Kuyler Crocker, 29, is one of the two remaining candidates vying for the District 1 seat on the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. He and Dennis Smith will contend in a runoff election November 8.
Though he won’t turn 30 until December of this year, Kuyler Crocker thinks he’s the right man to fill the District 1 Supervisor’s chair. Both Crocker and his opponent, 64-year-old Dennis Smith, are members of the Republican Party, yet their approach to government differs significantly. Crocker seems focused on ideas to foster cooperation.
“I’m a third-generation Strathmore High graduate. I’ve always been very involved in my community,” said the native son. “Despite the fact I have a short tenure of time, my involvement really stands out to a lot of individuals. Our family’s been around long enough to know our county hasn’t always been this way. We can do better.”
Crocker’s family has been farming the foothill groves for nearly a century.
“The family, we farm under 100 acres,” he said. “We’ve been farming in the Lindsay-Strathmore area for 90 years. We’ve got some deep roots in the county, District 1 in particular. I’ve grown up with a lot of pride and commitment.”
The candidate’s own 10 acres are in oranges, but that isn’t his primary source of income. Crocker is an energy adviser for Pacific Gas and Electric, and his job takes him to many of the Valley’s communities where he works on planning new developments and expanding those in place.
“I work with small business owners and farmers and developers to help them save on energy costs,” he said.
Should he take the District 1 seat, Crocker said he intends to resign the position to focus full-time on the supervisor job.
His career with PG&E, he said, has helped him form important connections to officials up and down the Valley, and it’s given him experience that will be useful in meeting his goals as a supervisor.
“I think I have a proven track record of working with communities and organizations, not just a record of talking about it,” Crocker said, going on to describe work between PG&E and the Fresno Boys and Girls Club he oversaw. “That’s something I think is very positive in a candidate. Working with PG&E, I’ve been able to work with people from all walks of life. The three issues, jobs, water and safety, those are all bigger than District 1. These are bigger battles.”
Crocker is also on the Friends of SCICON board of directors, and is a director for the San Joaquin Valley Power Credit Union.
Jobs Not Gangs
The partnership between PG&E and the Boys and Girls Club trained club members in job-search skills for 10 weeks in the spring, then put them to work all summer. According to Crocker, programs like that provide not just training and opportunities, but also positive adult role models. That, he believes, is key to giving Tulare County’s youth an alternative to joining a gang and why he’s been a longtime volunteer at the Strathmore Boys and Girls Club. He’d like the county to provide similar programs and foster those that already exist.
“The things that are attractive to people who go into gang lifestyle is there’s structure. It’s provides leadership and direction. It’s poor leadership, obviously, but they’re yearning for leadership. If that’s the cause, what am I doing to be involved with the solution?” Crocker said. “As far as mentorship, there are a lot organizations that are doing a great job at that outside government. We need to be a part of that. I think it’s making sure everyone is working toward the same goal. We have limited resources, so they need to be focused.”
Gangs also provide income for people with few other choices, Crocker says, describing a “lack of amenities for a lot of people,” such as clean water, access to quality education and economic surety.
“We’ve got to make sure we have jobs available, and good paying jobs, so that it’s not as attractive to live in the shadows,” he said.
While jobs are key to reducing the county’s crime problems, Crocker realizes it isn’t county government’s job to create employment. It can make it easier for those who do, however.
“There’s a philosophical difference. In a literal sense, a supervisor can create a government job. A county can’t really create private-sector jobs,” he said, though it can literally smooth the process. “It’s a matter of making sure there are processes in place. It’s important to make sure there’s ease for anyone who wants to bring a business to the county or to expand an existing business. What are we doing to make sure we’re helping and encouraging them?”
Crocker said the county can start by quickening the various permit processes commercial enterprises must undergo before they can open for business. Though Tulare County does a good job now, Crocker said he’d like to see its operations be as streamlined as possible.
“Even though the system may be working well now, we need to have a culture of encouraging people to always strive for better,” he said.
Besides rewarding county employees for their initiative, he also wants to make sure they have the best available technology.
The county could also do a better job of making it clear what is required to gain those permissions, he said.
“In addition to (streamlining approval), making sure there is surety in those processes,” Crocker said. “I mean when a potential business owner starts out, the steps (should be) laid out exactly. That’s not going to change in the middle of the process or the end of the process. You’d think that’s common, but it’s not, at least that’s what I found in working with other local governments.”
