May 15, 2023 — Clovis City Council
Documented by Rachel Youdelman
What happened: At Monday’s Clovis City Council meeting, council members spoke against the actions of Council member Diane Pearce, who posted a video to her Facebook account following a May 8 meeting after the majority of the council decided to maintain the city’s current policy regarding flag-raising on city-owned properties.
In the video, Pearce criticizes her fellow council members, raises doubts about her colleagues’ motives and expresses concern that the responsibility for administering the flag policy resides with the city manager who is an unelected official who in her view is not directly accountable to residents, while inciting her followers to attend Monday’s meeting to comment in her favor.
Her accompanying Facebook post says, “FACT: THERE IS NO COUNCIL-APPROVED FLAG POLICY IN THE CITY OF CLOVIS!,” when according to the city and Pearce herself, a definitive flag policy does exist that is administered by the city manager — and none of Pearce’s fellow council members disagree with the policy.
“I believe our policy is very well written and appropriately reflects what our community supports,” Pearce said at the May 8 meeting.
The city’s policy allows for just three flags to be flown on the city’s properties (the U.S. flag, the California state flag and the Clovis city flag), but Pearce wanted to change the policy to make the council responsible for which flags may be flown, rather than the city manager.
Pearce’s actions followed publicity surrounding Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau’s similar proposal at the Board of Supervisors’ May 9 meeting and other conservatives who have made flags an issue after a rainbow “Pride” flag was flown at Fresno City Hall.
In response to her video, several people showed up to speak during public comment, most of whom asked the council to put the matter on the agenda and vote on it, despite the fact they had already decided against doing that on May 8.
Following their comments, 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 frustration with Pearce’s behavior.
“There’s just something fundamental about the way we do business in Clovis that I think caught us all off guard,” Ashbeck said. “This is not about a campaign pledge, this is not about individual council members, we are trying to row together for the best of our community.”
Council member Drew Bessinger said that he supports the current flag policy because the city manager is in charge of the city on a daily basis and that some city sites have one flagpole and others have two. He was unequivocal about seeing no reason for putting the matter on the agenda.
“City policy is very clear that no other flags will be flown,” Bessinger said. “I voted to not agendize this item because I saw no real benefit in doing it.”
Council member Matt Basgall said 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.
Ashbeck said the issue had blown up in a way that was not warranted and that she was “incredibly angry” when there was already a 4-1 consensus to let the current policy stand.
“We have created conflict that didn’t need to happen,” Ashbeck said.
Despite her colleagues’ ringing criticisms, Pearce posted a follow-up message on her Facebook page on May 16, which says, “Now we wait and see if my colleagues will act upon your requests.”
And also: The council approved pre-zoning and annexation to bring a total of 500 acres into the city limits for residential and commercial development as part of its Heritage Grove northwest growth area, despite lingering questions about water service for a 40-acre site owned by Clovis Hills Church.
The total annexed area consists of 26 separate parcels 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. It includes many parcels designated for residential development that will help the city meet its state housing requirement so long as they are annexed into the city by the end of 2023.
“This area in general is going to be a much higher density, I think the lowest target density here is 28 units an acre, and so it’s much higher on average residential area than most other areas in Clovis,” said City Planner Dave Merchen.
Merchen said the county and the Fresno Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) have already given their approval and at a Feb. 28 public meeting, no property owners objected to the pre-zoning. On April 20, the Planning Commission voted 4-0 (one absence) in favor of the annexation.
A wrinkle, said Merchen, was that Clovis Hills Church on Willow and International avenues 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.
After much discussion, the council voted to include the Clovis Hills property in the annexation with conditions that if water usage increases past its current allotment of 33 acre feet, it will trigger a new agreement with the city and require it to find a new water source, which could cost Clovis Hills $800,000 to $1.5 million for the full development of the church’s additional 29 acres.
Prior to the approval, the council members asked many questions. Ashbeck asked if land in another water district is annexed, must the land come with its own water? Public Utilities Director Scott Redelfs said that if the water doesn’t come with the land then the land ends up with no water supply, which becomes a decision for the council about whether they want to continue development.
