Any candidate can market glossy lists of vague ideas. Issue spotting in Mendocino County is not difficult. Collaborating with each other to find creative solutions to hard problems is the task of supervisors. Voters should demand in depth knowledge from all candidates. Grill us, all of us. If the problems were trivial to solve, the current board would have already done it. For example, it’s not about being pro-affordable housing. It’s about finding creative ideas and reaching consensus, all within budget constraints.
I believe it’s time for the next generation to step forward with local government. I’m ready to lead. I was born here. I bring a perspective of a working class family. I’ve been engaged in the community, as a parent of two children, as a volunteer firefighter for more than a decade (Chief of Albion-Little River since 2011), as a proponent of two measures (V, M), as an advocate for broadband and as an avid outdoor explorer.
What follows are some of the “issues” I see connected to quality of life in Mendocino County. I invite you to ask me about other topics.
Fire & Emergency Services
I’m pro-first responder.
Throughout the county, we have men and women, young and old, donating hundreds of hours every year to train and respond to emergency situations. Their tools and resources should not depend on bake sales, because these are the tools which might save our lives. I see a future with county support of base level emergency response throughout the land, irrespective of local district taxing ability. (Today, some areas are not covered by any fire district.) No matter the capabilities of our local fire department, we all pass through stretches of highway covered by underfunded departments. It’s time we support first responders.
An initial step toward supporting rural fire might be to hire a trainer or two who could rotate through all of the department. One of the burdens of volunteer departments is obtaining training and certifications. Bringing instructors to the volunteers is low hanging fruit — it doesn’t cost much and has the potential to increase local response capabilities.
Our hard working residents need livable wage jobs. Without a strong economy, Mendocino is just a vacation destination.
We have an opportunity to steer economic development.
Cannabis will not be the whole of our economic story.
Sustainable timber will continue to provide employment opportunities, but new growth should be non-resource extraction based.
Oregon has done a better job of creating public trail infrastructure. Public trails, capable of hosting events, have the potential to infuse our local economy with foreign dollars as guests lodge, eat out and buy gifts. Bringing the public closer to nature also encourages protection of open space and awareness of the environment. It’s one potential puzzle piece to our future economic story.
High Speed Internet is largely unavailable in many of our rural communities. It has a direct impact on small business success. We can solve it.
High Speed Internet, Countywide
We can address the lack of high speed Internet throughout our rural communities through better planning policies and public-private partnerships. A necessity for small business success, broadband has become a critical ingredient for educational opportunities, telemedicine, social mobility and more. We can address broadband quickly and measure success by the number of homes connected. On broadband expansion, we don’t need to study the problem any further — we know where we lack coverage.
How long of a delay do you want when calling 911? Along with other emergency services, law enforcement needs to be adequately funded.
I believe in protecting the Class K relaxed building construction standard to the greatest extend allowed under state law. Owner-builder is part of our culture.
Although I’m against the trend of regressive taxation, I’m pleased Measure B passed on November 7, 2017. Championed by Sheriff Tom Allman, B provides the beginning of an answer where all other efforts have fallen short.
We must ensure follow through on facility placement both inland and coastal.
As someone who has picked up roadside trash, including water heaters and couches, I believe in addresses dumping in two ways:
- stiffer penalties for littering
- reduced disposal fees (we’re paying for it anyway and it costs more to haul out of the bushes)
Transparency & Public Involvement
We need greater public involvement in county decision making.
One way to encourage this process is through greater transparency.
When was the last time your input was solicited on county budget priorities?
California’s legalization of recreational cannabis places great competition on local producers. Our permitting process must be streamlined and simplified to bring all interested participants into compliance, without creating onerous obstacles.
I believe our economic focus should be in other areas.
Mendocino County has 650 miles of paved, county-maintained roads and 300 miles of unpaved roads. The 2017 legislative platform claims, “maintenance backlog is $625 million and funding shortfall is $9 million per year.”
We have a similar road network as Sonoma county, yet our revenue is much less. This isn’t an easy problem.
We should evaluate the nature of wear (high weight vehicles, for example).
Vacation Rentals (AirBNB phenomenon)
A great number of residents moved here to enjoy a sense of community. Many of us find security in knowing our neighbors, an atmosphere easily lost when vacation rentals dominate the landscape. AirBNB and related technologies have further fueled the growth of vacation rentals.
