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 Lynne Ashbeck to discuss the race.
Daniel Gligich: Why are you running for reelection?
Lynne Ashbeck: It has been a privilege to serve the community since 2001, and I’m running because there’s more work to be done that requires experienced leadership. And that’s what I offer in this race.
DG: What is your background and what professional experience would you bring to the council?
LA: I have been involved in the City of Clovis for a long long time. I started as a personnel commissioner. I served for two years on the Personnel Commission. I served for 12 years on the planning commission, I think three terms as chair, and I was elected to the City Council in 2001, so I’m just completing my fifth term. I’ve had many other community involvements, from the historical society and the hall of fame and other events. Long invested in the City of Clovis and grateful for everything that I’ve been able to do here in this community. Professionally, I am a Senior Vice President of Community Engagement and Population Wellness at Valley Children’s Health Care, and I’ve really spent my entire career in some form or another of children’s health or community health. I spent 20 years working for the dairy industry doing nutrition education for the dairy industry. I spent 10 years working for the California Hospital Association. I’ve worked for Community Medical Centers, a couple of years at Fresno State and then Valley Children’s. The career has all circled around health, community health, kids’ health – those are the themes of it all.
DG: Name your three biggest accomplishments that you’ve won during your most recent term on the City Council.
LA: Let me backup a little bit. When I was the mayor in 2013, I went to the Board of Trustees of Community Medical Centers, and we talked about the idea of creating a medical neighborhood, if you will, out around Clovis Community Medical Center. So what would happen if Clovis invested in a technology health care vision at that general intersection? The idea had been percolating. So take us to today, I think one accomplishment over the last term is seeing the transformation of what’s happened out there between the continued growth of Clovis Community Medical Center, the expansion of the college of medicine, California Health Sciences University, Valley Children’s Health Care, the Veterans Administration coming out there, United Health Centers coming out there. So that to me is just a really wonderful transformation that has occurred in the last term but has been underway for a decade. I would also say, what we are about to break ground on next week is the new senior center, transit center, county library in downtown Clovis, Landmark Square. That, again, is a decade-long project that is really coming together now, and it will be a wonderful addition to old town and a wonderful addition to the community.
DG: In your view, what are the top issues that the Clovis City Council must address in the upcoming years?
LA: Well certainly it’s the recovery from COVID-19. Both the economic recovery and I suppose the continued management of COVID-19. It’s not going away. It’s part of how we’re going to have to operate as a community and as a country – the world for that matter – but certainly as a community for the foreseeable future. So I think the economic recovery is probably the top priority, and by that I mean restoring small businesses that we can support, imagining what to do with empty retail space – there will be some that comes from this of course. And I also think it’s about redefining what business looks like, and the example that I used is there was a story not too long ago about this evolution of ghost kitchens. So restaurants that are going to simply storefront where they cook and prepare, and you either pick up or they deliver and you never dine in. So one question is, are our ordinances ready for that revamp of businesses? And what can we as a city do to make that redesign of a business model more effective? So I think that’s the kind of thing that we’re going to think more about, making outdoor dining more permanent. Maybe we need to construct some shelters, permanent space in Old Town around the outside of businesses so they don’t have to put up temporary fences in the parking. So I think just redefining how to do business in a COVID-19 world is probably the biggest challenge for sure.
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?
LA: Clovis has done probably the best job of planning of any community around, and we have been able to cast a longer vision and build and then build toward that. The discussion particularly about affordable housing is important in Clovis. We have identified lots of parcels of land that are suitable and available and ready for affordable housing. It does require a builder. Cities don’t build housing, typically. So I think our job as a city is to provide the land, provide the land that’s zoned and ready to go, to make sure our fee structure is fair and supports the development of affordable housing. I think the piece that holds us all together is not how much the housing costs, but the standards that we use to build, to maintain, to manage, and to take care of over time. That to me is the Clovis difference. We have high standards. We have high expectations, and everyone can live up to them. They’re not magical. They’re just high standards. Housing of any sort can be high quality, well maintained, well taken care, and that’s what makes a strong community.
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?
