Documented by Jackie Schuster
Here’s what you need to know
- The Visalia City Council adopted an ordinance to regulate short-term rentals in single and multi-family residential zones throughout the city in a 4-1 vote.
- The council unanimously adopted an ordinance approving the specific plan and entering a development agreement for the Carleton Acres project.
- The council held the first public hearing to amend the Measure N Spending Plan to appropriate $190,000 to advance the purchase of a patrol vehicle for the 2024/25 fiscal year, and replace the Measure N funded Dodge Charger that was hit by a drunken driver.
- Are the long descriptions of agenda items actually adhering to the spirit of the Brown Act? The Brown Act says that brief descriptions of agenda items need not exceed 20 words. Should the city take a closer look at making descriptions of agenda items more accessible for the average city resident?
Visalia City Council Members
Liz Wynn, District One
Vice Mayor Brett Taylor, District Two
Mayor Brian Poochigian, District Three
Emmanuel Hernandez Soto, District Four
Steve Nelsen, District Five
The Visalia City Council meeting started at 7:01 p.m. All council members were present.
- Public comment
- Barry Kaplan requested that items 5, 10, 14, 15 and 16 be pulled from the consent calendar.
- Visalia Water Resources Manager Rhett Anderson wanted to remind all residents that the city will be moving into the winter watering schedule on Dec. 1. With the winter watering schedule, there are zero days a week when property owners are allowed to water ornamental turf. The winter watering schedule will end on March 1, when the watering schedule will move back to two days a week when property owners are allowed to water ornamental turf. Anderson said residents can visit the city website for any questions they have on the water schedule.
- Rosa Ballasa requested to pull item 20 from the consent calendar.
- Consent calendar
- Nelsen moved to pass the rest of the consent calendar items. The motion passed unanimously.
- Item 5, authorize the transfer of $4.5 million from the general fund to the Vehicle Replacement Fund, $475,000 from the Police Measure T fund to the Police Measure T Vehicle Replacement Fund and $1.48 million from the Fire Measure T Fund to the Fire Measure T Vehicle Replacement Fund to replace future vehicles.
- Kaplan said he asked for this item to be pulled because he thinks the public deserves to know the details of how the shifting of funds for the police budget is justified. He said he is concerned about the item’s wording on the agenda, and said it doesn’t comply with the Brown Act.
- He said agenda items are supposed to be about 20 words long so the public can understand the business aspects. Kaplan said he has had discussions with city staff about this issue before and has seen improvements, but there doesn’t seem to be any quality control on agenda wording. He said since the item is too complex according to the Brown Act, it should be tabled until the public is properly notified.
- Poochigian asked Ken Richardson, city attorney, if the item was Brown Act compliant and Richardson said it was.
- Nelsen motioned to authorize the retroactive transfer to fiscal year 2022-2023 of $4.5 million from the general fund to the Vehicle Replacement Fund, $475,000 from the Police Measure T fund to the Police Measure T Vehicle Replacement Fund and $1.48 million from the Fire Measure T Fund to the Fire Measure T Vehicle Replacement Fund for the replacement of future vehicles and change the methodology as outlined in the report. Wynn seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.
- Item 10, authorize the city manager to award RFB 2022-2023-2024 annual contract for landscape maintenance of landscape and lighting districts within Quadrant C to Perfect Care Landscape and Maintenance for an annual amount not to exceed $128,851.
- Kaplan said he had the same issue with this item. He said since it took Poochigian nearly a minute to read the item and it’s a complicated sentence with clauses in it, the item doesn’t comply with the Brown Act. Kaplan said he requests that this item be pulled until it is properly noticed and all Visalia residents can understand what it’s about.
- Poochigian asked Richardson if the item was Brown Act compliant, and he said it was.
- Taylor moved to award an annual contract for landscape maintenance of Quadrant C, to Perfect Care Landscape and Maintenance for an annual not to exceed the amount of $128,851. The motion passed unanimously.
- Item 14, second reading and adoption of Ordinance 2023-10 pertaining to Specific Plan 2021-13 and entering into a development agreement
- Nelsen said this item was fully vetted when it came before the council for the first reading so he supports the second reading.
