 ABSENT
Scott Cross, city attorney
Karey Cha, city clerk
The Clovis City Council met on May 15, 2023, for the third and last meeting of the month. Opening the meeting on time at 6 p.m., Ashbeck welcomed attendees and said she was “glad you are here.” Basgall led the flag salute, during which there was no audio for virtual attendees. Cha called the roll; all council members and staff were present, with the exception of Haussler. Though Webex cameras did not cover the audience, the room appeared to be full of in-person attendees; six people attended remotely. A number of those attending were members of the public who commented on a variety of matters, both on the agenda and otherwise. The meeting lasted four hours.
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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 June 5 at 6 p.m. Videos of past meetings and agendas are available here.
Agenda Item 1 The council recognized May 21-27 as “National Public Works Week.” Her voice hoarse, Ashbeck described herself as “Advil meets Tylenol” and asked Bessinger to read the proclamation, after which Public Utilities Director Scott Redelfs showed a video of vignettes of his staff at work, maintaining “the Clovis way of life,” per Redelfs. Several staff members were present, and all posed for a photo. Ashbeck expressed gratitude for their work. Council member Mouanoutoua thanked them for preventing flooding during recent storms by ensuring early that storm drains were cleared. Bessinger told a story he has repeated at many council meetings about witnessing a street sweeper who backed up his truck to clean a spot he had missed.
Public Comments This agenda item is for members of the public who want to speak about something not on the day’s agenda. Addressing the audience and evidently anticipating many speakers on the same subject, Ashbeck asked how many were present to speak about display of flags on city property — she counted 12 hands. She reminded all that each speaker is limited to 5 minutes, and each subject has a time limit, but that she would allow a total of 30 minutes on the subject of flags. She noted that there were people in attendance who needed to speak about matters on the agenda, who effectively had “reservations.” Was everyone comfortable with that, she asked, and suggested that the first person to speak should be the one whose subject was other than flags.
Mike Cunningham, who recently completed service on the Planning Commission, described all his public service and professional work, then complained that every council meeting has a “cause du jour” and that meetings are “hijacked” by “nonagendized” people. That “irks me,” he said. He said, referring to the city manager’s responsibilities, including managing the rules about flying flags, that “the city manager should be trusted.” He then complained about the possibility of the City Council being elected per districts rather than at large, as they are now, and he was “not a believer” in district-based elections because it would make Clovis like “the city to the west,” meaning Fresno, which is regularly framed at council meetings as a menacingly unacceptable shadow version of Clovis. And that “galls me,” concluded Cunningham.
There was applause following Cunningham, and Ashbeck admonished everyone not to clap; “This is not a theater,” she said.
Eleven people then spoke in support of Pearce’s suggestion of the May 8 meeting when she asked that an item be added to the next agenda that would make the decision about what flags to fly at city hall the responsibility of council members rather than the city manager, as it currently is. No council members had agreed with her, but she argued about it persistently. She had followed the lead of Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau, who brought the same issue to the Board of Supervisors at their most recent meeting. Brandau, Pearce and others have made flags an issue after local conservatives opposed a rainbow “pride” flag flown at Fresno City Hall.
Most speakers asked the council to put the matter on the agenda so the council could vote on it, despite the fact that they had already voted not to do so at the previous week’s meeting. Apparently they came as a result of Pearce’s request on social media, in which she didn’t mention the vote having taken place. Among the speakers in support of Pearce’s proposal was Eric Rollins, a local business owner and a member of a group called Constitutionalists for California, among whose beliefs is “the restoration of the Republican Party of California to the great foundation of conservatism it is intended to be” [sic], election denial following the loss of former President Trump, and the promotion of anti-vaccine information.
