A battle of approaches is playing out in Fresno County over how COVID-19 money is used.
And, the fight is being waged in hallways of public buildings and through mainstream and social media while lives hang in the balance at crowded hospitals and ICU units.
On one side, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. Their philosophy is to spend funding slowly in the event the pandemic drags on until year’s end.
On the other side, Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula. The Fresno Democrat believes checks need to go out immediately because people are hurting now.
Friday morning, just a few days before a scheduled city-county meeting to discuss funding, Arambula continued his criticism of supervisors by hosting a live Facebook town hall meeting.
Arambula Facebook Town Hall
“Our people are hurting, and our healthcare system is exhausted,” said Arambula at the beginning of his virtual town hall.
Arambula, who is a physician, sent a letter last week to the Board of Supervisors asking how they intend to spend nearly $81.6 million dollars in Federal CARES Act funding.
So far, he hasn’t gotten the answers he wanted.
“As a doctor and public servant, I cannot stand by and see people suffering or dying while Fresno County supervisors don’t do everything in their power to combat this,” said Arambula.
One of the speakers Arambula invited was Leslie Martinez, a policy advocate for the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. She spoke passionately about some areas she says are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 fight. She said that residents in rural communities such as Cantua Creek, Riverdale, and Lanare are seeing rates of death much higher than other areas.
“I really challenge the board of supervisors in Fresno County coming into this workshop on Tuesday, that we dedicate some funds to communities that are keeping this county going,” said Martinez. “We’re keeping Fresno County going. We’re keeping the state going. We’re keeping food on your table, and we’re keeping your Amazon packages there. So, the least you can do is ensure that we have the basics for our health.”
No Supervisors Were Part of Arambula’s Event
None of the supervisors appeared during Arambula’s town hall.
A representative of Supervisor Buddy Mendes’ office said Friday that Mendes received an invitation late Thursday night, but he wasn’t able to attend because he was scheduled to chair the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority meeting.
On Monday, Mendes told GV Wire℠ by phone, “We spend federal dollars every day. Billions a year. We have to account for everything. Even in the CARES Act, there’s an accounting process.”
Mendes also said that he and other supervisors were worried about state money that’s paying for things like the three COVID-19 testing centers running out. He said it costs $1.5 million dollars a month to operate the testing centers.
“How long is this going to last? We still could be doing this in November and December,” said Mendes.
Supervisor Nathan Magsig told GV Wire℠, “I still don’t know exactly what he (Arambula) wants. He may have a disagreement with how we’re spending some of our funds. But, I mean, we’re supervisors. We’ve got to make decisions that we believe are in the best interest of the county.”
Radio Ad Slams Arambula Over Run-in with Supervisors
Arambula’s confrontation last week with several supervisors has made him the target of conservative activist and campaign consultant Tal Cloud.
A 60-second radio ad voiced by Cloud references a plan from local nonprofits on how to spend some of the CARES Act dollars, as reported by Alex Tavlian of the San Joaquin Valley Sun.
According to an updated proposal, which can be viewed here and here, the plan would allocate $653,285 to Go Public Schools Fresno. Arambula’s brother Diego Arambula previously was the group’s CEO and served on the nonprofit’s leadership council.
“My brother, Diego, last worked for GO Public Schools Fresno in August 2018. He left the Leadership Council in early June and is not part of Go Public Schools Fresno’s decision-making,” Arambula said in an email Friday after the town hall.
City-County Meeting Still Scheduled
The county and city are supposed to meet Tuesday for a public workshop discussing federal stimulus spending. The county sent a news release about the event, and it’s on the official agenda website.
County Public Information Officer Jordan Scott tells GV Wire℠ the meeting is moving ahead as planned. However, the meeting’s details are still being discussed by city and county officials.