Visalia City Councilmember Amy Shuklian and Tulare County Supervisor Phil Cox went head to head April 25 in their second candidates’ forum in the race for Tulare County Supervisor District 3. The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the Tulare Kings Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the American Association of University Women and the Visalia Times-Delta. Melinda Morales, media specialist for the Tulare Regional Hospital, was the moderator.
Both were given two minutes for an introduction then the discussion began. The forum was solely comprised of audience questions that allowed for debate and a much more lively discussion than the former forum. More than 100 people attended the event.
The first question asked each candidate was if they liked big government. Both answered “no.”
Shuklian said that’s what she likes about local government, “It’s where you can get things done, on a local level.”
She doesn’t plan on running for higher office than county supervisor, she said.
“Government does not need to be involved with private industry and government should never compete with private industry,” Cox said. “One of my pet peeves that government does not interfere with our private lives. We have rights as citizens as property owners. I stand behind those and I stand behind the constitution of the United States.”
The second question asked about how long each of them thought a supervisor should hold office.
Cox revealed, “I can definitely tell you this will be my last time.”
If he wins the next term in office, it will be 16 years and that will be his last, he said. He believes that there should be turnover and a fresh perspective.
“When I came 11 1/2 years ago I came with that fresh perspective,” he said.
He said that he and his wife plan on retiring and becoming missionaries for a year-and-a-half, then returning home to spend their days with their 17 and counting grandchildren.
The citizens decide on how long a supervisor should stay in office, Shuklian said.
“As long as you are effective, people vote you in,” she said. “I know people who have served much longer and they remain effective and become part of the community. That’s why I am running, because I feel my opponent has become ineffective and complacent.”
Shuklian said, if elected, she plans on running again, after her first term in office as supervisor.
“I bring a sense of engagement to the community.” said Shuklian.
For the last six years she has held city council office hours where she looks forward to solving people’s issues or pointing them in the right direction, she said.
Cox responded by saying that he didn’t have to set office hours when he was on the city council because people knew they could come in anytime to his place of business where he had an open door policy.
“I am really the only supervisor to hand out my cell phone number,” he said.
Shuklian countered with, “is the public aware of that?”
The next question dove more deeply into what separates Shuklian and Cox, which is the condition of Mooney Grove Park. An audience member asked Cox why he let Mooney Grove fall into the disgraceful state it is in on his watch. Cox primarily blamed the drought and the fact that there were issues with the wells of which the supervisors were not made aware.
“In 2014, when I took charge of the board, we stopped watering, because of the drought Mooney Grove suffered,” he said.
Cox ended his answer with, “Mooney Grove is not a horrible place, Mooney Grove is thriving.”
Another question asked by Morales from the audience was, “How do you plan on cleaning up Mooney Grove and revitalizing it?”
Cox said that they have refurbished some of the buildings on their historic Main Street, fixed the wells, built new arbors and have developed a Master Plan.
“A park like Mooney Grove requires millions of dollars of investment,” he said.
He added that every year the county spends a million dollars on that park.
About the pond being green, Cox said it looked like that as a kid and will always look like that.
“I was surprised that Mr. Cox said that there were issues that he was not made aware of,” Shuklian said. “It’s our duty to make sure that we are aware of issues like that especially when they cost so much money. It’s important that we have volunteers. This is a treasure to our community. There are people who are willing to go work in the park, but the problem is that they have not been allowed to do so.”
“Volunteer groups are allowed to work at Mooney Grove Park, just because someone says they are not does not mean it’s true,” Cox replied.
“Was the TNR (Trap Neuter Release) group allowed to go into the park?” asked Shuklian.
“They are now,” said Cox.
“They are now that it is election season,” said Shuklian.
“Wells were dry for a couple of years and got to the point that it became an emergency,” Shuklian said. “Rather than putting the repairs out to bid and getting the best price, it was sole sourced to one person that I believe cost the county quite a bit more money.”
Another audience question asked how as supervisors they support the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender community.
“I am a man of faith and I believe that all children are God’s children,” Cox said. “I do not support or condemn anyone’s lifestyles. I accept choices that they make.”
“So in 2005 or 2006 weren’t you part of a wedding reenactment that was against gay marriage. Has your attitude changed then? It sounds like it has,” Shuklian combated.
“I do not have to support those lifestyle choices, but I support people’s choice to make their own decision,” said Cox.
