The second of three forums for Tulare County Board of Supervisors District 1 took place on April 20. The main issues covered in this forum were water, the local business climate, land-use issues and serving the constituency.
Sponsors of the forum were the Exeter Chamber of Commerce, Tulare County Farm Bureau, and Tulare County League of Women Voters. Local radio K-TIP talk show host Pam Whitmire, also known as PK the Redhead, moderated the forum.
Out of the eight people running for supervisor, seven have participated in the first two forums. They are Dennis Smith, National Builders Supply owner out of Farmersville, Kuyler Crocker, farmer from Strathmore; John Elliot, owner of the Kaweah Common Wealth in Three Rivers; Angel Galvez, Health and Human Services Administrator for Tulare County Mental Health, NSE Insurance agent and former Exeter City Councilmember Ted Macaulay; logistics specialist Brian Poochigian; and former member of the Visalia City Planning Commission, Vincent Salinas.
Roseana Sanchez, mayor pro-tem of Lindsay, has missed both forums, but informed the host that she had a scheduling conflict.
The debate about water started with questions about the Ground Water Sustainability Act (GSA). The GSA is part of Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) that mandates the state’s underground water basins cannot take more water out than is returned by the year 2040. Tulare County sits over the Kaweah Groundwater Sub-basin which is in a state of severe overdraft.
Smith started off the debate about water by saying you can’t conserve your way out of a government caused drought. The state, using the GSA, and the federal government, using the Environmental Protection Agency and the Waterways of the United States Act, are moving in to take control of all of our water.
Smith that he could have sold off his assets and moved to another state but that he decided to stay here and fight because this is sacred land.
“The government is not protecting our rights, they are taking them from us,” he said.
“We have to maintain what we have,” said Crocker. “What the state wants is to take those rights away. The state doesn’t know how they are going to take our water but they are figuring it out.”
Salinas said that in 2012 Tulare County received money from the Water Resource Board to research the sustainability of our underground aquifer, and in 2014 the board of supervisors set the policies. At that time, he said, the county had the opportunity to be a leader in forming one central GSA and present a unified voice when negotiating with the state. Because the county did not act early, many smaller GSA’s all with their own priorities, agendas and rules have formed that don’t necessarily agree with what is best for the county.
Salinas encouraged the board of supervisors to work with all of the GSAs and then create only one.
Galvez agreed saying that the different GSA’s that have formed need to come together and “do what makes sense. That’s what it is all about. Make decisions collaboratively.”
Smith added, the underground water belongs to the person who owns the property above it for the beneficial use of their property.
“The local government should be there to protect our rights,” he said, but that the California government is working against the constitution. He believes that the best government is the local government and that “they have to take the lead but only to the extent to protect our property rights.”
“We are next on the list” said Smith. “They (the state) idled a million acres on west side. They got Friant Water users to agree to an agreement that is hurtful and will be coming after us in terms of our ground water and our surface water. I am talking about the state and the enviros that control state politics.”
Smith said, he believes that these forces will not allow Temperance Flat Dam to be built.
Smith suggested that this county team up with the other rural counties. He said that out of the 58 counties more than half of them are rural.
“My question is why the supervisors from each of these counties haven’t gotten together to take their pitch forks to the state and tell them to leave us alone and that we control our own natural resources,” he said.
Macauley said that the BOS needs to be aggressive so that we can keep control of as much of our water that we can.
“It’s a tough one,” he said. “Sacramento is trying to put a whole bunch of rules on us folks and we need to fight and do just the minimum of what they want so we can keep control of our water.”
Crocker agreed with Smith saying that this is a private property rights issue. But he also said that to sustain the groundwater you need to have surface water and that the two were interconnected.
“If we don’t have the surface water, we have to pump,” he said. “That’s the way our communities are built.”
Elliot explained that whatever amount of money the area gets from the 2014 water bond to build Temperance Flat Dam, that amount will have to be matched.
