Nov '23

City Council approves yearslong effort to expand Visalia cemetery – Fresnoland

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Making policy public for all Central San Joaquin Valley residents.
What happened: At its Nov. 20, 2023, meeting, the Visalia City Council approved the Visalia Public Cemetery District’s request to change the land use and zoning designations of a 3.4-acre vacant lot from residential to cemetery use in a 4-1 vote. Councilmember Emmanuel Hernandez Soto, who represents the district that the affected area is in, was the sole “no” vote.
The Visalia Public Cemetery District (VPCD) request was first brought in front of the council on May 1. It was met with immense pushback from members of the public, many of whom were concerned with the loss of affordable housing and the expansion negatively affecting nearby Houston Elementary School. 
One neighborhood resident and local real estate agent, Hollis Elliot Fernandez, noted that there was no affordable housing in Visalia. She said that, at the time of the meeting, of the 126 active units on the housing market in Visalia, only 11 of them were under $300,000.
Multiple residents asked about possibly creating a second cemetery instead of expanding the current property, noting that nearby cities like Tulare have more than one cemetery. Randy Villegas, trustee for Visalia Unified School District Area 6, which encompasses some of the areas in the cemetery’s proposed expansion, mentioned the city-owned golf course as a possible cemetery location.
“If the city won’t consider disrupting business as usual for some of the city’s more affluent members, we shouldn’t consider interrupting the lives of those less affluent,” Villegas said.
Fernandez also said that, as a real estate agent, when she demolishes a property she must undergo building inspections and receive permits. She said that she could not find the proper demolition permits on file with the city for one lot that VPCD demolished. 
At the Nov. 20 meeting, Visalia Associate Planner Cristobal Carrillo said that the city did find three properties that VPCD had demolished without the proper permits but that these issues have been resolved as of September.
Carrillo also presented VPCD’s new requests for the council. At the May 1 meeting, VPCD wanted to change the land use and zoning designations of 3.57 acres and amend their conditional land use permit to expand VPCD property by 2.8 acres. Now, Carrillo said VPCD no longer wanted to expand their master plan boundaries. Instead, they wanted to change the general land use and zoning designation of 3.17 acres from Low Density Residential to Public Institutional and 0.24 acres from Residential Medium Density to Public Institutional. 
In addition to that, after holding a meeting with the public in June, VPCD said they would commit to never use eminent domain to acquire properties within their master plan boundaries and would provide occupants 90 days rent-free to vacate their property prior to the removal of the residence if VPCD decided to use an occupied property within the master plan boundaries for cemetery expansion. Soto did note that at the June meeting, only six residents who were not elected officials or city staff were there.
Carrillo said that 8 of the 15 properties within the boundaries that would get rezoned with council approval are vacant. VPCD plans to use the vacant properties first, which could keep them in operation until 2030.
Four council members mentioned their appreciation for VPCD engaging with the public. Mayor Brian Poochigian and Vice Mayor Brett Taylor both commented that, since VPCD is working with a master plan that was approved in 2005, it would not be fair to make them change their plans now. 
Although Soto said that since there was not a single person at the last meeting who supported the cemetery expansion he would not support it today, the amendments passed in a 4-1 vote. 
And also: The Visalia City Council adopted an ordinance that will amend the Visalia Municipal Code to allow delivery-only medical cannabis businesses within the city to meet the requirements of California Senate Bill (SB) 1186.
The ordinance will require that the city inspect delivery vehicles, only allow medical cannabis business sites in the industrial and light industrial zones and prohibit sites from being built within 500 feet of any schools inside or outside the city. 
Up next: The Visalia City Council will meet again on Dec. 4.
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by Jackie Schuster and Fresno Documenters, Fresnoland
November 27, 2023
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