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Ballot Measures Expand Powers of Fresno County Supervisors. Will Courts Be the Ultimate Deciders?
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By David Taub, Senior Reporter
Published 2 months ago on
February 20, 2024

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Fresno County voters will decide two measures that could give the Board of Supervisors more power.

Measure A would revert sheriff and DA elections to non-presidential election years (2026, 2030, etc.).

Measure B would give the Board of Supervisors the right to name and rename geographic places.


Fresno County is asking voters during the election to give the Board of Supervisors more power over the naming of locations, and when elections should take place.

Both would change the county charter to put those powers in writing and clash with state law.

Measure A would keep the traditional election dates of sheriff and district attorney elections the same as for governor, overriding a new state law.

Measure B would give the Board of Supervisors the power to name, or rename, geographic locations within its jurisdiction. The proposal is the latest tremor from the renaming of the Fresno County foothills community of Squaw Valley to Yokuts Valley.

Both measures need a simple majority to pass.

Ballots have been mailed to voters, with drop boxes located at several areas in Fresno County. Vote centers will open on Saturday, Feb. 24. All ballots must be returned — either in person, by mail, or in the drop boxes — by March 5.

Measure A Changes Election Cycles for Top Law Enforcers

Californians elect the governor and other state Constitutional officers in even-numbered years not divisible by four (i.e. 2026, 2030). Most counties, including Fresno, elect their countywide leaders at the same time.

A 2022 state law changed when the election of the two county law enforcement positions take place in most counties. Elections for the sheriff and DA would take place in even-numbered years divisible by four (2028, 2032), the same as presidential primaries.

A “yes” vote changes Section 15 of the charter to keep the sheriff and DA elections in the same four-year cycle, with the next election in 2026. A “no” vote keeps the county charter the same, and the election schedule would comply with the new state law.

The argument made at the time was that such positions are important enough that they should take place at a time when voter turnout is higher. Traditionally, more voters turn out for presidential year primaries than non-presidential years.

In Fresno County, the 2020 presidential primary had a 42% turnout; the 2022 primary had a 27% turnout.

The new law gives sheriffs and DAs elected in 2022 — John Zanoni and Lisa Smittcamp, respectively in Fresno County — a one-time term extended to six years.

“It’s an attempt to drown out important local law enforcement issues and turn every campaign into referendums on party politics,” Fresno County Supervisors Steve Brandau and Nathan Magsig wrote in the argument for Measure A.

State Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Merced, did not vote for the law but co-wrote the official argument against Measure A.

“It’s state law. I don’t think it makes any sense to be fighting state law unless you’re going to do it in the courts. And, if you lose in the courts, then, that’s it. It’s the end of the game,” Caballero told GV Wire.

Brandau and Magsig countered that the sheriff and DA races may get lost in the shuffle in presidential primary election.

Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, disagrees.

“Democracy works best when the most people participate in elections, as important as who are the next sheriff or a district attorney, should be aligned with when, historically, the most people participate, which is our presidential cycles,” Arambula said.

Legal Issues Brewing?

The new law exempted any county that specified in its charter as of 2021 when the election should take place. Fresno County does not specify in its charter. Section 15 of the charter simply states that officers shall be elected at the same time “provided by general law.”

A county impartial analysis points out that if voters change the charter, it could still conflict with the state law. Both supporters and opponents recognize this could head to the courts. A judge may have to decide how powerful a county charter is compared to a state law.

Squaw Valley/Yokuts Valley Influences Measure B

The community off of Highway 180 on the way to Kings Canyon National Park is recognized as Yokuts Valley by the federal government, and Squaw Valley by Fresno County. While Measure B is not a referendum on the Squaw/Yokuts issue, it would give supervisors the power to rename the area.

A “yes” vote adds to Section 12 of the county charter that the Board of Supervisors has “the duty and power to name or change the name of geographic features or place names within unincorporated portions of the County of Fresno.”

A “no” vote will not change the charter.

A state law — passed without a no vote in 2022 — is forcing jurisdictions to jettison the “squaw” name, considered an offensive slur to many Indigenous people. Technically, the law forbids public agencies from replacing any signs or markers with the “squaw” name starting Jan. 1, 2025. It will also move the name from official state maps. The law does give the public agency a process to recommend a new name. A state committee would then vote on the name.

Fresno County is suing the state over the law. A judge ruled for the state — saying a county does not have the right to sue over a state law. However, the county appealed with a ruling pending.

Magsig and Brandau, arguing in favor, said the measure is about local control and who decides name changes — local residents, or the state and federal government.

“(People) who live in that area should able to decide for themselves what that name their community is going to be,” Magsig said in a GV Wire candidate forum earlier this month. Magsig has also said publicly that “Bear Valley” is a preferred name with residents.

Magsig said the federal government “ignored local voices” when the Board of Geographic Names voted for the Yokuts Valley name in 2023. That board said the name was proposed during public comment.

The Yokuts name was suggested by Fresno activist Roman Rain Tree.

The official argument against, written by Arambula, Assemblymember  James Ramos (who wrote the renaming bill), Caballero, and two other groups, denounced the “squaw” name. They wrote that the “County now wants to ignore state law, which will result in costly and needless litigation that we will all pay for.”‘

“We also must acknowledge when there has been generational and historical trauma that the use of derogatory term,” Arambula said.

Caballero said she generally agrees that locals should have the power to name or change names. But, she doesn’t think the supervisors would comply with the anti-Squaw law.

“Unfortunately, the county of Fresno persisted in insisting that they had the right to name the places and to continue using the derogatory terms,” Caballero said.

Again, if passed, it could end up in litigation. Arambula said Measure B is “poor public policy” that will cost taxpayers.

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David Taub,
Senior Reporter
Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

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