LA: Annexation is a choice that residents make. It’s not a city driven process. I think if we cast a wide net and plan for whatever the sphere of influence is – doesn’t mean we’re going to build anything tomorrow – so if we cast the plan and we can grow responsibly and predictably toward that vision, if annexation is a tool and property owners want to come into the city, then absolutely. But annexation is not a city driven or city forced action. It’s a property owner choice, and we’ve been able to work with lots of property owners, and we’ve been able to work with some that don’t want to come into the city. We have an area in Clovis called the Dry Creek Preserve – Sunnyside and Teague areas – and we’ve worked with them for many years. They like being surrounded by Clovis, but they don’t want to be in the city limits, so they are not. And we’ve worked through those kinds of agreements. Plan, cast a wide net, plan well and then grow as you can bringing property owners with you, because it’s their property, not ours.
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?
LA: I have not seen any statistics that would link the crime increase to COVID-19 directly. I think it’s a contributing factor for stress and all of that. I think the crime that we’re seeing is the impact of some of the state – Prop. 47, the no bail issues, some of the prisoners getting sent home because of COVID-19 and then they’re coming back to their communities. That’s what I think’s happening. It doesn’t have a COVID-19 link – some of it for sure – but I think California’s passed some less restrictive criminal justice initiatives, and that’s what I think you see coming home to communities. Be all live around folks that are on Prop 47, not on bail, they might have been on bail, folks that commit crime that now you can’t be held in jail any longer. I think it’s that, more than I think it’s COVID-19. Public safety is really the No. 1 reason people live in Clovis. It’s the No. 1 priority for our city, and it’s the No. 1 expenditure in our city. So continuing to invest in public safety – additional officers, yes, but additional resources like we have a wonderful K-9 unit, our police department uses drone technology better than most anybody in the state of California. We have a new technology system for real time dispatch so they can get there a little bit faster. So all of those things make communities safer, and there’s a huge role for neighbors to play. Neighbors have eyeballs on their community that no one else has, so engaging citizens to help take care of their own neighborhoods is really important as well. But we are on public safety. I am a big believer in that broken window theory that if you let it go, it’s so hard to get it back. So we’ll keep at it, and Clovis is so skilled at that, and we’ll keep doing that. And we need to work together as a county. This stuff doesn’t know the difference between Willow Ave. to the east and Willow Ave. to the west in lots of occasions. We’ve got to work together as a county as well. Clovis is committed to public safety. We will keep that up and never change that, because that is what makes Clovis a special community.
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?
LA: Everyone knows that kids belong in school. That is an indisputable fact. I think I would say kids belong in school if they can be safe, and I think that’s what the American Academy of Pediatrics said, that’s the line. It’s never been about not going to school. It’s been about, can we keep kids safe? Back when the schools closed, the transmission rate in Fresno County was out of control, and the guidance from the science was, ‘Hold on until you can get your community under control. Hold on, don’t send kids back.’ Today our community’s doing better, and the schools have learned so much and the things that Clovis Unified has in place to protect kids and teachers is really impressive. So yes, kids belong in school, and we need to keep them safe. That’s the adult job in this deal. Obviously the city can’t influence school policy. We can support them if we can. We can help set up vaccination clinics at city properties for teachers. We can do some of those sorts of things, but we can certainly just be supportive and encourage them and do whatever they ask us, to do what we can. Clovis has done well over the years because we’ve done a good job of staying in our own lane. We’ve not tried to demand other people do this or that when it’s outside of our spin of control, if you will. So we respect Clovis Unified, their role, we have a wonderful relationship with them. We are here to support them. We’ve had conversations with the school board president – encourage them and help them do what we can to get kids back in school safely. I think they seem certainly well prepared to do that.
DG: Is there anything else you would like to add or address?
LA: The service to the City of Clovis has been just an incredible privilege, and I feel like the leadership and skills that I bring are important to our city going forward. For me, local government is not about politics. It’s about service. And we need to protect Clovis from politics finding their way – partisan politics in particular – finding their way to local government, because that’s not what local government was made to do. So I’m a pretty strong advocate for solving citizens’ problems, finding things we share and not working on things that divide us. And I think those are the things that have kept Clovis going for the generations that it has, and we’ll keep this going into the future as the community that’s really the best place to live in the Valley.