Documented by Rachel Youdelman

A local Hmong children’s group perform dances at Monday’s Clovis City Council meeting. Photo credit: Jeni-Ann Kren

Summary: What you need to know

  • The council approved an updated Active Transportation Plan, which entails changes in the city’s plan for supporting “walking, bicycling, transit, rolling, and use of other emerging modes of non-motorized personal transport as alternatives to driving.”
  • The council received results of elections for Landscape Maintenance District No. 1, Benefit Zones 2 and 5, to increase assessments for funding landscape and park maintenance. The assessment increase failed to pass in both zones, meaning less money to finance regular landscape maintenance and will result in reduced services. In the case of the park, old playground equipment will not be replaced.
  • Mayor Ashbeck reported on the impasse regarding negotiations for a Measure C renewal framework. Measure C is a transportation funding tax measure first approved in 1986 and which will appear on the ballot for renewal in 2026, having failed in 2022.
  • A public commenter strongly objected to the council’s proposal to initiate a city-sponsored children’s book about Clovis.

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 Nov. 13, 2023, for its second meeting of the month. Ashbeck called the meeting to order at 6:01 p.m.

Council member Bessinger led the flag salute. Cha called roll; all council members and staff were present.

Ashbeck welcomed all. About 25 people attended in person, about 50 viewed via YouTube, and three via Webex. A handful of members of the public were present to comment, and two Hmong children’s groups performed dances. The meeting lasted for three hours.

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 normally 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. To contact any of them with questions or to comment about issues, call 559-324-2060 (one phone for all) or email:

Lynne Ashbeck

Vong Mouanoutoua

Matt Basgall

Drew Bessinger

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 will be Monday, Dec. 4. Videos of past meetings and agendas are available here.

Public Comment This is the segment of the meeting for members of the public to raise any issue that does not appear on the agenda but is within the council’s jurisdiction. In a departure from the usual, two groups of local Hmong children, introduced by an official of a local Hmong-American group, performed dances to recorded music for about 15 minutes. Mouanoutoua, himself a Hmong American, spoke a few words in Hmong and thanked the children. Everyone posed for a group photo.

Next a group of Alta Sierra Intermediate School children with their teacher gave a presentation about their robotics team, which is participating in a First Lego League event. One of the students explained that their charge was to “identify a problem and create a solution” for it; he explained that the problem was that cities are becoming “more boring,” so they created the “Colorful World Initiative.” The children clarified that they would like to see more “colorful” buildings which would be “healthy” for “our own psyche.” They further said that “broken windows encourage crime and civil disorder.”

Ashbeck said the city agreed about the “broken windows” theory, and she explained that the reason no graffiti can be observed in Clovis is that property owners are given 72 hours to remove it, and if they don’t, the city paints over it and sends a bill. She invited the children to meet with City Planning Director Renee Mathis to informally discuss their ideas. Everyone posed for a group photo.

Ashbeck remarked that it was a “pretty fun meeting so far” and jocularly suggested calling off the rest of it.

There were three further members of the public making comments. Malcolm Gibson, a retired journalist, was present to advocate for the city’s progress in creating affordable housing. Gibson said that he grew up in subsidized public housing in Virginia and cited his own professional accomplishments and success as an outcome of having had the security of housing. He stressed that economic diversity should be considered when the city plans for housing.

There were two further comments, one written remark from Clovis resident Steven Trevino, which was read aloud by Bessinger. The comment concerned a Clovis resident, identified as Andrew Reese, who was a 1968 casualty of the war in Vietnam. Bessinger said he visits Reese’s grave annually.

The last comment was from Sergio Romo, who called via Webex to ask about parking a large commercial vehicle. He was expecting a response from the city to a previous call but had not heard anything. City staff said they had been busy and unable to return his call. Haussler said that he would “reach out” the following day.

Consent Calendar, Items 1-5 Routine finance and grant application items, an item for approval of the day’s agenda and one item rejecting a claim against the police for liability, passed 5-0. The “consent calendar” is a group of agenda items considered routine; they are decided with a single vote. A council member, staff person or a member of the public may pull any single item for discussion; otherwise, the vote proceeds without discussion.

Why do liability claims, typically against the police or the city, so consistently appear on the consent agenda? Why are they always routinely rejected by the council? Law requires that a potential plaintiff file a complaint, which is always rejected. A plaintiff’s next step is to file suit. The case on this week’s agenda, filed against the police by Clovis resident Marcus Barreto, has been filed in superior court; it is case 22CECG02093, with a trial scheduled for sometime in September 2024.

