The Clovis City Council election is scheduled for March 2, with current councilmembers Lynne Ashbeck and Vong Mouanoutoua up for reelection. Three challengers – Diane Pearce, Herman Nagra and Noha Elbaz – are also vying for the seats.
The top two vote getters out of the five will be elected to the Clovis City Council. The Sun’s Daniel Gligich talked with Diane Pearce to discuss the race.
Daniel Gligich: Why are you running for Clovis City Council?
Diane Pearce: The main reason I took on the challenge of running for Clovis City Council is because I saw what was going on with our businesses this past year, and I realized that of our five member council – they’re all fine people – but none of them are self-employed, none of them missed a paycheck from their regular jobs last year. And when we’re seeing the impact that all of these decisions have on our business community specifically, I think it would be good for us to have a voice on the council, and so I want to bring that perspective. I think diversity and experience on our governing bodies is important, and I think having a voice from the business community who is a small business owner would be a net plus, a benefit for the city of Clovis. And that’s the perspective and voice that I hope to bring to the council.
DG: What is your background and what professional experience would you bring to the council?
DP: Born and raised in this area. I went to Fresno Christian High School and then went to UC Davis, where I got degrees in political science and international relations. Those are the only four years I haven’t lived around here, but for the past 18 years my husband and I have been running our small business. It’s been full-time, and it’s an entertainment company called King Productions, and so we’ve done business all over the place.
As you can imagine, entertainment takes you all around, but done a lot of business in Clovis and with those business owners and developed relationships with them over the years. And so that was where I started when I was thinking about taking on this campaign.
I went to the business owners to see if there was an interest in having that voice on the council and what their experiences have been, and it was a very informative and frankly supportive endeavor when I went to those businesses. So that was really kind of the impetus that brought me into the race.
DG: What are the big changes you would seek to make on the city council?
DP: I think calling them big changes might sound a little scary, because frankly Clovis is a fantastic place. But what I think needs to happen is kind of a shift.
I do think that bringing that voice from the business community is important. And that diversity of experience, when you’re looking at all of these different things, having viewpoints from different sectors of the community I think is valuable and provides more even-handed or better representation for the entire community. So I do think that’s a big, important thing. I also want to make sure that we are laser focused on our public safety. It’s one of our calling cards, frankly.
Clovis is one of the safest cities around, and we pride ourselves on that. But at the same time we need to make sure that we are pursuing the fact that we want to make sure those services are maintained at the level that our Clovis residents expect and deserve, and that as we look at whether it’s financial challenges, growth issues, that the impact that those things have on public safety is at the forefront, that we really make sure that first things stay first. So public safety is a huge issue for me because we do see crime increasing.
While Clovis is still better off than a lot of surrounding areas, we know that it takes that laser-like focus to make sure that you don’t kind of rest on your laurels or say, ‘Hey, we’re safer than so-and-so,’ or ‘We are a safe city.’ But that has to be maintained, and we have to pursue those policies and budget issues that make sure that that stays in place.
And kind of along that same line is the issue of homelessness, because it’s starting to creep into Clovis. And that is the type of issue where you can’t wait to deal with it. So part of that public safety, and frankly even the business owners are seeing it in Old Town Clovis. We need to make sure that we have a comprehensive, realistic and compassionate response to that to make sure that people are getting the help they need, but that it isn’t having a negative impact on our neighborhoods and our businesses. And I think that’s an important thing as well.
But the main thing I think Clovis needs, and I talk about kind of that shift – not anything of massive overhaul – but just a shift in that leadership concept where I say we’ve been a well managed city for a long time. And we’ve obviously been successful that way, but we’ve been a smaller town and we were kind of mostly left alone to do our thing the way we wanted to. And that’s how it worked so well for us.
But now again as we are one of the fastest growing cities in the state, we are starting to see more attention paid to us, our decisions, how we do things, and more outside influences wanting to play a part in that. And I think that if we actually want to preserve that Clovis way of life that we love and has built this community that everybody wants to be a part of, that the linchpin to that is making sure that we maintain and strengthen that local control concept of it.