Rollins hosts this organization’s radio program. He said that City Manager John Holt was “a very fine man” but that he and the council were “not showing leadership.” Another speaker, Don Watnick, a board member of Clovis Veterans Memorial District and Centerstage Clovis, said that 650,000 people had “given their lives in defense of old glory,” even though the issue of flying the American flag was not in question. Next Brent Burdine of Clovis said that flying flags other than the current three (the U.S. flag, the California flag and the Clovis city flag) was a “political” statement, so the council should “avoid headaches” and “adopt the ordinance,” though there was no ordinance to adopt. Ashbeck responded that the question of which flags to fly was not a matter for discussion, since the current rule accounts for just the three flags and no others.
Deena Combs-Flores, a member of the Clovis Unified School Board, who when campaigning called herself “one of probably the largest patriots” [sic] and said that “parents need to teach our kids the importance of this great country and the importance of being a patriot and pledging allegiance to our flag.” She wanted the council to vote on the matter.
Hannah Cunnings cited the recent Boston MA lawsuit regarding raising a private group’s flag outside the city hall; the city lost in court, was ordered to pay $2 million in lawyers’ fees, and subsequently re-wrote its flag ordinance. She didn’t want Clovis to experience such “embarrassment and expense.” She concluded, “Don’t make this complicated.”
A man identifying himself as “Father Ricardo” said, pointing to the U.S. flag across the room, that he wanted to see “this flag,” not a pride flag. He added that “gays and lesbians” have served in the military under “this flag.”
Pearce, who had posted a video on her Facebook page in which she, standing in front of a Clovis city banner, criticized her fellow council members, raising doubts about her colleagues’ motives and referring to Holt as a powerful “unelected” individual. In the video, she asked her followers to show up at this meeting and comment in her favor. She posted information about submitting written comments and encouraged supporters to send those as well. Her Facebook post says, “FACT: THERE IS NO COUNCIL-APPROVED FLAG POLICY IN THE CITY OF CLOVIS!” [sic]. There is in fact a definitive flag policy which is administered by the city manager, and none of Pearce’s fellow council members disagree with the policy, nor does Pearce.
Mouanoutoua remarked that Pearce should have requested that the item be placed on the agenda in the first place rather than introduce it in the “Council Comments” section of the meeting, when council members briefly discuss their committee assignments and the like. He added then that “we don’t support the flag” was a misrepresentation.
Bessinger said firmly that the city manager is in charge of the city on a daily basis and that some city sites have one flagpole; others have two. The policy for raising flags is very clear, that only the three flags are permitted in any circumstance. He was unequivocal about seeing no reason for agendizing the matter.
Basgall spoke with a heated tone, saying it was “ludicrous” that he was getting phone calls from upset constituents because, aside from Pearce, council members were being portrayed “as though none of us support the flag.” It made him “emotional and angry,” he said, “as though the American flag wasn’t important to me,” citing his 30 years of service on the police force and his record of public service. The way “it all went down” wasn’t the right way, and he didn’t support putting the matter on the agenda for a vote because “we already have a policy we all agree on.” The city manager, he continued, works for the council, and “we can change” something he does which the council doesn’t like.
Ashbeck said the issue had blown up in a way that was not warranted, and to the commenter who said “don’t make this complicated” said that just the opposite was happening. “We didn’t need to do all of this,” she said. Ashbeck said she was “incredibly angry” when there was already a 4-1 consensus to let the current policy stand, and “the next thing you know, it’s a social media post” with a “video in front of our city logo” (referring to Pearce’s Facebook video), and “then it’s a flier at the farmer’s market.”
In 22 years of service on the council, Ashbeck said, again referring to Pearce’s behavior, she had “never seen someone who doesn’t win a vote then take it to the public.” Ashbeck pointed out that though she was the sole “no” vote on the new rate structure for the new senior center, she “didn’t bring 50 people over 50 to talk about that.” Alluding to Pearce’s oft-repeated statements that she is trying to live up to her campaign promises, Ashbeck said that “this was not about a campaign promise” or an individual council member, the council’s job was to work together for the best of the community. Ashbeck said that we already “have the policy” to shouts of “No!” from the audience. “I get to talk now,” she said. “We have created conflict that didn’t need to happen.” She didn’t think that the policy would be “stronger” if it were changed per Pearce’s idea, adding that “we don’t have to agree on everything.”