Mouanoutoua asked about the extra-territorial agreement being used and Redelfs said that it is not a common occurrence for the city, but that it will be used again with the Clovis Unified School District when the city allows them to connect to its sewer trunk main for the new educational center, which is outside the city limits.
Bessinger asked if they could make the decision to include Clovis Hills Church with the caveat that there’s no further development. Merchen said that it would be “more advantageous” to require the church to be responsible for any additional costs for water if more development occurs on their land.
“What will happen is that on annexation, Garfield Water District will detach,” Redelfs said. “This is the discussion, at annexation Garfield Water District will not be a part to that property anymore, that property will be fully part of the city of Clovis and if water is to be supplied it’s between the city and the church.”
Redelfs said that staff would then go and find a water supply for development in that area.
“This sets a bad precedent because Garfield’s going to see that as us just kinda rolling over and playing dead on the issue and we’re going to be fighting the same battle all the way up to Copper in the future with that, would that be correct?” asked Bessinger.
To which, Redelfs affirmed that Garfield would continue to detach from supplying water for properties if they are annexed into the city.
During public comment, Bill Smittcamp said that he owns property in the area and is on the board of the Garfield Water District. Although he said he is not speaking as a representative of the district, he said that he has served on the board for more than 10 years and they had not seen the extra-territorial agreement with Clovis Hills until that morning.
“I’ve been an advocate for Clovis Hills back when they were fighting with the county to come in and be built where it is,” he said. “For 10 years, there was an agreement for Garfield to give FID water that was then supplied to the city of Fresno that then supplied it down the road on the other side of the hill. Then your Measure C comes in the deal and I guess that throws everything out the wall because Clovis has water and it throws the Fresno city side out the window.”
Smittcamp said that a Garfield Water District Board meeting was scheduled on May 16 and said that the chair, “Mr. Ricchuti,” was supposed to also be at the meeting because “he didn’t know about this document either.”
“I certainly think that we can make arrangements to get at least the church, but it does set a precedent right, so then you have to worry about all those wild builders that want to come out and just start going,” Smittcamp said.
The Smittcamp family owns 62.7 acres of land included in the annexation and the Ricchuiti family owns 169.7 acres, according to information in the agenda packet.
Ashbeck verified with Smittcamp that when he said engineers, he was referring to the water district’s engineers, Dennis and Nick Keller, whom he said the board may have a difference in opinion.
Pearce asked Smittcamp if the Garfield Board meeting was a public meeting, to which he said, “I can’t answer that, I can’t answer that,” and left the podium, but continued speaking without a microphone and said, “I do not believe so because it has not been publicly.”
Shawn Beaty, pastor of Clovis Hills Church, spoke next. He said in March 2020 Clovis said that they would provide water to the church so that it would not have to join Fresno’s sphere of influence. He said they already paid $700,000 to connect to the city of Clovis’ water.
“The right thing is always the prudent thing, even if it hurts, and the right thing is to let us in,” Beaty said. “So I am asking the City Council to add us to this plan and let us in.”
Mouanoutoua asked how the church was going to cope with potentially having to pay such high water fees and Beaty said that it was a “fun new fact today.”
Manny Penn of Stonevalley Communities spoke in support of including Clovis Hills Church in the annexation and said that he remembered 10 to 15 years ago that the city of Clovis had an agreement with Fresno Irrigation District to bank water for areas such as Harlan Ranch, which are not attached to any water district. He said residents then pay higher fees for their water and this situation could work similarly.
Smittcamp returned to the microphone and said that Garfield Water District has a 10-year agreement with Tri Valley on the westside.
“Why can’t we do the same thing for this particular 29- or 30-acre deal?” Smittcamp said. “So it’s money, it’s money, but it isn’t $800,000. When we were in drought in 2017, I paid $1,500 an acre for water that was transferred from FID to Garfield and back and forth.”
Up next: The Clovis City Council will meet again on June 5.