“This will be a stretch,” he said, “because of the five counties that are part of the Joint Powers Authority, (the entity that applies for the bond money) only one of the five has their share of the money, which is Tulare County. The rest are broke or on the edge.”
Galvez added that the $2.7 billion is already there to be allocated for surface storage.
To get it, he said, “you have to be environmentally friendly and that is the key. We have to work with our Sierra representatives.”
Poochigian said that Washington and Sacramento do not know what is going on with our farmers or water and that the BOS needs to be that voice.
The BOS needs to “advocate to get water we need to create water storage and infrastructure. Without water farmers don’t farm and we are economically dependent on agriculture,” he said.
The next question concerned Tulare County’s business environment. Whitmire asked, “What barriers would you remove for business owners.”
Poochigian said the first thing he would do is get rid of the $15 minimum wage. He said it seems like the state makes it as hard as they can to do business and create developments.
“More building permits equal more revenue for Tulare County,” he said. “As supervisor, I would be as business friendly as possible.”
Crocker would be a huge advocate for bringing business to Tulare County.
“Nordstrom would be the third-largest employer in the county,” he said. “It would not only help Visalia but the entire region.”
The BOS have a tremendous opportunity to advocate on behalf of these businesses to establish themselves here, Crocker said.
All of the candidates agreed the education level of the residents needed to be raised to attract more big businesses. Crocker said, Tulare County needs a four-year university and a satellite campus of Fresno State would be great.
He also suggested taking the funding from High Speed Rail and investing it into water storage which would create hundreds of jobs.
The issue of land use came up with the barriers to business. Elliot said, the county already does an excellent job making those types of decisions and has the best planning staff.
The board develops a general plan then promotes growth where appropriate in the county.
“One thing that needs to happen,” said Macauley, “is that there needs to be better coordination between the cities and county.”
When the county is making decisions on land, within the city’s sphere of influence, they need to take into consideration that it has a huge impact on the city he said.
Macauley cited one example in Exeter where the county approved a home to be built right smack in the middle of where Exeter is planning on building a road.
The county must have known, he said, and now someone is going to have to pay to relocate the home or to realign the road.
Poochigian said he promotes growth but that he is very much in favor of maintaining the green belts around the cities, “So we don’t end up looking like Los Angeles.”
Whitmire asked each candidate how they would engage their constituency.
Galvez said that it’s not a question of what he will do, but what he is doing. The Health and Human Services agency where he works, which employs 4,000 people.
“I meet with folks where they are at,” he said. “I work with them where they are at. We should be serving them, not the other way around.”
Salinas said, he would also continue what he is doing now.
“I have attended every school district and every city council meeting in my district and listen to the elected officials,” he said.
He then would set up town hall meetings on a monthly basis to listen to the people.
“The last supervisor came to only two city council meetings in 12 years,” said Macauley. “I will be much more involved in the cities.”
Elliot said, Three Rivers has been the model for constituents’ participation.
“For the last 24 years we have had a monthly town hall meeting,” he said.
He said, if a supervisor does not attend the meeting another county employee comes on a regular basis.
“I would set this up countywide,” he said. “I would provide constituents a phone number where they could call me anytime.”
Macauley said, that he has a business in downtown Exeter and would do what he did when he was mayor.
“People are free to come visit with me,” he said. “I have 38 years of sales experience and love to talk with people.”
There is definitely a distinction between the cities and the rural areas explained Crocker.
“The cities have two voices but the unincorporated areas only have one,” Elliot said, and added that District 1 is a really diverse region and that has been the biggest challenge when making decisions on the Tulare County Planning Commission.
“I know how District 1 relates to the rest of the county,” he said.
Smith said that town folks have lost sense of the sacredness of their property “whereas those of us who live in the rural areas have more of a sense of that.” As far as the BOS, Smith said, “I just don’t want the cities controlling us. Urbanites out vote us by three to one.”
He added, “I engage you to stand up and fight for your property rights and do what you need to do.”