The council’s process “has a way to work, and this is not the way,” she said. She began to say that it (while referring to Pearce’s interference with the council process, neither she nor any other council member addressed her directly) made “all of us incredibly angry,” then said she’d just speak for herself: both her parents, she noted, are buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and she had the flags from their caskets —“I get the flag thing!” she said emphatically. She was deeply offended when people called her and said “how do you not support the flag?” She concluded, despite the “conflict that did not need to occur,” that “we will figure out a way forward.”
Pearce said that she didn’t “make a campaign pledge” but had “campaigned” on the flag issue, then she repeated the same arguments she already made. And despite her colleagues’ ringing criticisms, in a follow-up message on her Facebook page the morning of May 16, Pearce wrote, addressing her followers whom she persuaded to support her desire to change the administrative management of the flag policy, “Now we wait and see if my colleagues will act upon your requests.” She still did not appear to understand that the matter had already been voted upon.
Agenda Items 2-11, Consent Agenda The council passed these items 5-0. The “consent agenda” is a group of items considered routine and not warranting examination, unless they are pulled for discussion by a council member or a member of the public.
Agenda Item 12 The council voted 5-0 to approve the annual levy of Landscape Maintenance District No. 1 for fiscal year 2023-2024. The purpose of the landscape districts is to fund operation and maintenance of landscaped areas and parks, including mowing, edging, fertilizing, weed control, irrigation systems, pruning, plant replacement, lighting and a depreciation fund for replacement of picnic and playground equipment. Assessments are collected with property taxes. Residents of a particular zone (there are over 40) vote on increases but because the increase in question was already voter approved, there were no ballots to be counted at this meeting.
The first part of the agenda item was a “public hearing,” required by ordinance and which must be “noticed,” or published, so the public knows that it is scheduled. There was some discussion about how the matter was publicized; it was simply a fine-print ad in the Fresno Business Journal (the legal minimum, per attorney Scott Cross). Suggestions were made to publish such matters on the city web page, on social media and the like.
Eric Aller, the city’s parks manager, and colleague Paul Armendariz gave a brief presentation. Mouanoutoua asked about what happens when funds are insufficient, and Bessinger, who had received an email from a resident of a different zone, asked what was being done about tree mortality. Aller noted that residents of that zone had voted “no” twice to raise assessments, so there was no money to remove dead trees.
A public commenter, Marlo Jenkins, asked about the landscaping at Herndon and Armstrong, which she said was “terrible,” full of trash and not maintained well. Aller said that was in a different zone which has poor funding. Ashbeck asked when that zone would be scheduled for a rate increase. In a year, answered Aller. The trash removal should be addressed now, Ashbeck said.
Another member of the public, Brent Burdine, said that the public notice of the present hearing was insufficient. Showing up at a meeting just before the council’s vote was like “seeing what you get in a box of Cracker Jacks.” Bessinger and others agreed they needed to do better at “getting the word out.”
Agenda Item 13 The council voted unanimously to prezone (prezoning establishes land use regulations) and annex a total of 500 acres of property. At the March 6 meeting, the council initiated the prezoning and authorized the annexation application for the land, which is bound by Shepherd Avenue on the south, Willow Avenue on the west, the Enterprise Canal on the north, and the Peach Avenue alignment on the east. The project comprises 26 properties and includes the 40 acres on which Clovis Hills Church is located.
The purpose of the annexation is to bring properties into the city to bolster its inventory of housing sites, and it must be completed by the end of the calendar year.
Dave Merchen, the city planner, gave a presentation, which was followed by a very long discussion. Redelfs also contributed to the presentation.