- Wynn said she looked up the Brown Act and the 1994 amendment to the act says that agenda items need not exceed 20 words, but they can so the items are fine.
- Kaplan said he is vested in what the Brown Act says and would have the council ask city staff how the long phrasing on the agenda for this item represents the staff’s best attempt to provide a summary. He said he thinks 50 words could be good, and he would request that the council ask staff if that item is really the best summary for the public to be able to understand the item or if that phrasing should only be in the staff report.
- Kathy Falconer said she was impressed with what has happened in the environmental study for this project, and she is appreciative of the pedestrian and bike lanes that have been created. She said a member of the Visalia Environmental Alliance is very interested in promoting students being able to bike to and from school instead of having so many cars sitting and running while waiting to pick up students. Falconer said she’s interested in protecting the air quality in the Riverview area.
- Poochigian asked Richardson if the item was Brown Act compliant and he said it was.
- Nelsen said that if you read the item phrasing slowly it explains to you what the Carleton Acres project is, so he supports the second reading of this ordinance.
- Wynn moved to approve the second reading of Ordinance 2023-10 for Specific Plan 2021-13. The motion passed unanimously.
- Item 15, authorize the city manager to award a contract not to exceed $35,000 to HdL Companies and a contract not to exceed $39,500 to FM3 Research to assist in the preparation of a potential local sales tax measure for cannabis sales for the 2024 general election and identify potential cannabis
- regulations, and appropriate $85,000 from the general fund
- Kaplan said he has the same issue with this item and that it is not a Brown Act summary. He said even though the city attorney says it is OK, and the city manager is being quiet on this, he would like to see whatever staff member’s job it is to write these do a better job in writing agenda items so that all Visalia residents can understand them. He said the item is not within the spirit of the Brown Act.
- Poochigian asked Richardson if this item is a Brown Act complaint and he said yes.
- Nelsen moved to authorize the city manager to award a contract to HdL Companies for an amount not to exceed $35,000, with a total budget of $40,000, and a contract to FM3 Research for an amount not to exceed $39,500, with a total budget of $45,000, and appropriate $85,000 from the general fund. The motion passed unanimously.
- Item 16, authorize the city manager to award RFQ 22-23-66 and establish a qualified bidders list to perform various maintenance activities in the sanitary and storm sewer systems
- Kaplan said he has the same issue with this item. He said today’s agenda is laced with items that are far too complicated to comply with the spirit of the Brown Act. Kaplan said he helps manage things he writes for brevity, and he uses tools like ChatGPT that can create a shorter version of what is written. He said staff should try that and see if it gives them any ideas on how to summarize items in ways that are useful to the public. Kaplan said he would request agenda items be shortened in the future so residents can understand what is happening.
- Poochigian asked Richardson if the item is Brown Act compliant and he said yes.
- Poochigian asked if having an app work on agenda items would be Brown Act compliant. Richardson said he would personally just use his own grammar skills.
- Nelsen mobed to authorize the city manager to award RFQ 22-23-66 and establish an eligible bidders list, and further authorize the city manager to award an annual contract to each of the qualified bidders, West Valley Construction, S W Construction, RT Nelson, and GSE Construction, in a combined amount not to exceed $1.5 million, with up to four one-year extensions. The motion passed unanimously.
- Item 20, the second reading and adoption of Ordinance 2023-11 approving Zoning Text Amendment 2023-01 to regulate Short-Term Rentals (STR) in single- and multi-family residential zones citywide.
- Poochgian said if it wasn’t already pulled, he would have pulled this item to be consistent since he voted against it last time and he thinks the city should be going after individual behaviors instead.
- Ballasa said that she looked at the website for the short-term rental (STR) next to her house and it says it has the capacity for 12 people. She said there’s a lot of speeding and noise in the area and she hopes by expressing herself that council members can put themselves in her situation. Ballasa said officers have come down to the location before because she’s called multiple times, and that she could probably call to complain every day but she doesn’t want to bug the city. She said there have been more than 20 people staying in the rental over the last few weeks and it is a nightmare.
- Kaplan said he wanted to mention the Brown Act issue again, but also that after this ordinance’s first reading, he was left with some questions. He said with the parking requirement, it seems like visitors to the rental would have to park in the STR’s garage or driveway and not on the street. Kaplan said the street in his neighborhood is public parking and his concern is that we are creating de facto parking discrimination on the street based on people’s resident status. He said it is not like people who are visiting have done anything to deserve that, and some people may have more cars than can fit in a garage.
