June 5, 2023 — Clovis City Council

Documented by Rachel Youdelman

 Here’s what you need to know

  • Another claim of liability against the city, brought by Phorum Sheth, was included in the consent agenda. Such claims often appear in the consent agenda and are not discussed, but information was included in the agenda packet, which stated that Sheth is alleging that the city caused a dangerous condition by failing to provide appropriate warnings signs or signals that contributed to his injuries.
  • Approval of the annual budget for 2023-2024 was continued to the June 19 meeting.
  • The council passed an ordinance to the Clovis municipal code prohibiting spectator participation in vehicle sideshows on public streets. Violation includes promotion of or preparing for a sideshow and will be a misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail, impounding of vehicles involved and fines of $1,000.
  • The council voted 5-0 to approve an updated development impact fee schedule for fiscal year 2023-2024. Total increases vary from 2% to 10% for nonresidential projects and from 2% to 6% for residential, which don’t include water fees that will be discussed at a later date. 

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 June 5, 2023, for the first meeting of the month. Opening the meeting on time at 6 p.m., Mayor Ashbeck welcomed attendees and said she was “glad you are here tonight.” Council member Bessinger led the flag salute, during which there was no audio for virtual attendees. Clerk Cha called the roll; all council members and staff were present. Ashbeck’s tone throughout was cordial and often jocular; she repeated the phrase “just kidding” often, as when she said the meeting would adjourn after two major retirements were recognized at the top of the agenda. Council member Pearce made frequent reference to her lack of background and knowledge in matters about which the council must make decisions. Council member Mouanoutoua asked many long and often unclear questions throughout. Though Webex cameras did not cover the audience, the room appeared to be full of in-person attendees; four people attended via Webex and 45 watched the meeting on YouTube. The meeting lasted 4 hours and was kept on track by Ashbeck, despite council member Mouanoutoua’s frequent questions.

Only one member of the public was present to discuss a matter not on the agenda.

There are several ways to participate in the council’s 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. Just show up. Commenters are limited to five minutes each. Note that laws regarding public meetings preclude council members from making definitive responses about matters which 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 lynnea@cityofclovis.com

Vong Mouanoutoua vongm@ci.clovis.ca.us

Matt Basgall mbasgall@cityofclovis.com

Drew Bessinger drewb@cityofclovis.com

Diane Pearce dianep@cityofclovis.com

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 19 at 6 p.m. Videos of past meetings and agendas are available here.

Agenda Item 1 Fire Chief John Binaski’s retirement after a 32-year career, including 10 years with the Clovis Fire Department, was recognized with a proclamation. Ashbeck said that people such as Binaski “give their heart and soul to Clovis, but a part of them stays” when they leave. Mouanoutoua read the proclamation. Binaski was presented with a commemorative plaque and a vanity street sign with his name on it. He was ready to “ride off into the sunset” with his “board shorts and flip-flops” but wanted to first thank the council for their support, remarking that his team never “talked bad” about council members. He thanked his family, who were present. He didn’t play golf, he said, so he would have to figure out something to do in retirement. Council members and staff praised him. Mouanoutoua said that “we don’t know anything about what you do but the public expects us to know.” Pearce pointed out, and repeated several times throughout the evening, that she was “new” and didn’t “have the history” but said that Binaski’s personality was “effervescent” and she “echoed” Binaski’s appreciation of his family’s tolerance of his often unpredictable work schedule. Ashbeck said that Binaski “transmitted Clovis values” to his team, concluding that “we are the story of Clovis.” Everyone posed for a group photo. This item took about 30 minutes of the meeting time.

Agenda Item 2 City Engineer Mike Harrison’s retirement after 39 years with the city was recognized with a proclamation, which was read aloud by Council member Bessinger. Planning and Development Services Director Renee Mathis spoke, praising Harrison and noting that he started as an assistant engineer with the city when he was 24 and worked his way up. Council members praised him: Mouanoutoua said that “the part that sticks out” is Harrison’s expertise about “things we don’t know,” adding that “you don’t think we’re watching you but we are,” because they wanted to emulate him. Pearce cited his “longevity of service” and noted that his “talents were recognized and taken advantage of.” Ashbeck put Harrison in a category with the late, long-serving Council member Harry Armstrong, of whom she often speaks reverently. “A lot of why the city works is because of things you did,” she told Harrison, who said that he “loved the work and couldn’t have had a better job in the world.” He thanked the council and the building industry; as he stood at the podium, he turned to face the audience and said, “Thank you, industry.” His voice broke as he thanked his parents, who were in attendance. Everyone posed for a group photo. This agenda item took about 25 minutes of the meeting time.

Public Comments regarding items not on the agenda. A Clovis resident who identified himself only as “Robert” was present to complain about the retirement home where he lives. He said his building manager would not repair smoke detectors and told him that if he went to the City Council she would “get rid of him.” He repeated several times that he was 71, was a former “bounty hunter” and process server, and complained about frequent fluctuations in rent. He had been in touch, he said, with the Fire Department and other city agencies. In response to the reported assertions made by the building manager, Ashbeck said, “We don’t do business that way,” and asked him to meet Assistant City Manager Andy Haussler in the lobby to get a business card. Haussler said he could direct the man to access to free legal services. “Robert” continued to talk and said that there were “gang members” living in the building who bore “Fresno Bulldog” gang tattoos. This portion of the meeting lasted about 10 minutes, though the limit for each public speaker is just 5. Ashbeck said that one written comment had also been received but that it was about a matter on the agenda.