On the other hand, we have families taking advantage of the new model to augment income through short term rentals of otherwise underutilized structures. These are families who participate in community, struggling to make ends meet. We want to fight for their sustainability.
I’m confident we can architect policy free of black and white thinking, taking into account all perspectives to reach reasonable policy. We want towns to sustain a culture of local residency, without unnecessarily impacting the income of residents.
No offshore oil, ever. Through policy and coalition with other coastal counties, we must do what we can to limit offshore oil and related onshore infrastructure. Our local economy depends on it. Oil will trash both our environment and coastal economy.
Protesting is probably not a viable answer to the Trump administration. Delaying the process, finding an alternative bidder or alternative use of the same space might be approaches to protecting our coast.
Our national immigration policy is broken. Not a single cent should be spent assisting in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deportations.
General Plan update
We’ve neared a point of zero growth. It’s a concern as young families attempt to find housing, but it’s of consequence to all. How will your business survive if your employees cannot afford basic housing? It’s time to update the general plan and decide how we will grow. The supervisors have a role of facilitating public discussion, but ultimately we all own the task.
Health Care Services (and Coast Hospital)
Coast Hospital is managed by the directors of its respective district, but imagine living on the coast without a functioning hospital — for example, one that can only deliver a baby in the emergency room. For too many years, Coast Hospital has been in financial turmoil with reductions in service. I expect the county to track both the hospital and health care availability.
As specialist services become less available, seniors are forced to travel great distances. I see the county taking an active role in encouraging greater local access of services through policy and active participation. A task force should be convened to identify possible providers. Mendocino County isn’t known for having the highest salaries, but a select few will find the scenery, community and quality of life as justification for practicing medicine here. We need to find these individuals early in their careers.
The county does not have the budget or responsibility for hiring medical providers, but providing local facilities throughout the county might allow for public-private partnerships of rotating specialists. All options should be explored.
Mendocino Coast Hospital District parcel tax
I believe a local hospital with financial sustainability and leading patient outcomes is vital for Mendocino County.
I’m not convinced that a parcel tax alone can bridge the financial gap, but other community hospitals are supported through this model. A closure would cost us more than the proposed tax.
I recommend watching the MCDH meetings at mendocinotv.com
Update the general plan.
Make use of whatever state units we can find to augment affordable housing in our cities (where infrastructure is more financially feasible).
See it through the lens of inadequate livable wage jobs.
Our strongest voice in climate change is local policy. We should encourage green energy growth to the greatest extent possible.
To the greatest extent possible, I believe in protecting the personal freedom of all residents.
Is Mendocino a candidate for a CSU or UC? Some argue the lack of commercial airport prevents it. I disagree — look at Humboldt State.
Nursing program (on the coast)
Find a way to bring it back.
At the cliff’s edge of America’s westward expansion, we fail to maintain a standing committee to track tribal concerns. Some of these concerns are the same as above issues, but others are unique. This needs to be rectified. It’s not about budget. It’s about showing respect.
Questions asked by the mighty Anderson Valley Advertiser (Feb 21, 2018)
1. Do you think the County’s mental health money is being effectively spent? (around $28 million at last estimate)
In general, I’m not enthusiastic about outsourcing core government responsibilities. There are circumstances where private industry can outperform public agencies. SpaceX is a great example. These circumstances are where innovation and execution offer a financial reward. This paradigm does not encompass a responsibility like the administration of mental health services. Outsourcing removes transparency and is a sign of capitulation of competency. If we can’t pull off government locally, how can we expect anything on a state or federal level? There’s some basis in that we haven’t done a great job at a lot of things, but I’d rather we improve our competency than privatize the operation. I expect well defined metrics with regular reporting to gauge success over time. I don’t mean hiring another high priced consultant. If a school anywhere in the county calls with a concern, what’s the follow-through? If we have an addict on the south coast looking to come clean, is the assistance effective? I have a rebuttable presumption that the money is not being spent as effectively as it could and that a secondary motivation is avoidance of our pension situation. Convince me otherwise.