Merchen explained the annexation process: the county and the Fresno Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) give their approval; voters in the affected area give their approval; if over 50% of the voters protest, annexation is canceled; if more than 25% of registered voters, or 25% of owners owning more than 25% of the total land value protest, an election is called; if neither protest occurs, annexation is approved and proceeds.
At a Feb. 28 public meeting, no property owners objected to the prezoning. On April 20, the Planning Commission voted 4-0 (one absence) in favor of the annexation.
A wrinkle, said Merchen, was that the Clovis Hills Church requested to be included in the annexation, which per the council’s decision of March 6, was conditional upon an agreement for supply of water from the Garfield Water District, but the church has not been successful in securing an agreement from Garfield to supply the water.
Clovis Hills, Merchen pointed out, would incur fees and would need to establish a new agreement with the city of Clovis to replace and/or keep specific arrangements of the extra-territorial agreement before annexation, so Merchen and staff recommended that a substitute water supply source be found, and a water supply charge be established before any development is permitted in the areas that receive water from the Garfield Water District.
Council members had questions: Bessinger asked who would pay for police and fire. The answer was the county, not the city of Clovis, whose responsibility would be street maintenance. Ashbeck asked if land in another water district is annexed, must the land come with its own water? The answer was yes. Otherwise, getting water was a problem, said Redelfs. Pearce asked if Garfield never said they’d do what the city expected; Redelfs’ reply was “not ‘never.’ ” If not Garfield Water District, another water supply would have to be found, he added.
Mouanoutoua asked if the church had promised to supply water. Redelfs said the church promised water from some to-be-determined source. How about the “extra-terrestrial” [sic] water agreements, asked Mouanoutoua, to laughter, though he meant to say “extra-territorial,” and “extra-terrestrial” and “water from Mars” were running jokes of the evening. Redelfs said development could go forward when a water source is identified.
Public comment was opened on the item. Bill Smittcamp, local influential business owner, said that he was on the board of Garfield Water District and that they had a meeting scheduled May 16. He had not seen any documentation about a water agreement, he said.
Next Shawn Beaty, pastor of the church in question, spoke. If Clovis didn’t supply water, they would be a “client of the city of Fresno, and we all know what that means.”
Three other members of the public, two real estate developers and one resident of Pollasky Avenue made brief comments.
Agenda Item 14 The council received a summary review of the 2023-2024 annual budget, and the item will be continued to the June 5 meeting to continue the approval process. No vote was required. Each department head gave a summary of their budgets. Holt asked the council to save questions for the June 5 meeting, as the meeting at this point had passed the three-hour mark. The budget must be adopted by the end of June.
The total annual budget is $330.8 million, Holt said. Expenses were growing faster than revenues. Emergency reserves are at 22% (about $22 million). Some $13.7 million is reserved for investments in older neighborhoods, including water and sewer infrastructure improvements and $7 million for affordable housing. Funds for five additional sworn police officers have been set aside. Inflation and other economic uncertainties create challenges. Cuts may be in order, depending on economic conditions. The budget is a “growth” budget but does not “catch the city up.”
Spending by department is summarized below:
|Planning & Development Services||1$5,348,900|
|Community Investment Program||4$9,006,000|
|Culture & Rec.||2$1,690,900|
City Manager Comments Holt had none.
Mouanoutoua attended a Clovis Unified School District meeting, where he said Ashbeck spoke about civic engagement. He was relieved to hear that the city of Fresno was “taking care” of the Terry Bradley Educational Center, which is under construction. He did not elaborate. He went to a ribbon-cutting for “the well” by which he likely meant The Well Community Church, which was built on land owned by the Smittcamp family. Last, he wished everyone a belated happy Mother’s Day.
Ashbeck said she also attended The Well ribbon-cutting.
At 9:56 p.m., the council went into closed session. Cross said that there would be no report. The only item on the closed session for the fourth week since the city lost its appeal was its affordable housing case, Desiree Martinez v. City of Clovis, et al. (case number F082914).
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