Agenda Item 6 The council approved 5-0 an updated Active Transportation Plan. Staff members Tatiana Partain and Ryan Burnett, along with a consultant from the Toole Design Group, gave a presentation, entailing progress of the city’s plan for supporting “walking, bicycling, transit, rolling, and use of other emerging modes of non-motorized personal transport as alternatives to driving.”

An original plan was adopted in 2016, and in 2021, the city contracted with Toole Design for preparation of an update. The Toole representative discussed how the plan was created and what was in it, which included existing conditions, recommendations, goals, and strategy for implementation. The vision statement says that Clovis will be “a city with a complete and connected network of trails, walkways, and bikeways that provides convenient and intuitive

connections to key destinations and supports travel within and between neighborhoods.”

Such a network will improve quality of life by encouraging walking and bicycling for transportation and recreation, concludes the vision statement.

Goals described included safety, comfort, “mode shift” (e.g., encouraging people to switch modes of transportation from car to bicycle), connectivity of trails and sidewalks, increasing access to trails for recreational use, and equity — the latter did not raise an objection from Pearce, who recently objected to the term because she felt it was “socialist.”

A bicycle network of an additional 131 miles was suggested — the current network is 96 miles. Different types of bike lane treatments were discussed, and expansion of the trail system was recommended. Issues such as Safe Routes to School, an e-bike policy and education campaigns were discussed. Priorities were defined (biking, trails); funding and implementation were discussed.

Discussion among council members — excluding Basgall and Pearce, who were quiet — ensued. Bessinger mentioned that Fresno has done a good job of upgrading bike lanes and cited Fresno’s German sister city, Münster, which has “impressive” bike lanes. A local problem Bessinger mentioned was abruptly ending bike lanes in county “islands.” Mouanoutoua asked a number of questions, such as about e-bikes.

The need for funding via Measure C was mentioned several times.

Ashbeck remarked that the overall plan fit with strategies that cover the next decade; she emphasized that the updates reflect the kind of quality of life people want. She said that the word “health” was missing from the report and that it was a missed opportunity to outline why bike lanes are needed. The other “missing element,” said Ashbeck, was the issue of trail maintenance — Measure C funding was again raised regarding this issue.

Public comment on the item was opened. Local attorney David Rowell thanked the council for planning and building bike lanes, which, as a cyclist, he said “contribute to the wonderfulness of Clovis.”

Tina Sumner, advocacy director of the Fresno Cycling Club, spoke next. She said that she worked with Clovis planning staff to advise about the updates in the report, because “planners are not necessarily cyclists,” and they incorporated many of their suggestions. She noted that signs in sections of bike lanes that end abruptly would support safety, especially in intersections, and that a municipal policy for e-bikes was necessary. “We’d love for you to adopt the [updated] plan,” she remarked.

Clovis resident Brent Burdine remarked that he “strongly encouraged” better lighting on the trails.

Jeni-Ann Kren said she walks her dog every day on the paseos and that she appreciates the availability of “poop bags” on the trails. She said that placing more trash bins on the trails would discourage people from leaving the full bags on the trails.

The discussion ended with an anecdote from Bessinger who talked about Clovis railroads predating the trails.

Agenda Item 7 The council received the results of elections for Landscape Maintenance

District No. 1, Benefit Zones 2 and 5. The presentation was made by Assistant Public Utilities Director Paul Armendariz and Parks Manager Eric Aller. Ashbeck remarked that the subject “makes me cranky.”

There was an election on Nov. 6 for property owners of Zones 2 and 5 to increase assessments for funding landscape and park maintenance. The assessment increase failed to pass in both zones. Zone 2 property owners voted about 58% against the increase, and Zone 5 rejected the increase by 54%.

The rejection of the assessment means less funding to finance regular landscape maintenance, which is done by contract, and the result will mean reduced services, including watering. In the case of the park, old playground equipment will not be replaced.

A discussion followed the presentation. Mouanoutoua asked questions about the voting process and protest proceedings. Could tenants, not property owners vote? Holt replied that he could consult the city attorney about that. Cross explained “weighted” votes and the like.

