Documented by Ntsa Iab Vang & Rachel Youdelman
What happened: Despite having been successfully sued for failing to plan for affordable housing, at its Monday meeting the Clovis City Council voted to send letters of opposition to two housing bills aimed at increasing housing availability by streamlining the approval process.
SB423 would extend the sunset date of SB35 by 10 years to 2036 — SB35 allows developers to take advantage of a streamlined permit-approval process if local housing production goals have not been met. AB309 has been dubbed The Social Housing Act and would establish the Department of General Services to facilitate affordable housing on leased state property to help address the affordable housing crisis.
“It’s similar legislation to what we’ve seen in the past where the state is just taking local control away from local governments and our ability to control how the city is going to grow in the future,” said City Manager John Holt who presented staff recommendations for the letters of opposition.
He said the opposition is in line with recommendations by the League of California Cities to oppose the bills. The city of Clovis is a member of the organization, also known as Cal Cities, which aims to defend and expand local control through advocacy efforts, according to its website.
Council member Drew Bessinger referred to comments received earlier in the meeting from residents advocating for the council to support affordable housing rather than pay costly legal fees.
“We had some of our good folks come out tonight and talk to us about supporting affordable housing, which we do,” he said. “The issue that local governments have is that the state will make these decisions regardless of anything we have to say and I don’t trust Sacramento.”
Bessinger said he was concerned it would take away the City Council and Planning Commission’s ability to factor in issues such as infrastructure, traffic and other “negative impacts.”
“If they truly want affordable housing, then they are going to help fund it, and if they’re not going to do that, then shut up,” Bessinger said.
Several Clovis residents spoke in support and opposition to the stance taken by the council.
“We don’t want high-rise affordable housing in our community, we don’t support that, we don’t have that, and we certainly don’t want them telling us what they’re going to build without us having no input” said Michelle Lung, a Clovis resident and real estate agent.
Attorney David Rowell, a 30-year resident of Clovis, was present to say that he resented the generalizations that “no one in Sacramento cared about us,” while Tracy Bohren commented via Webex that Gov. Newsom had recently made $567 million available state-wide for affordable housing.
In closing, Mayor Lynne Ashbeck acknowledged that it was not a good idea to speak in generalizations, such as “no one cares about us.”
“We’re not opposed to affordable housing, we’re opposed to it being imposed on us on a piece of property that might not be right,” she said.
Letter opposing ‘graphic’ children’s books in county library: During council comments, Council member Diane Pearce asked fellow council members for their consensus in directing city staff to draft a letter to the county Board of Supervisors regarding what she called “graphic sexual content in children’s books” at the public library.
At the council meeting prior, Pearce was admonished for commenting on issues outside of the City Council’s purview, such as a county library display of LGBTQ+ books for children during Pride Month, which she posted about online in her official capacity as a council member.
She referenced the letters opposing the housing bills and said that she would “similarly” like city staff to draft a letter to the supervisors acknowledging their jurisdiction over the library and communicating the “community’s concern with graphic, sexual content in children’s books,” which she said Clovis parents and grandparents had expressed to her.
“We’re very clear in acknowledging our responsibility in terms of delivering city services and hiring police officers and firefighters and maintaining streets and parks,” Pearce said. “But I think that there is a second part that’s very important as well, and that’s to represent our community’s interests to other levels of government.”
Council members Vong Mouanoutoua and Drew Bessinger supported the letter, while Mayor Ashbeck and Council member Matt Basgall said they would not sign the letter.
Mouanoutoua said he supported the county taking up the issue and that he has called Supervisor Nathan Magsig to communicate that “we have concerns both ways.”
“They need to allow the residents of Fresno County to address it there, so that way there’s an avenue,” he said. “Because both sides coming here, there’s nothing we can do.”
Bessinger acknowledged that this has been a national conversation, largely led by anti-LGBTQ+ right wing groups such as Moms for Liberty, named an anti-government extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center .
He said he would support the letter requesting the county to look into the issue and “make sure there is nothing that is inappropriate for kids.”
“This is such a slippery slope though because who is the person that’s going to make that determination?” he said. “Do I trust their determination?”
Council member Basgall simply said that he did not see a need for such a letter.
While, Mayor Ashbeck said that she would not sign such a letter, it would be against what she stands for, and that “you three” could send it.
“I’m not interested in my name on that letter at all,” Ashbeck said. “It violates the principle that I’ve been operating with for all these years, so I’m just not interested in that.”
Up next: The Clovis City Council will meet again on Aug. 21.