- Kaplan asked why that was decided to be appropriate. He suggested that signs with parking restrictions be put on the street in front of particular residences because this could put other people at risk with police officers if people think that car doesn’t belong.
- Naomi, a Visalia resident, said that she recognizes with Kaplan’s comments that if one person is saying agenda items are inaccessible then they are probably inaccessible to others. She said it is the city officials’ job to engage with their residents. She said that she sees a lot of groans and chuckles from council members but it is their responsibility to make sure these things are accessible. She said she is new to Visalia because she was displaced by a landlord in a previous city, and that allowing more STRs could displace Visalia residents. She said people who own these STRs only care about making money and not about protecting people. She said since her city refused to listen to people saying these decisions would not lead to better options she was displaced. She said the city needs to think about who will really benefit from items in the end.
- Josh Dan, a senior planner with the city’s planning division, said that in a work session with the Planning Commission and City Council staff worked on the parking and occupancy sections. He said they provided language where owners and users of a STR would have to provide parking spaces for users.
- Taylor asked if the ordinance was passed today, would that street with 10-15 cars on it have to follow restrictions as soon as today?
- Dan said that 30 days after this item is passed it will go into effect, then people will have to get permits to run a STR, although some will be grandfathered in.
- Nelsen said he thinks STRs disturb the sanctity of a neighborhood but he will support this item because it will put rules into effect.
- Poochigian asked if owners would be able to come in before those 30 days to get a permit. Dan said that depends on staff and when they start to provide permits.
- Poochigian said he doesn’t support this item because it depends on individual behaviors and he only wants to go against bad behavior, not all behavior.
- Soto moved to approve the second reading of and adopt Ordinance 2023-11 for Zoning Text Amendment 2023-01. The motion passed 4-1, with Poochigian voting no.
- Regular item 1, conduct the first public hearing to amend the Measure N Spending Plan to appropriate $190,000 and appropriate an additional $30,000 to address the budget shortfall for fiscal year 2023-2024 vehicle purchases
- Capt. Dan Ford from the Visalia Police Department said the second appropriation of funds will make up the shortfall for two Measure N items that were previously purchased. He said in June 2023, the council approved an amendment to Measure N for the purchase of two Dodge Charger patrol vehicles that were budgeted for fiscal years 2021-2022 and 2022-2023, but in August the city was informed those vehicles would no longer be in production. Staff researched and found two other potential options, but they recommended the Ford Police Interceptor because it was the cheaper option. Dan said that since those staff reports, the UAW strike has started and Ford refused to open a purchasing window. He said that the other option presented by staff, the Dodge Durango, is actually now at about the price they were projecting the Ford vehicles would be.
- Dan said as of right now he doesn’t think they will need the excess funds and they will go right back into Measure N if unused, but the department is concerned about prices in the short-term purchasing window and how lengthy the process for approval for purchase is.
- Wynn asked if the insurance of the driver who struck the police car covered anything, what would happen. Ford said the money would go back into Measure N funds.
- Kaplan said that after he raised his concerns about this item last time, the council took their vote, and then the city manager offered some answers on legal matters after the vote. He said he asks that this time the city manager provide any opinions before the vote takes place. Kaplan said there are Brown Act violations happening at the Measure N Oversight Committee meetings since the members are more concerned with getting through meetings quickly. He said he understands the need for new police cars, but the city has to go through the full processes or else they risk losing the trust of city residents. Kaplan said that if the police get these cars they will be symbols of the lack of trust the city has shown residents through this process. He said it won’t be the fault of the police, but the fault of the city for having lengthy agenda items and not having a committee that does what residents voted they should do. Kaplan said he requests that the council take a step back and do this process properly according to California laws.
- Darlene Mata, chair of the Measure N Oversight Committee, said she appreciates all the information presented in every agenda item. She also said that at the Measure N Oversight Committee meeting, they received a presentation from Ford, and it was unanimously approved. Mata said she doesn’t think anyone on that committee just cares about getting out of meetings as soon as possible, and they are dedicated to ensuring city officials are spending the fund money as the fund says they have to.