Water Worries Nothing New
The Valley has faced water scarcity before, and the solution that worked then will work now, Crocker said. When ground subsidence and receding groundwater were an issue in the middle of the last century, the state addressed by building the California Aqueduct System.
“The issue with water is an interesting one because we’ve gone through this before where we’ve lacked the surface water necessary to grow the crops we feed the world,” he said. “50% of the water that comes out of Millerton Lake comes to Tulare County. If the water doesn’t go into the Friant-Kern Canal, we lose out on that. We’ve got to have that allocation.”
Almost all of the water moving through Tulare County is managed by a state or federal agency, and those appointed officials often fail to see the importance of water to the Central Valley, Crocker says. Too often they put their interests above ours.
“That’s part of the issue. It’s not just about farming. It’s about providing water to some of the most impoverished communities,” he said. “That’s not important to them (urban legislators and environmentalists). They’ve (immigrant laborers who populate many of the county’s communities) left everything behind. They’ve worked hard. Not, because of a government regulation, because of an unelected official, that’s at stake.”
Water Is Life
The county’s water struggles also play into its employment and crime problems, Crocker says.
“This plays back into the jobs and gangs,” he said. “If you don’t have water, you don’t have opportunities.”
As supervisor, Crocker said he sees several ways to bring more water to Tulare County. The Board of Supervisors has been pushing the Army Corps of Engineers to expand capacity at Success Lake, a move Crocker lauds as what our leaders must do.
“That’s what we need. We cannot solve the groundwater issue unless we have surface water,” he said. “That’s what we have to focus on is continually advocating for surface water. It’s state and federal water projects, it’s both.”
To get the interest of outside decision-makers, Crocker intends to see how the things that are good for Tulare County ag are good for everyone.
“They have a huge benefit for the state and the entire nation,” he said. “That’s the message we’ve got to drive home.”
He also emphasizes cooperation with other counties’ leaders to maximize the political clout the Valley can muster.
“If we are not on the same page, our voice just diminishes further,” he said. “I’ve got supporters throughout the Valley that have endorsed my candidacy. They know what it takes.”
Big Bug Problems
Crocker is also focused on a problem few other leaders are talking about: Tulare County’s trees are in trouble.
“There’s another issue that’s very specific to certain parts of the community, that’s tree mortality the drought has brought on,” he said. “It’s a huge issue for us. Statewide we’re showing 66 million dead trees. Tulare County, I’m sure, has its millions of dead trees. If you live in the foothills, you’re very aware of it. If you hike–I’m an avid hiker–you’ve very aware of it.”
The trees of the Sierra, already heavily damaged by air pollution from the Valley floor and a deadly infestation of borer beetles, have been thrown into serve crisis by the drought. The way the state and federal authorities manage the county’s vast forests has made the situation even worse, Crocker said, creating an immense fuel store. He points at last year’s Rough Fire in the Hume Lake area as proof.
“If there was one benefit of that (the Rough Fire), it was showing people in the Valley via the ash that fell and the terrible air we had for weeks and weeks that this is a problem for more than just people in the foothills,” Crocker said. “I think the county is doing everything it can at this point with its resources. This is a state and federal problem of mismanagement. If we didn’t have a drought, we’d still have an overgrown forest.”
The problem, he says, is one of communication.
“We’ve got to get all these guys to understand the impact. These are the same guys who say we have to reduce our carbon imprint,” he said. “I’ve got an idea. Let’s reduce the fuel up there. Is it a national treasure or not? Just give us a few bucks to make sure we don’t have another Rim Fire.”
Citrus At Risk
On the Valley floor, another pest is threatening of of Tulare County’s main crops. The Asian citrus psyllid, a small insect that carries an incurable disease deadly to citrus trees, is slowly invading. For Crocker, the danger is very personal.
“As a farmer, this terrifies me. This has devastated the Texas citrus industry. This has devastated the Florida citrus industry. It’s devastated the Brazilian citrus industry,” he said. “This has huge impact to District 1 in particular. We’re the citrus belt, a billion-plus commodity for Tulare County alone. We’ve got to make sure we’re partnering with individuals who are trying to find a cure, that we’re honoring quarantine zones.”
The effort to stop the bug’s spread has to be 100%, Crocker said, as the shock waves from the loss of the county’s citrus industry would be felt in almost every sector of the community.
“We’ve got to have all hands on deck. This has to be part of the conversation,” he said. “It’s too big of a thing. It’s not just for the citrus farmer.”