Consent Agenda, Items 3-15 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. This consent agenda contained a liability claim brought by Phorum Sheth. Liability claims typically show up on the consent agenda, with no information provided about them; this item was not pulled for discussion, and no further information was given about it. Council member Basgall asked to be recused from items 11 and 14; in the case of item 11, the liability claim, he said he was a witness, but neither he nor anyone else spoke about the details of the matter. In the case of item 14, regarding a grant agreement between the Marjaree Mason Center and the Police Department, Basgall said he was on the center’s board. Items 3-15 passed unanimously, and items 11 and 14 passed 4-0 with 1 recusal.

Agenda Item 16 The council unanimously passed an ordinance to the Clovis municipal code prohibiting spectators from participating in vehicle sideshows on public streets. The ordinance follows similar initiatives in Fresno. A Clovis police lieutenant, Iri Guerra, made a presentation along with Deputy City Attorney Matthew Lear. A “sideshow” is an event in which participants block traffic or take over a parking lot for the purpose of performing stunts with their cars. Traffic is disrupted, safety compromised and property is frequently damaged. Violation of the prohibition on being a spectator included promotion of or preparing for a sideshow and will be a misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail, impounding of vehicles involved and fines of $1,000.

Basgall and Mouanoutoua asked questions, Basgall about fines; Mouanoutoua wanted to know if video or other information on social media that promotes a sideshow could be used as evidence in a court case. The answer was yes.

Pearce, who often disparages the state government, said with a laugh that she had “just one” question: how soon would the California state government intentionally thwart this ordinance? “I know our state likes to make things as difficult as possible for our law enforcement,” she said. Was there “anything on the horizon coming down from Sacramento” which would preempt local law enforcement? Guerra said that the state penal code took precedence over local laws but that there was nothing on the books precluding the enforcement of this proposed ordinance. He added that there was no law regarding spectators, though there were laws about blocking traffic.

Ashbeck said that multiple offenders should pay progressively bigger fines and cited the slogan of the Fresno initiative, “Not in Fresno”— she wanted the Clovis ordinance to be on an “equal footing” with Fresno’s and suggested that a public service announcement could be done in cooperation with Fresno.

A member of the public (name unintelligible) commented that he often hears vehicle-racing noise near his residence near Rosebrook and Jefferson avenues and that the noise scares his grandchildren. Police Chief Curt Fleming said that residents should call the nonemergency line to report such incidents. Ashbeck said that it was “never a bother” to call the police. There was a “tip line” published on the Police Department’s website, but no one gave that or the nonemergency number, which is 559-324-2800. About 20 minutes were spent on this agenda item.

Agenda Item 17 The council voted 5-0 to approve an updated development impact fee schedule for fiscal year 2023-2024, excluding water fees; AB 602 findings were also approved. Assembly Bill 602 is a California law that has been in effect for about a year and which determines how development impact fees are figured. This agenda item was continued from the May 8 meeting. A presentation was made by Supervising Civil Engineer Sean Smith and outgoing City Engineer Mike Harrison. They mentioned that per the council’s request, the item was brought back with a schedule of all revised fees, excluding water, which will be deferred pending a “higher level” discussion.

Smith explained that AB 602 requires that the developer fees for residential projects are based on either square footage or, if justified, an alternative rate. Smith noted that staff and the city attorney chose to keep the current fee metrics (per home, per acre, etc.) which he said are “supported by years of data.” In a couple of slides shown by Smith and Harrison, the calculation of fees based on square footage is called “inappropriate” and “unsupported.”

Per Smith and Harrison’s presentation, the cost of development is established per the “vision” of the city’s General Plan and Specific Plans therein; building projects create the need for fees; the larger the impact of the project, the larger the fee. Developer impact fee categories include sewer, water, streets, parks, police, fire and library. The biggest contributors to total fee obligations are sewer, water, streets and parks. Results of a Nexus study were presented: it explained why square footage was found to be an inappropriate means of calculating fees imposed on a development project and ensures that smaller

developments are not charged disproportionate fees.

In an overview of the updated fee schedule, it was noted that all except for water would remain at the levels proposed on May 8. With the exception of water meters and transceivers, water fees will not be adjusted. Total increases vary from 2% to 10% for nonresidential projects and from 2% to 6% for residential.

A discussion lasting over an hour ensued and seemed to reflect the council’s confusion and indecision about what direction to take. Some of the questions and suggestions from the May 8 meeting were repeated. Mouanoutoua asked several questions regarding details which seemed irrelevant to the agenda item; for example, he didn’t want to “lower our standards” on parks and trails, because “that’s what distinguishes Clovis from other places.” Smith repeated that the staff needed direction on policy. Pearce once again remarked on her lack of knowledge or background and said there was “not enough time” for her to make an “informed decision.” She wanted “multiple workshops” and said she “tried on her own” to learn about funding models.

