Five weeks from now, voters from Bishop to Death Valley will be asked to decide the fate of three seats up for election on the Inyo County Board of Supervisors.
Over the past several weeks, the candidates for Inyo County Supervisor in Districts 2, 4 and 5 have provided voters – via statements published in The Inyo Register – information about themselves and their history in the Owens Valley, as well as their reasons for seeking public office and goals and plans for the future if elected.
With the June 5 Primary fast approaching, The Inyo Register is now offering voters the opportunity to see where these candidates stand on specific issues.
In addition to providing the aforementioned statements, the 10 candidates – three incumbents and seven challengers – were also invited to respond to a set of questions dealing with matters on a county-wide level and specific to the districts where they are running office.
Each candidate was provided the same set of questions as his or her political challengers, and asked to keep the responses as concise as possible.
This series kicks off today with the questions given to and responses received from the candidates for Fifth District Supervisor: incumbent Richard Cervantes and challengers Jim Gentry and Matt Kingsley.
The Fifth District covers a sweeping area from Lone Pine south to the Kern County border and east to the Nevada state line.
Future issues will include the responses from the Districts 4 and 2 candidates, as well as the candidates for Inyo County Board of Education Trustee Area 2, U.S. Congressional District 8 and State Assembly District 26.
As before, their responses are printed verbatim with the order chosen by drawing.
1.) Do you support entering long-term debt with taxpayer money to construct a new consolidated office space in Bishop? Explain.
Richard Cervantes: If ever there was a time to not go into debt, this is it. With the world, nation and state drowning in a sea of red ink you would think that my colleagues would know better. This, however, is not the case. As you have probably guessed by now, I love to quote Shakespeare, so here goes, “Something is rotten in Denmark.”
Jim Gentry: I believe this has nothing to do with the courthouse moving to Bishop, which is a totally separate issue and was ultimately the decision of the state.
It was interesting to me that this question states, “entering long-term debt with taxpayer money” (but SHOULD go on to say) “or continue unlimited debt by renting from people who do not have the best interest of the tax payer at heart.” Luckily we already own County offices in the southern end of Inyo. If the 5th district had competent representation we would already know this!
Matt Kingsley: The idea of consolidated office space in a county-owned building has some appeal. The potential of substantial saving in utilities and personnel could make the project viable, but only if it meets the following criteria:
• Must not be an increased financial burden to taxpayers (budget neutral).
• Must accommodate only the county employees who supply services to the Bishop area (no dual office space).
• Any savings generated must be directed to parts of the county that are under-served.
2.) What are the greatest challenges facing your district and what are some possible solutions you’d like to have a hand in crafting?
RC: Believe it or not the 5th District was once self supporting and free, today, DWP, the Forest Service, BLM and state control over 98 percent of the land and most of the jobs. This is government by the government and for the government. Without land releases, there is little chance for growth, jobs or development. I am working however, to restore some mining opportunities.
JG: The Governor in his campaign speech said “he was going to return power back to the city and county” in political speak that translates to we are stuck with unfunded mandates with more fee and taxes being diverted from the counties to the state. We now need more then ever a strong leader who has proven himself and has the ability to work with others.
MK: The county’s role in supporting the many small communities as they struggle to stay vital. This includes providing a fair share of funding, resources and services to the 5th District, encouraging and providing support to businesses and citizens, and dealing with the many organizations that affect our landscape (LADWP, Federal and State agencies, private enterprises like Bright Source and Coso Geothermal).
The 5th District deserves a Representative who does more than simply vote on issues. I will build relationships and craft solutions and then provide leadership to put those solutions into action.
3.) What are the biggest water-related issues facing the county right now? What do you feel has to be done to remedy problems? Would you have handled past decisions differently? If so, why?
RC: The big water issue in the fifth district is wether water can be saved by pumping water from under the Owens Lake to offset potable water currently being used for dust mitigation. DWP has been using up to 96,000 acre feet of aqueduct water for this purpose. All the stakeholders and environmental group are awaiting the results of ground water studies and hydrologists reports, to determine how much water can be safely pumped from under the lake.