- Nelsen said he supports this item. He said he took exception to comments made about Measure N Oversight Committee members at the last meeting because he knows the chair follows rules and regulations. He said it is a dedicated group of people so he supports their input and the input of the Police Department.
- Wynn said that before she was on the council, the city brought the possibility of the Measure N Oversight Committee to other boards she was on, and she has always thought it a necessary and important thing.
- Nelsen moved to conduct the first of two public hearings to amend the Measure N Spending Plan to appropriate $190,000 to advance the purchase of a marked patrol vehicle for fiscal year 2024-2025, and purchase one marked patrol vehicle to replace a Measure N-funded Dodge Charger that was hit and totaled by a drunken driver. Taylor seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.
- Regular item two, authorize the city manager to execute an agreement and appropriate $425,000 in Successor Agency Housing (SAH) funds for Visalia Homekey LP to convert the Majestic Motel into a 42-unit permanent affordable rental housing
- Margie Perez, the city housing specialist, said in July 2022 the council awarded RFP 21-22-28 to turn the Majestic Motel into permanent affordable rental housing. She said so far the project has procured 94% of the total cost, so staff is now asking to procure the rest of the cost. Perez said that there are uncommitted SAH funds for this project. She said SAH regulations require at least 30% of the funds to be used on developing affordable housing for households at or below 30% of the area’s median income, and that funding this project would meet that requirement.
- Taylor asked where these SAH funds come from, and Perez said the SAH funds are from the Redevelopment Agency (RDA), which dissolved in 2012. She said that many of these funds come from people who had an RDA first-time home buyer loan, who later sold their house and paid back the loan.
- Kaplan again brought up the Brown Act again and he need to shorten long agenda items full of jargon. He said if the reading level of items is too high, they should be rewritten since this is an area where English is not the first language for many residents.
- Poochigian asked Richardson if this item is Brown Act compliant, and he said yes.
- Nelsen motioned to appropriate $425,000 in SAH funds for the conversion of the Majestic Motel. The motion passed unanimously.
- Regular item 3, first reading and public hearing for Ordinance 2023-13 for Zoning Text Amendment 2023-02 in order to address upcoming state-mandated changes as a result of the passage of Senate Bill 1186, and establish objective standards for permitting delivery-only medical marijuana retail establishments within the city
- Paul Bernal, the city’s community development director, said this is a zoning ordinance that touches several chapters in the city municipal code. He said on July 17, staff held a work session to seek direction on what changes needed to be made to allow the medical use of cannabis to operate in the city'[s jurisdiction even though the city prohibits cannabis sale in the city.
- Senate Bill 1186 goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, and it prohibits local agencies from enforcing any local regulations prohibiting the retail sale of medical cannabis, but it does allow delivery-only zones.
- This ordinance would change city municipal code chapters Title 5, Title 8 and Title 17.
- Adding Chapter 5.66 to Title 5 would require security and site plans, close sites to the public, require delivery vehicles to be inspected by the city and obtain an operating permit and require odor control on sites. Delivery drivers would have to maintain a valid M-License and Type 9 License. Background checks would be required for employees, and the sites must meet all requirements stated in Chapter 8.64.055.
- The amendments to Chapter 8.64 in Title 8 involve a necessary language change to indicate medical use of cannabis and delivery of cannabis is now permitted in the city if it is for medical use.
- Title 17 changes would amend the zoning code matrix in Chapter 17.25 to recommend permitting this use only in the light industrial and industrial zones. It would also add s\Section 17.32.167 to add that cannabis cultivation is not permitted on site, security gates are required to prevent public access and sites are not permitted within 500 feet of any schools located inside or outside the city.
- On Oct. 9 the Planning commission recommended this item be sent to the council.
- Nelsen said he thinks Sacramento is overreaching in local municipalities. He asked why the city didn’t look at a 700- or 1,000-foot buffer zone.
- Bernal said that in the two allowed zones if the buffer was above 500 feet then potential sites that could facilitate the use would be taken away. The 500-foot buffer allows the city to prove that they are providing enough space for medical cannabis distribution.
- Taylor asked if this site use was only offered in the industrial zone and not the light industrial zone, would this meet state requirements?