Pearce said that she was “developing a strong aversion to just the concept of these districts,” and asked if there was “an option to do a citywide district that everybody is paying into, because I think we all share the desire to have a good-looking city.” She laughed sheepishly while speaking. She said, without offering any evidence, that she was “convinced” that people who received the ballots “literally do not understand what this is about.” However, Aller and Armendariz said that the return rate of ballots, about 30%, was average.

Ashbeck pointed out that the issue of creating a single citywide landscape maintenance district has come up over the years, something Pearce did not appear to be aware of. Overhauling of the city’s landscape-zoning districts would be “a pretty big undertaking,” Ashbeck said, and such a change would have to be approved by voters.

Public comment on the matter was opened. Gibson said the publicity about the election should have been more aggressive and engaged neighbors more. He lives in one of the affected districts and received only a postcard notification about the election. Could a park be offered for “adoption,” like some highways, as a means to generate funding? Ashbeck reminded everyone that the city can “educate” about but not “advocate” for elections.

Agenda Item 8 The council received an update on proposed landscaping for the civic center. Civil Engineer Nate Stava made the presentation. The landscape and irrigation system is 50 years old and in need of an overhaul, Stava said. In 2022 the city contracted with a landscape designer to come up with a plan. Total projected costs are estimated at $4 million, and the work would be done in three phases.

Staff recommends postponing further work until funding can be secured. It was pointed out that the city will acquire the old courthouse building as well as the current library, though possible uses for those structures were not addressed.

Improvements, other than irrigation and landscaping repairs and upgrades, would entail a new entry plaza, a raised stage for events and new raised planters in the area next to Clovis City Hall.

Discussion followed. Mouanoutoua said that he brings friends to see the council chambers, but that he would show them everything if it looked, referring to a rendering of the proposed improvements, “like this.”

Ashbeck said that the project was deferred because available funding went to a different project last year. Basgall remarked that he would like to see the project as a long-term one which entailed the entire campus.

Public comment was opened. David Rowell said that the council should make this project a priority because costs will continue to go up. Rowell pointed out that the “interplay between this item and the immediately preceding item is rather interesting, isn’t it?” He added, “You could consider yourselves voters on a ‘Prop 218’ project to improve the city and zone; I encourage you to vote in the affirmative.”

Agenda Item 9 The council received an update from Ashbeck about Measure C, a half-cent sales tax, first approved in 1986, which funds the entire county’s transportation projects. The current law will expire in 2027, and in the 2022 election, voters rejected the measure. There are still several years before the expiration, so the next time the measure will appear on the ballot will be 2026. At this meeting and at several previous ones, worry has been expressed about potential loss of funding should Measure C fail at the next election, because it would eliminate a significant funding source for most transportation projects within the county. Measure C failed in 2022 because it gave priority to paving roads for private cars and commercial trucks and skimped on public transportation and bike infrastructure, something Ashbeck did not mention.

Ashbeck said she was one of a committee of 10 people, five “who supported the measure and five who did not,” but she did not clarify if the support was for or against the 2022 iteration of the measure, or if it was a more general support or opposition. There was “animosity” between the two groups, she noted. They met five times between April and September. They came up with a “framework,” she said, though they had no authority to suggest action. The county Board of Supervisors “all spoke strongly against it,” she noted. She conceded that the framework “has room to work” and said that the group of 10 would take a 90-day pause before reconvening.

Bessinger said he listened to the meeting audio and that “at the end of the day, we are the elected officials.” He seemed to suggest that elected officials have the decision-making power and that advisory groups should be disregarded.

Mouanoutoua pointed out that the county has relied on this funding stream for almost 20 years.

Basgall asked why the vote in 2022 took place when the measure doesn’t expire until 2027. 

Mouanoutoua commented again. He said that county supervisors from districts 2 (Steve Brandau) and 5 (Nathan Magsig) were opposed to the measure renewal— they are, he said, “conservative voices.” Brandau was a “persuasive Republican image,” said Mouanoutoua, and that’s how the measure failed politically. Mouanoutoua and all the council members are Republicans, so it wasn’t clear why their points of view differed. It was unclear if Mouanoutoua was referring to the 2022 election or the October 2023 meeting of the “group of 10.”