And I think that’s something that does need a bit of a shift or a change in how we approach it because where before as a smaller town we weren’t really targeted for anything, but now we are and we need to be able to be strong in our stance saying, ‘We’re going to keep that local control. Our Clovis decisions are going to be made in Clovis, for Clovis, by Clovis.’ And really push back on those outside influences. So that’s the type of leadership shift that I see is needed. Someone who’s willing to take a stand and be bold about defending those things in Clovis and how we do things.
DG: In your view, what are the top issues that the Clovis City Council must address in the upcoming years?
DP: Growth is at the forefront of everyone’s mind when it comes to Clovis, and we kind of recognize that, in part, growth is inevitable. But it’s also a symbol of a city that is – if you stop growing you start dying, so it’s a vibrancy and a life that goes into a city with those growth ideas. But I think there are a couple things we need to be mindful of when we look at it, and that’s making sure that what’s kind of promised by the development plans at the outset, what the city says it’s going to do, is actually delivered completely. Because we see the homes and the residential projects that are going, and so we know that the housing is there for people. And it’s in demand. As soon as one neighborhood is announced, it’s practically sold out and the developer’s working on the next version of that neighborhood. So that is not the problem.
What I see as a concern in wanting to make sure that we’re following through on the promises the city is making is seeing that the retail and commercial development that is kind of built in to these almost master plan communities. But when they put the project out there at the outset, here’s all that’s going to go on here, and it includes those additional things, the retail, commercial and parks and all of that. I just want to make sure that those promises are fulfilled to the people, because, again, the residential building is going on. We see it all over the place. There’s not a problem in making sure that that happens, but those follow up things I think really need to be pursued a little bit more seriously and fervently to make sure that the completion of those promises is brought about for the people who buy into those neighborhoods and that as well.
And secondarily, I think that there is an issue where communication with varying stakeholders in the growth and pattern of growth in our city is concerned in making sure that things like public safety, city services are having to play catch up to where this growth is happening. But that we make sure that they’re brought along so where growth is happening isn’t going to have a negative impact on our ability to deliver services, to deliver public safety. And the same thing with the school district. The way we’re growing, the patterns, aren’t putting an undue burden on our school system and where our elementary schools are. Are we going to create an impaction in some of those areas where if those people were brought along at the outset some of those conversations could be had and those issues could be dealt with beforehand rather than some of these groups having to play a little bit of catchup with what’s going on. So just making sure there’s a comprehensive approach to all of this that it really does continue as I think it is to foster that Clovis community feel. I think those are the things that I just want to ensure continue and again make sure that it’s all being done in that really thoughtful way that it seems to be – and just make sure that those issues finishing the projects off with the other things that are often promised is not let go of or gone by the wayside sometimes, but that those things are pursued with just as much fervor.
DG: The City of Clovis is in the midst of growth, with additional housing units being constructed in the northwest and eastern edges of its city limits. Do you support continuing low barriers to construct affordable, market-rate housing for the Valley’s workforce?
DP: Construction and development brings a lot of great jobs with it, and so I think there is an economic consideration in addition to just the housing too. So it really does create that vibrant community with the growth that happens. So I certainly am for people being able to have those options. People want to move into Clovis. We want to welcome them into the community.
But again I think we do want to make sure that those things are done thoughtfully and with the mind to make sure that the entire promise is delivered, and all of those things. It’s not so much a question of is growth good or bad, I think it just has to be done thoughtfully and intentionally and make sure that the entire promise at the outset is fulfilled and delivered at the end of the day.
DG: Additionally, would you support the City of Clovis seeking annexation of some or all of the Southeast Growth Area (SEGA) or other unincorporated areas in eastern Fresno County to support additional market-rate workforce housing?
DP: I think there have been recent conversations about sphere of influence and some of those things, so it’s certainly something that’s one the table. As far as specific areas and that, I wouldn’t want to speak directly to something without having the actual proposals and ramifications and all those kinds of things in front of me. But I know those are issues that have to be addressed. And so as those things come up obviously you have to approach everything with an open mind and consider the impacts it has not just on revenues or housing availability, affordability and all those questions, but make sure that the existing and established Clovis residents and that established Clovis community isn’t left behind in anything as well. So I think if we approach it from a whole community, city-wide deal to make sure that what we’re doing is reflective of what the community wants and needs, then I think we’ll be ahead at the end of the day and we’ll see all of those things continue in the positive way that they’ve been going on right now.