JG: Water issues are driven by special interests that dominate our view of county government with the confusion of their conflicting positions. There needs to be more stability in our county water department and planning department before we can expect any unresolved issues to be concluded. From these improvements will come an increase in services.
MK: The continued implementation of the Long-Term Water Agreement and the challenge of water use and dust mitigation on the Owens Lake are the biggest water-related issues to the county. The LADWP’s use of over 95,000 acre feet of water on the Owens Dry Lake has had a positive effect on dust control, but is limiting water available for in-county use. By working with the State Lands Commission, the City of LA and the many stakeholders in the current Master Plan effort, a solution that uses less water for dust control, maintains wildlife habitat, preserves traditional users and redirects more water to in-valley use must be the long-term goals. The Green Book revision, pumping plan modifications are also critical components to water use planning. Past decisions have not always lead to expected results. I understand the environmental and social issues related to future water use and allocations and have the principles to pursue effective policy.
4.) Does Inyo County rely too much, economically, on tourism? What other industries could you see being viable in Inyo County, and would you be interested in helping foster their development?
RC: We have beautiful mountain and breathtaking scenery, outdoor recreation based tourism is what developed. There is the possibility for a technology based business to grow. And for limited job development in alternative energy. The Olancha area has some light to medium manufacturing and some available land. My focus has been on jobs and putting people to work. I have urged DWP to set up a fabrication plant in Olancha to build and assemble solar panels for their Solar Ranch Project.
JG: Inyo County is a big county with a small private land base. Tourism is conducted with logistics by the traveler moving through the county. The only way Federal, State or County governments should get involved in industry would be to help them get through the unnecessary regulation bureaucratic messes they have put in front of them and possibly tax incentives.
MK: We live in one of the most unique and beautiful areas in California and our reliance on tourism is healthy and natural. In addition to promoting and protecting our tourism and recreation industry, our leaders must look for diversification in our tax revenues. Currently, LADWP and Coso Geothermal pay over 45 percent of our property taxes. Mining, agriculture and the CG Roxane water bottling plant as well as substantial funds from the TOT tax contribute significantly. I will support opportunities for light industry, solar or green energy generation, increased recreation opportunities, and other development in appropriate locations.
5.) Does a supervisor have an obligation to vote in a way that benefits his or her district, even if it’s bad for the county as a whole? Explain.
RC: This is somewhat of a non-sequitur in that if the supervisor votes for his district, the other supervisors will vote against, if that’s bad for the county as a whole. The opposite is usually the case.
JG: There is a time and place for everything. There are certain actions best left to the Federal and State government. A county supervisor represents his or her district along with the whole county. This includes every citizen young and old. My view has always been and will always be out of the fifth district.
MK: Leaders must make decisions (vote) for the constituents they represent. But leaders must also work to find solutions to complex issues that benefit all. Voting against something that is clearly good for the county but bad for your constituents should be the last resort. I will build solid relationships based on good communication and trust among the supervisors, which will minimize the need to face such situations.
6.) Is the county and the way it does business as transparent and “user-friendly” as it could be?
RC: I feel that there could be a lot of improvement in this area, there seems to be a lack of trust of the general public without which there won’t be much openness.
JG: It is better than it use to be in some cases and worse in others. Special interests drive the issues and the misinformation, for instance the office development in Bishop is being financed without a bond therefore the level of disclosure required by law is less, but in some cases we should be more transparent than what the law requires.
MK: No. Supervisors must set the tone that our county is customer service oriented and not just the enforcers of regulations or restrictions. To set this tone we must have engaged and active leaders who are open and approachable and who lead by example. Inyo County should provide a responsive and lean structure that protects its citizens, business, and the environment in the least restrictive manner possible. Residents should feel supported by our local government.
7.) Do you feel the Board of Supervisors has a role in helping to boost or maintain morale of the County of Inyo workforce?
RC: The Board certainly has the responsibility to foster morale building, and to communicate this to the department heads as something we should do.
