Tulare County District 1 supervisor candidates present their differences

Tulare County Board of Supervisor District 1 candidates may be political moderates but each one brings their unique backgrounds and differences to the election.

Over their last two forums on January 14 and 21, in Visalia and Exeter respectively, the Tulare County Board of Supervisor (TCBOS) candidates Robyn Stearns, Larry Micari and incumbent Kuyler Crocker talked about the most important issues facing their district: water, roads, safety and the homeless.

Along the way they also gave their two cents on climate change and the new challenges brought by Airbnb.

My question to the three candidates after the forum was, given your similarities, why should we vote for you?

Crocker said that anyone can do the job but he sees a varying level of capability. “It’s a matter of continuity and the board is going in a good direction.”

“I have a proven track record and vision of where we need to go,” said Crocker.

Crocker beat out a wide field of candidates in the June 2016 primary, but then narrowly beat Dennis Smith in the General Election of that year. He listed his achievements as approving Children’s Hospital to build at Caldwell and Highway 99 and clawing back the $17 million in Highway 99 funds taken away by Governor Newsom. He also said he approved a solar project that will save the county millions in electricity costs, saw the purchase of a new property evidence crime lab, led the effort to create a new Veterans Affairs Committee and made sure that the county maintained its strong reserve fund.

Micari said, “There is more to being a supervisor than just sitting on a board and rubber stamping an agenda item. And there are no complaints about my not returning calls.”

What separates him from the others, Micari said, is that “I have 33 years of public service that neither of them have. I have worked with the constituents of my district and the county for 33 years and I know how to navigate that system.”

Micari said that he has built a reputation as the “go to” guy who can solve problems.

Micari lives in Exeter with his wife and two daughters. He started his career in law enforcement at the Farmersville Police Department and ended by retiring a few years ago from the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department as a Captain. “I have a passion for public service and to help people and have done that my entire career.”

Micari is being endorsed by Tulare County (TC) Supervisor Pete Vander Poel, ret. TC Supervisor Mike Ennis, ret. TC Sheriff Bill Wittman, TC Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, former Tulare City Mayor David Macedo, the Sikh Community and former State Senator Andy Vidak.

Stearns said that she is the only one of the three who has been self-employed her entire life.

“Being a business owner you learn how to make things work. You don’t take ‘no’ for an answer and I think outside the box.”

Stearns has been involved in her community her entire life and in 2011 she was awarded the Heritage Award by the Exeter Chamber of Commerce.

“I didn’t start attending meetings or going to functions because I am running for supervisor. This is what I have always done.”

“We have two options,” she said. “We are either making progress or we are making excuses. I think we need to ask ourselves, ‘Are we better off than we were four years ago?’” She asked if there were less homeless, if the farmers had more water, or if the voters felt safer in the district.

“And if your answer isn’t yes that’s why I am running. I think there is a lot of progress that needs to be made.”

Stearns said that when she ran for Exeter City Council “I didn’t buy one sign, I didn’t spend any money on a campaign because people knew me and they voted for me because of who I am.”

The preservation of farmland was one of the first questions posed to the candidates.

Crocker said one of his “pitch points” when he met with Governor Gavin Newsom was to reinstate the Williamson Act. He said that right now the state only allocates $1000 a year towards the Williamson Act, basically crippling it. To be effective the Williamson Act needs about $50 million a year, which is not that much in a $222 billion budget. Once reinstated the county can start accepting new contracts and Crocker hopes to make getting into the program easier.

Micari also supported reinstating the Williamson Act but said that the county just has to stick with its current zoning if it wants to preserve its farmland. He said that if a land owner wants to change the zoning or get out of the Williamson Act the county needs to make sure it’s beneficial for everyone.

“We can’t stop growth and I believe in private property rights but we need to use common sense.”

Stearns reminded everyone of the controversial Yokohl Ranch that JG Boswell Company wanted to develop in Yokohl Valley. She said it was a perfect spot because it would not have taken up any farmland.

“They had their own water and they had their own money,” she said, but environmentalists “didn’t want to upset the hawks or whatever.”

On the subject of water Crocker and Micari both supported more cooperation on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, saying we needed more storage, but Stearns had a more immediate goal. She said that when she was on the Exeter City Council Tooleville came before it several times to ask the city for help with its water. But Tooleville is in the county.

“That was in 2016 and here we are in 2020 and still nothing has been done. The state had a grant in place to fix their well and still nothing happened.” Stearns said that Tooleville will be one of her top priorities if elected.

For the homeless question Crocker talked about the report commissioned partly by the BOS, Home Base. Crocker’s priority was to get to the root causes and not just treat the symptoms as described in the report. His first priority was to provide a low-barrier shelter.

Prevention was Micari’s priority. He felt the cost for the proposed low-barrier shelter was just too high. Of the five priorities outlined in the study Micari preferred to concentrate on helping those on the brink of homelessness. Also on the prevention side, he wanted more substance abuse and mental health resources, because not only are those two issues contributing to homelessness, but they also cause unemployment, another cause of homelessness.

Stearns said that the priorities in the report looked good on paper but was only a band-aid to the problem. She said that a program instituted in Portugal over the last 20 years has reduced homelessness by 60%. She suggested mobile units equipped with a doctor, lawyer, and mental health professional and have the resources go to where the homeless are.

“Meet them, talk to them, get to know them on a first name basis…I think we will do a lot better with personal connections. Then we will be able to get them into the program that will work for them.”

One audience question from a one-issue voter–climate change–inquired how Tulare County Supervisors could help.

Because none of the candidates could be called an environmentalist it was almost certain that the audience member did not get an answer. Crocker and Micari were both for more logging in the Sierra to reduce the fire hazard.

Stearns joked that since the coastal cities sinking due to rising seas “we should volunteer to take one for the team and allow them to send their water to the Central Valley.”

“I’m being sarcastic of course in light of how the environmentalists are there.”

In terms of Airbnb, Stearns said that the Three Rivers area has been inundated with the vacation rentals. Both Crocker and Stearns thought there should be a new ordinance that respected private property rights while also not creating a nuisance for neighbors of a rental unit.

Micari did not agree. “I don’t believe we should have more government. He said he looked at the new ordinance being considered by the TCBOS and said that all these rules are already on the books. “Use what we have and if we miss something then pass an ordinance.”

This was the last forum before the first day residents could vote by mail on February 3. The last day to register is February 18 and the last day to turn in your ballot is March 3 at any polling location or the Tulare County Registrar of Voters.

The top two vote getters in District 1 will go on to the November General Election. If one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote on March 3 they will win outright.

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