2. If you had monarchical authority, what would you do to created genuinely low cost housing?
Affordable housing in Mendocino County is bordering on crisis and if it were easy to solve, the current supervisors would have already done it. The Housing Element of the General Plan (by law) has a goal of ensuring shelter for all residents. We’re failing. We have a jail that attempts to rehabilitate, teaching trades to inmates, but when they get out, where will they find affordable housing so they don’t return to their old ways? Many of the usual approaches will not work here. We don’t have economies of scale. We don’t have or want new large subdivisions where we could require an allocation of affordable units. I would attempt to encourage infrastructure development combined with focused zoning changes, because affordable units are more feasible where there is water, sewer and appropriate parcels. Simultaneously, an effort to promote a resident-friendly path towards accessory dwelling units for long term rentals could help aging residents with needed cashflow while increasing affordable housing units and it wouldn’t drastically impact the character of our neighborhoods. I’d like to see each community drive its own destiny, which raises the issues of general plan update and inspiring greater citizen participation. A lot of people are jaded about their ability to work with government. We need to turn that around.
3. What is your opinion of the recent moratorium on vacation home rentals?
I see it as a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that has been brewing for years. I track firefighters leaving our department roster. The number one reason is housing. It’s a huge loss when we’ve invested years in training a firefighter. I’m always hopeful that they’ll join another department so the investment isn’t lost. The vacation rental model offers greater returns, but it’s at the cost of community. (Further loss is the TOT, which leaves the source community and doesn’t offset expenses incurred by visitors who tend to be responsible for a disproportion number of water rescues, cliff rescues, traffic collisions on hw128, etcetera.) Many of us want to live in residential neighborhoods where we wave to faces we recognize. At the same time, I see people I grew up with offering extra space to visitors. This cash flow allows families to remain active in the community. They give and we need them. I see parents vacationing space otherwise utilized part time when their kids return from college on break and this helps with the tuition. I don’t believe in an outright ban, but I’m against outside investors buying our residential dwellings purely for profit. I believe each community should have an opportunity to reflect its wishes in a local plan. My preference is for limited vacation rentals, architected to protect the people who live here.
4. Your opinion of the locally proposed changes to Class K.
I spoke about it at the BoS meeting today. There are a lot of pressing issues throughout the county. Affordable housing, lack of broadband, faltering local economy, roads, a jail with rain catchment on the inside, implementation of Measure B funds, a hospital on the brink of insolvency and the list goes on. Class K wasn’t even on the public radar until our supervisors decide to “enhance” it with additional regulations. What problem are we trying to solve? We heard from staff that the spirit of the ordinance is not abused. We don’t see public safety issues arising from owner-builder development. We don’t have records of these structure falling over. As best I can tell, Hamburg excluded (because I believe his interest in tuning K is genuine), it’s effectively an industry attack on the rural resident. It should be dropped altogether. Let’s talk about it after the roads are fixed.
5. What do you think of the current marijuana regulation program?
Local producers face great competition because of prop 64 legalization. Only 3% of this county is flat. With all the trees, this was a place to hide marijuana. Our high energy rates don’t create a competitive environment for indoor. Our hillsides aren’t as economically feasible as flat fertile farmland elsewhere. The last thing these cottage industry growers need is excess regulatory hurdles. Seeing the number of denied permits qualifies our attempt as a failure. Let’s fix it.
6. Do you agree with CEO Angelo’s decision to separate Mendocino County from Coastal Valley EMS?
I’ve had my own minor gripes with Coastal Valleys EMS over the years, but their performance on the Redwood Complex fires is a poor excuse to part ways. The Local Emergency Medical Services Agency role is one of setting protocol, policies, certifying paramedics and EMTs — essentially desk work. I wouldn’t have expected them to be on the ground at the fire, especially considering the concurrent Santa Rosa blaze. Look at the big picture. Sonoma county pays in $1.2MM. We add $90k to be part of their LEMSA. Duplicating the effort up here will cost far more than the $90k.
7. What is your opinion of the leadership provided by CEO Angelo’s “Leadership Team”?
County employees generally work hard, take pride and even meet on their own time to discuss building leadership skills and propelling professional development. However, we tend to be a training ground, because wages are comparatively low. CHP has the revolving door too, especially on the coast. By the time an officer learns the area, a transfer is ready. Local experience is an important ingredient for leadership and a significant human capital expense when lost. Another candidate fielded this question at a recent event by saying he’d increase pay. That’s a good idea, but let’s talk about where we’ll source those funds. What can we give up in order to achieve success for a reduced scope?