DG: As we enter into our eleventh month since Gov. Gavin Newsom issued his initial shelter-in-place order, Fresno County experienced a significant jump in crime in 2020. What do you believe is the root cause of this increase? And how can Clovis leaders combat it from spreading into the city?
DP: Fortunately our Clovis Police Department is outstanding. We have high quality officers that are able to respond to our citizens, to their concerns and to the issues that go on in the community. And so while we have seen an increase in crime in Clovis specifically, as we have across the county – as these things have been going on with the pandemic – in Clovis specifically we’re fortunate in that it is addressed. And we can’t control how the state handles things, and the county’s forced to book people but release them, and all those kinds of deals. But at least in Clovis we have a police force that’s responsive that is out there doing its best to keep us safe. So from the City Council level, it’s our responsibility – should I be fortunate enough to be on there – as well to make sure they have the resources they need, and that comes down to budget dollars and making sure that cuts that are foreseen, shortfalls in revenues, don’t have a negative impact on our police budget.
Again it’s that idea of keeping first things first, and if your community isn’t safe the rest of it hardly matters. I keep saying that laser-like focus on first things first, and that public safety issue is absolutely No. 1. Again from the city council level it’s making sure they have the resources they need, the opportunity to hire more officers if that’s the issue, or whatever their department is in need of that we’re there to facilitate in making sure that they are getting it so that they are keeping us safe.
DG: Clovis Unified and the City of Clovis regularly work in concert. The school district is still a long way from fully reopening school sites under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s orders. What are your thoughts about returning students to campus and do you believe the City can play a role in assisting an expedited reopening of its K-12 public schools?
DP: I was really pleased with the plan that Clovis Unified put forward over the summer as they anticipated being able to allow families to make a choice of bringing kids back on campus at the beginning of the school year. Because they had spent a lot of time surveying the families and the teachers and staff to see exactly where everybody was and basically provide options, because there are some families that for their own situations whether it’s caring for elderly parents or someone with immunodeficiency issues that the at home distance learning was best for that family. And Clovis Unified wanted to continue to offer that. But for those families who really needed the opportunity to have their kids back on campus, whether it was specifically for the students’ development and experience or they had a job they needed to be able to get to and the at-home learning and all of that was really making that more difficult.
The fact that Clovis Unified wanted to give that option as well I think was exactly what was needed so that families could make the choice that was best for them with their considerations and situations. And I think the part the city can play as Clovis Unified continues to pursue that giving the families the options that they’ve asked for and requested.
The city just needs to stand strong behind them and be vocal in supporting those options and what the school district wants to do. And I think that’s the biggest deal because when you see where the school district wants to go and where the board of trustees is trying to take things – we don’t have as a city council on that side of it obviously direct influence or impact on those things – but we can play that supportive role so they aren’t standing out there alone saying, ‘This is what we want. This is what our families want. This is what our community needs.’ But we’re there to champion that with them and make sure that voice is a unified, strong, bold voice for those options. And that’s really where I see the city in general being able to help with the school district issues, is again just giving a louder voice to those things and making sure that they’re supported in that just as we can support businesses and their choices. We need to make sure that we’re vocal in supporting the school district and the options and choices they want to provide our families.
DG: Is there anything else you would like to add or address?
DP: I really do see that the main issues and the choice that Clovis really has in this election is, No. 1, bringing a different voice and perspective into the conversation on City Council. And having a voice from the business community adds value to what’s going on. And I am looking to bring that perspective and voice from the business community into the conversation on City Council. And again, public safety is the No. 1 issue.
I hear it at the door with people constantly that A, they appreciate our Clovis Police Department, but B, they want to make sure that again that level of service is able to be delivered in the manner that we expect and frankly deserve as residents of Clovis. We buy into this community not just by purchasing homes, but by participating in the community, and we need to make sure that the people who are doing that, who are here and contributing and part of this community and Clovis way of life are still benefiting from it the way that they should be.
And so that public safety issue really is the No. 1 thing that I want to make sure stays the No. 1 thing, that priority has to be maintained there. So bringing that business perspective and making sure that public safety remains the absolute top priority are really the main thrusts of this campaign and doing so with leadership that is bold and willing to push back against outside influences who want to tell us how we should be doing things rather then letting us really maintain and preserve that local control.