Ashbeck pointed out that determining water fees is a staff job, not one for the council to determine and that the development fee concept must be sustainable for the next 20 years. Harrison said that “the industry” (meaning real estate developers) wants fees as low as possible and that they thought that the revised estimated water fee was “too high” but that otherwise they “agree with the Nexus study.”

Public comment was opened on the item, and Mike Prandini of the Building Industry Association (BIA) spoke, complaining that the agenda item had been brought back from the May 8 meeting too soon. It was to have returned at a “date uncertain,” and that did not mean June 5, he said. He wanted a date in July. He said the revised numbers regarding water fees were “overblown” and that he was not comfortable with the revised police and fire fees. He talked in detail about an increase in police fees reflecting the cost of “bomb squad” equipment and said that Clovis didn’t need its own bomb squad and should share Fresno’s. What’s the difference if a bomb is removed in 12 minutes or eight minutes, he asked, then conceded sheepishly that four minutes could be enough for a bomb to explode. Why was he discussing bombs in such detail? He spoke for about 11 minutes, despite the five-minute limit.

Next, Darius Assemi, one of the most influential real estate developers in Fresno County, spoke, and there was some joking by Ashbeck about his attire, which he called “office shorts,” which suggested interpersonal familiarity. “Mike [Prandini] hit all the points,” said Assemi. He talked about holding a joint workshop with the council. He asked if it was fair to charge the same fee for a 700-square-foot apartment as for a 3,000-square-foot single-family house. These points had already been made at the May 8 meeting. Ashbeck again remarked on Assemi’s attire: “Appreciate you in your office shorts.”

The staff recommendation was to approve the AB 602 findings and to approve the fee update for fiscal year 2023-2024, excluding the water fee. After this remark from staff, there were more comments from council: Bessinger said we should not be discussing bomb squads and that a water workshop should be scheduled. Mouanoutoua said staff should work out the details. Basgall said a workshop should focus on water needs. Ashbeck suggested a two-pronged workshop, one involving a framework and one about financing options. Pearce said she would appreciate the input of “outside experts” because when she tries to figure out something, she uses outside sources. “For someone like me, who doesn’t know anything” it would be “helpful and beneficial,” she said.

City Manager Holt then asked, “Do we want a consultant?” Ashbeck replied, “I don’t know, no idea.”

Assemi shouted something from the audience, and Ashbeck replied, but the exchange was unintelligible.

Agenda Item 18 The council heard reviews of 2023-2024 annual budgets of some departments, with the remainder to be presented on June 19, when a vote for approval will take place. Ashbeck limited the presentation, as it was after 9 p.m. at that point, and the closed session still needed to take place. This item was continued from the May 15 meeting.

Holt began with an overview of the city budget, a total of $330.8 million, including $281.8 million in operating expenses and $49 million in community investment projects. Holt said that there was $105.3 in the general fund and that 87% of discretionary funding was dedicated to public safety, which means police and fire. Eighty-five percent of general fund revenue comes from sales and property taxes. Other points were that expenses are outpacing revenue and that emergency funds are 22% of the total, or about $22 million. He talked about budget “challenges” such as inflation. Some of the budget was allocated for investment in Old Town.

Several departments gave overviews of their individual budgets: finance, administration, city manager, clerk, IT, police. All had proposed budgets that were somewhat higher than the previous year’s. Mouanoutoua, disregarding the dwindling time, continued to ask questions that were not necessarily relevant to the subject of budget: Was crime going down? He phrased questions in convoluted ways: “When do we get to where we go, ‘we’re the cutting edge?’”

Remaining departments will present their budgets on June 19, said Holt.

Agenda Item 19 The council agreed to cancel the June 12 meeting. Holt and Haussler will be out of town, Holt reported.

City Manager Comments Holt had none.

Council Comments

Basgall attended a water district meeting.

Pearce toured animal services facilities. She was “really impressed” and commented that “every time it’s not just the people but the work; every time I’m so impressed.” She then asked for a followup about the Garfield Water District discussion from the previous meeting; Holt said he would follow up with a report later.

Bessinger attended a Memorial Day event at the Clovis Cemetery, which was “humbling.” Ashbeck wondered why she had not been notified of the event.

Mouanoutoua said that he attended the Public Works Department’s barbeque and the Mayor’s Breakfast on May 18. Then he asked if Holt, Ashbeck or City Attorney Scott Cross could issue a memo describing how a council member should request that an item be added to an agenda. Finally he mentioned that they “appreciated getting certificates” for two veterans who are 100 years old, but he did not clarify further.

Ashbeck attended Fresno Council of Governments (COG) and Fresno County Transportation Authority (FCTA) meetings and said that they were just “business as usual.”

The council went into closed session just before 10 p.m. There were two items on the closed session agenda: item 20 concerned deciding to initiate litigation; item 21 concerned evaluation of the city manager’s job performance.

If you believe anything in these notes is inaccurate, please email us at fresnodocs@fresnoland.org with “Correction Request” in the subject line.

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