JG: Yes! See my answer to question 3. Stability of finances is difficult in a county that has had no growth in the last 20 years or longer plus hard fiscal times. It would be better for funds from the Federal and State government to be used to improve our local county, without that it is difficult to improve the lives of a good workforce.
MK: County supervisors have not only a role but a responsibility to provide a workplace where every employee is valued and respected. My experience as a leader of a large fire organization provides me with the insight into leadership roles and responsibilities in keeping operative morale high. “The beatings will stop when morale improves” does not work. Leaders must set the tenor and give employees the opportunity, responsibility and training to succeed. As your representative, I will operate in an open, engaged and approachable leadership style.
8.) Is there any legitimacy to complaints that the county is not responsive or receptive to the needs and concerns of residents in the far-flung regions of Southeast Inyo?
RC: “Out of sight, out of mind” add to this the great distances involved and the logistics of providing county services, the result which is less service in both quantity and quality.
JG: The evidence speaks volumes. Half the county budget is mandated by the source of the funding. The other half could be appropriated equally. That would be over $2,000 per person. The remote areas receive less than $2,000 dollars in un-mandated services. Those areas should each have a review of their actual allocation.
MK: The 5th District is much different than the rest of the county in that we are really a group of small communities spread over a very large area. The dispersion of our citizens makes it difficult to provide safety net and senior services efficiently. Yet the remote nature of the 5th District communities makes the delivery of these services even more essential. In many areas the county provided services are the only services. The board of supervisors must be vigilant in safeguarding these safety net services for those most in need wherever they live. I pledge to be mindful of that responsibility. Additionally, our county needs to be more innovative in providing those services. I will work to insure that better backbone technology systems are in place for each community (not just the communities on the 395 corridor) delivering some services electronically, such as telemedicine, video conferencing and training.
I would also initiate a review of basic safety net and senior citizen support structures county wide to insure that funding and services are being equitably distributed.
9.) Is there anything the county can do to help foster economic development in Lone Pine?
RC: The county would love to have DWP release land in Lone Pine for development, and to offer for sale the properties they own on Main Street. As it is we are frozen in time by the City’s land policies.
JG: Government should not get into or interfere in or pick and chose any legal business, (unless as I said in question 4) to help get through the bureaucratic mess or tax incentives. It should be left up to the entrepreneur!
MK: Yes. The county has a responsibly to foster economic development in all areas of the county. Lone Pine, Independence, and Big Pine in particular will benefit from Digital 395 high speed internet services. The recently completed Eastern Sierra Economic Development Plan is a thorough guide to supporting sustainable development in our communities. But as with all plans, to insure that real actions materialize will require dedicated and engaged leadership. I have the desire and commitment to push for healthy development in Lone Pine, the 5th District, and county-wide.
10.) Is the county adequately preparing for long-term growth in desert regions continually being eyed by developers in Southeast Inyo and neighboring Nevada counties?
RC: The largest parcel of private land in the South County is located in Charleston View along the Nevada border 17 miles from Pahrump the problem is that the aquifer under Pahrump has been over drafted to the point of subsidence and the same aquifer underlies Charleston View. Without a reliable source of water there won’t be much development. This same area is the site of the Bright Source, $2.5 Billion solar energy plant, it’s design uses minimal water from wells. The county is working with Bright Source to provide infrastructure development. Farther to the southeast there is a section of land with water, in Sandy Valley, that someday might be used for development, currently it is growing alfalfa.
JG: I am unaware of any long-term development in southeast Inyo. If the question is referring to (Bright source) I do not have enough information to make a good judgement on it, as I see it now there is no benefit for Inyo County.
MK: No. The potential for development and growth is great in the south eastern area of the county.
Preparing for and managing that potential requires much more effort and attention than is currently being put forth. With good planning, local participation and involved leadership, sustainable and suitable development that will benefit specific regions and the county as a whole can and will materialize. I will work to enact large-scale environmental planning, partnerships, and local involvement in pre-planning efforts that will lead to appropriate and sustainable development.