- Bernal said staff is recommending an ordinance that provides businesses looking to operate in Visalia two zones they can operate in. Bernal said there are ample areas in the industrial zone, but many buildings in the industrial zone tend to be larger, so providing two zoning operations to facilitate the use will meet the intent of the law.
- Richardson said that under the bill, the city is not allowed to restrict these types of operations, so they could be in violation of state law if they don’t provide enough spaces for these sites to operate.
- Taylor said that cities that offer commercial cannabis sales can restrict them, but Visalia can’t restrict medical cannabis sales. He said earlier this year the new tobacco-use restriction passed in the city created a 1,000-foot buffer zone.
- Bernal said that the tobacco buffer zone is because those are in retail storefronts where customers can walk in, so it’s a different context.
- Taylor said we have a brewery district where only certain locations can brew alcohol on-site, so could there be an overlap like this?
- Bernal said the language of the ordinance says retail storefronts for medical cannabis are not allowed, so this is comparable to the deliveries from a UPS warehouse. He said looking at it in that context makes the most sense for the zoning areas they picked.
- Taylor asked for more detail on the fencing requirement.
- Bernal said sites are required to have a chain -ink fence that is 7 feet tall, with security gates and a security plan. He said staff looked at potentially requiring block walls but they decided it might not be cost effective. Bernal said they are just looking at security requirements to keep the public from the sites.
- Taylor asked what hours of operation will be allowed for these businesses.
- Bernal said they didn’t think it was necessary to select hours of operation for these businesses because they do not have those regulations on other warehouse operations.
- Devin Jones, the city’s economic development manager, said that they are not allowed to regulate the hours of operation due to state regulations.
- Taylor said he thinks it is bizarre that they could operate and deliver cannabis at all hours of the night.
- Poochigian said this is a sensitive use for buildings, so will they have to have alarms on the buildings?
- Bernal said in the section for security plan requirements that security cameras are required but there is no specification for alarms.
- Poochigian asked if businesses could put a cannabis leaf on their signage.
- Bernal said they aren’t allowed to regulate the content of the sign and can only regulate the sign requirements in length, width and area.
- Poochigian said then anyone can put anything they want on the signs and Bernal confirmed they cannot regulate the content of the signs.
- Kaplan said Poochigan’s eyes were glazing over while reading this item because it was so long and jargon-filled, so it’s too complex for the public and doesn’t meet the Brown Act. He said as far as signs go, he was outside of California a lot this summer and saw that other cannabis delivery places had billboards on the highway, so he suggests if the council cares about those then they should ask about regulating them before it’s too late. Kaplan then said he looked for some information on the updated version of the city charter and the minutes of meetings for Measure N Oversight Committee meetings dating back but he could not find them on the city website, so who should he ask where to find those?
- Poochigian said it’s probably against the Brown Act to talk about items that aren’t in public comment at this time.
- Naomi said she came from a bigger city so she’s seen commercial cannabis use develop in her city, and there it went from medical use to retail use without it destroying the city. She said she thinks the council doesn’t need to be so concerned about allowing medical cannabis delivery. She said there’s a strong bias in council members’ tones when they talk about this item. People who run these businesses are not delinquents, and if the council is so quick to approve businesses like STRS they should approve of businesses like this too. She said she’s sure people in Visalia are smoking cannabis already and the city should look at how they can benefit from this instead of being against it. She said no one is here complaining about how they can’t sleep from 24-hour deliveries but they’re complaining about not being able to sleep from STRs, and yet the council is being stringent and over-focused on medical cannabis use. She said that developed cities have done very well with strong retail cannabis regulations and she thinks the council should put some effort into other things happening.
- Taylor noted that the discussion of STRs has been brought up previously and the discussion held then was long. He said they always have long discussions for all items and always ask the important questions
- Wynn moved to introduce for first reading Ordinance 2023-13 for Zone Text Amendment 2023-02. The motion passed unanimously.
- During closed sessions, the city acquired property from Olive Farms Associates for the Willow Springs Development and property from Kaweah Delta Health Care District for the Caldwell Widening Project.
The meeting adjourned at 8:29 p.m. The next Visalia City Council meeting will be held on Nov. 20.
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