8. How many Board meetings have you attended in the last year? Watched any on YouTube?
I watch via the video stream, because it allows me to multitask. I try to give my available time to the fire department, because I believe every able body should volunteer in some manner.
9. Do you agree with the Board’s recent decision to raise their pay to $84,000 plus benefits? Should the three retiring supervisors have voted on the raise?
I would not have raised the idea or voted for it. It’s not an issue I’m campaigning on, though. We want competency on the board, not the status quo. It remains to be seen, but if pay attracts strong candidates in the years to come, it could be a win for the county. When I joined the fire department, there was an annual stipend. Nobody gets rich responding to fire calls, but this somewhat helped offset fuel and other out of pocket expenses. Initially, I was eager to reject it, until an elder explained why it’s better to give back in a less prideful way to avoid pressuring the remaining members. I’m not in the race for the money, but I do want the position to attract talent in the coming years.
10. Do you think the County needs to spend some $50,000 to hire an outside consultant for a needs assessment before proceeding with Measure B’s mental health facilities program?
I’m against using high priced consultants, especially in the case of telling us what we already know. Do it in-house or partner with a university.
11. What specific benefits do the children of Mendocino County derive from the First 5 program? Would you support spending most of the annual $1 million on childcare vouchers instead of on Ukiah staffers?
Isn’t this a question for the FIRST 5 Mendocino Commissioners? I’m trying to stick to issues of county authority.
12. Who would you appoint to the Planning Commission?
Someone fair and balanced, who cares as much about this county as I do. Someone who understands the original intent of the Williamson Act and can administer planning policy without bias.
13. What is the single biggest environmental problem faced by the County?
Climate change. This drought might be a new way of life.
14. Do you support the current level of water diversion from the Eel River to mostly irrigate vineyards in Potter Valley?
I support fairness and data driven decision making. I’m not anti-business — I want business to thrive in Mendocino County, especially in ways that will trickle down to the workers — but sustainability of residents and the environment must be factored in. We can do better at collecting and distributing data. We need to remove assumptions and bias from the process. In some cases, there are likely more water rights than water.
15. Do you think the County’s recently organized Ground Water Sustainability Committee is dominated by wine-grape interests?
Not necessarily, White and Brown are just two of six. Are there more ties? As water diminishes, we might need to consider dry farming at new developments and limiting projects on significant slopes. See Napa.
16. What is the first project or program you would look into if elected?
Broadband, because it impacts us in so many ways and is addressable. If I’m allowed two first projects, adoption of policies to support emergency services throughout the county needs to happen now. I believe there is low hanging fruit here. We ask volunteers — our neighbors — to provide much of the 911 response. It’s time the county take an active role in supporting the volunteers. Some of my ideas include a rotating trainer (to improve skill, reduce burden), shared mechanic services (to keep apparatus in service and take some financial burden off special districts), volume purchasing (the buying power of special districts is limited), perhaps shared bookkeeping services. We have to start somewhere.
17. Do you have any proposals for dealing with the colossal deficit in the pension obligations fund?
Our public employees performed their end of the bargain and it’s our job to follow through. That said, immediately we need to honest and transparent about how deep we’ve dug. Next, stop digging. No part of sticking the next generation with poor infrastructure and debt is attractive. I’ve suggested we ask each community to define our county priorities so that if we can’t accomplish everything, the supervisors have clear marching orders about what the citizens want completed. Anytime a candidate suggests spending money, ask what he or she will cut to balance the budget.
18. Would you support the creation of an integrated, county wide disaster alert system?
Yes, but I want the BoS and perhaps the Sheriff to closely track and own the implementation. I don’t trust our ability to outsource it. Having a background in embedded systems and communications, I could help author the specification.
19. Would you be willing to be on a radio call-in show every six months and respond to callers’ comments and questions?
How about rotating town meetings with a different location every month plus a weekly call-in (or rotation if other supervisors wish to take slots). I want to pull the public into the process. Historically, candidates commit to public engagement during the campaign, but then fall short while in office. I should be recalled if I can’t follow through. It’s a basic job requirement.