Public comment was opened. A young woman identifying herself only as a “regular, plain citizen” spoke agitatedly and said, addressing Bessinger, that the people representing community groups “have master’s degrees a million times over, and to insinuate that they don’t know what the ‘f’ they are doing is asinine.” She continued, “Be careful with your words, because you are elected, so your words have weight. They worked their asses off to get to a place where they can sit down at a table across from a man who would make fun of them, mock them, criticize them for standing up for their disenfranchised communities who don’t have streets that we have here.” She added that council members “should go hang out in Parlier” then come back and say “we’re the elected officials,” still reacting to Bessinger’s comment. “Be better,” she concluded.

She continued talking from the audience without a mic, so she was unintelligible.

Agenda Item 10 The council unanimously agreed to city participation in the development of a children’s book about Clovis. Ashbeck summarized the idea: the book would center on Clovis history and feature city landmarks. The book would “expose young people to people and milestones which make our city great,” per the description in the council’s agenda packet. The total cost would be roughly $25,000, with half of the funding coming from the Clovis Community Foundation and the rest from the city manager’s office.

Bessinger and Mouanoutoua both expressed support. Basgall and Pearce were silent.

Ashbeck opened public comment. The woman identifying herself as a “regular, plain citizen” spoke. Again, she was very agitated and spoke angrily, suggesting that such a book would omit facts and history: “If we’re going to do a children’s book, and it’s going to be whitewashed, we’re going to make fun of it on the internet over and over and over again. There’s an opportunity here to do a book that is inclusive, and I know everyone here hates that term.” To the last point, Ashbeck said, “That’s not true.” The commenter was opposed to advancing the project with city money until questions were answered.

There was a tense exchange between the commenter and Ashbeck, who said the idea was just being developed and that money was needed to do that. The commenter said in that case, “do it on your own” and then bring it to council once an idea is formed. When Ashbeck said, “I’m not a children’s book author,” the commenter snapped, “Then get one, Lynne.”

Ashbeck offered to speak with the commenter “off-line,” to which she replied, “I would love to. There is a group of us that have been actively discussing this. We have a lot of ideas. There are a million different ways to make this a jumping-off point to fix the tomfoolery that has happened and disgraced our libraries.” 

Again, the commenter continued to speak angrily after leaving the lectern, and though she was unintelligible without a mic, Ashbeck was replying and at one point said, “We want to be honest, but we’re not going to cover the Ku Klux Klan in 1950. That is not going to happen.”

Mouanoutoua spoke for a few minutes, saying he wanted to “defend [Ashbeck’s] vision for the book. Bessinger talked about nostalgic things from Clovis in the 1980s that he thought would be good for children to know about.

Agenda Item 11 The council approved a meeting schedule change. The next meeting will be Dec. 4, and the last meeting of 2023 will be on Dec. 11.

The Nov. 20 meeting will be canceled, as will those of Dec. 18 and Jan. 2.

City Manager Comments Holt had none.

Council Comments

Basgall noted that he attended a Veterans Day event.

Pearce said that she attended a meeting of the county Board of Supervisors at which the above-mentioned children’s book censorship resolution was passed. Pearce had advocated for a similar measure in Clovis despite learning that the library was administered by the county and despite widespread opposition from the public and from fellow council members. She expressed her pleasure in the board’s approval of the measure and complained that she was “criticized” for her position on the matter. She boasted that she was “undeterred” despite criticism and added that she got “encouragement and support” from what she called “the community.” She thanked her ally on the board of supervisors, Steve Brandau, who brought the resolution to the board. The resolution was strongly opposed by the ACLU, the First Amendment Coalition, PEN America and the Freedom to Read Foundation, who together sent a letter to the board outlining their opposition.

Bessinger attended a Veterans Day event and told an anecdote about when he was a police corporal, in support of advocating for commercial truck parking.

Mouanoutoua attended a ceremony for police promotions and asked why council members are not invited to the Fresno veterans parade.

Ashbeck said that she was ill last week, so she missed Veterans Day events. She expressed her concerns about vacant commercial buildings, some of which are owned by absentee landlords. Could vacant buildings be taxed at higher rates, she wondered. Holt said it was an ongoing problem, and that there was no staff to manage it. Ashbeck also explained that the day’s closed session had taken place at 4 p.m. in advance of the public meeting instead of after it, to avoid a late night. The only item on the closed-session agenda was the affordable housing lawsuit, which the city definitively lost, Desiree Martinez v. City of Clovis, et al., Case No. F082914.

The meeting was adjourned at 8:47 p.m.
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