A question was brought up about supervisors’ raises and Cox said that in 11 years his salary has gone up from about $90,000 to $100,000 which he sees as fair compensation. He also pointed out that Tulare County supervisors are paid the median amount when compared to the rest of the state. He expressed his dislike on how the raises are voted.
Shuklian lamented the fact that she has heard a couple of times that her opponent does not like the way supervisors get their raises, yet has done nothing in the last 11 years to change it.
“I’m not aware of him trying to change it,” she said.
She brought up the fact that each supervisor gets $550 a month car allowance in addition to mileage.
“If that’s a policy, that’s a policy that needs to be changed,” she said. “If I am elected I will not vote myself a raise.”
Shuklian added that the city council never receives a raise during their term. They only get a raise if they are reelected, the rationale being that the constituents obviously approve of their job.
The following question was, “When East Porterville ran out of water, why were you the only supervisor to vote against emergency relief for those impoverished people in Porterville?”
The questioner wanted to know why Cox voted no.
“Right now we are up to $13 million in emergency services for the folks in Tulare County. In that $13 million we have not provided one permanent solution to anybody and that is a waste of taxpayer money,” Cox said.
Cox said he has compassion for those people, but the homes that have gone dry do not exactly have wells, but well points that only go 20-feet down and are essentially using surface water.
“I think home owners and property owners should be responsible for the upkeep of their property,” he said.
When the issue of public safety was raised Cox said that he has a real issue with the Visalia City Council borrowing money to build new buildings, such as the emergency command center, and then asking the citizens to approve a new sales tax to provide for essential services.
Shuklian said that debt sometimes is not such a bad thing.
“I see it as an investment for our future,” she said.
The sales tax measure is not paying for this debt, Shuklian said. The sales tax will be vetted throughout the community as far as what services it will provide.
“Remember that Mr. Cox worked on Measure R and that was a tax,” she said.
An audience member asked what the candidates felt about the proposed project out on Caldwell and Highway 99.
Cox said that each project has to stand on its own.
“A project like that will have to cover all of its environmental issues and every project has to go through the exact same process,” he said. “It is not a project yet. It has only been proposed.”
He said the proposed plan follows the county’s general plan and spans 10 to 12 years in its first phase. The proposed plan is highway commercial which is gas stations hotels and fast food.
“I have many concerns,” said Shuklian.
“If anyone has been out there the Caldwell and 99 overpass is very dangerous and there is a lot of work that would have to be done,” she said. “I’m concerned about it also how it would affect Visalia’s regional retail on Mooney and downtown.”
An audience member asked Shuklian if she puts animals over people.
She would never put animals over people, she said.
“I never would have built animal control before the dispatch center for our dispatchers,” Cox said.
Shuklian said that Visalia built the new animal control building before the Visalia Emergency Center because both buildings were delayed and in the end their timetables got switched. She pointed out that there are many instances where public safety and animal control intersect.
“It is a piece of the public safety puzzle,” said Shuklian.
She brought up the incident that happened in Fresno where a woman got mauled beyond recognition and lost her arm.
“Don’t tell me that’s not a public safety issue,” she said.
The next to last question of the evening asked the candidates’ opinion of the Yokohl Ranch development, proposed to be a city of 30,000 people east of Exeter.
Whether you are a one-acre or 100-acre project, you have to come in and show your environmental reports. Cox said that the state is going for no impacts. Traffic will be a concern coming out of Lemon Cove but the water will be a larger hurdle. He said the developers will have to prove that they can provide the water without impacting the rest of us folks living down on the Valley floor.
“They are going to have a large EIR (environmental impact report) and take time to vet that through the public,” said Cox.
“I know that water is an issue, but the Boswells have a lot of water rights that could make this happen. I’m not saying I agree with it 100% but we will have to wait and see what the impacts are,” said Shuklian.
The last question was to Shuklian, about the Tulare County Realtor Association’s not endorsing her.
“You know its politics,” she said. “They endorsed me when I ran for reelection for the city council four years ago. I don’t know why they did not endorse me. Its politics.”
For their closing statements Shuklian started with, “I’m going to do great things for Tulare County with your support and with your support Tulare County will thrive.”
Cox finished with, “I am pro growth. I believe if we are not growing we are dying so we need to have a plan in place and I am the person who can do that. I am the only person sitting up here who has created thousands of jobs. I have the experience to get things done.”