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More than 100 residents showed up at Lone Pine’s Statham Hall last week to hear the Fifth District Supervisor candidates’ take on issues ranging from potential conflicts of interest to the equitable distribution of county tax dollars.
After sitting through the responses of incumbent Richard Cervantes and challengers Jim Gentry and Matt Kingsley to five questions posed by the forum host, the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce, audience members were given the chance to query the contenders as well.
Following are the questions asked and the candidates’ responses.
What good deeds and services have DWP, BLM and Forest Service accomplished in and for Inyo County and what is your opinion?
“Our relationship with DWP is complex,” said Kingsley, “There are things that DWP does for the valley that are good, such as the Sports Complex here in Lone Pine that DWP put in. They do all kinds of community service things, many of which are done to improve their image, but they do good things.” He noted that thanks to DWP, Inyo County has a lot of open land that might not be open if privately owned.
As for the BLM and the Forest Service, Kingsley noted that they are federal agencies and their mission isn’t to do good deeds. There may be some spinoffs from their jobs. Later, Kingsley remembered that one good thing both agencies provide is fire protection.
“The City of Los Angeles has delivered on many projects that have benefitted the people that live here,” said Cervantes, “but keep in mind that they have a vested interest in doing so. Remember the sole purpose of the City of Los Angeles is to take water from this valley and deliver it to the city.” He said he appreciates all that DWP does, noting his regular work with the utility on the Owens Lake Project for such issues as dust mitigation as a governing board member of the Great Basin Air Pollution Control District. Giving DWP credit, Cervantes said it has reduced airborne particulate matter by about 92 percent. “Having said that, the only reason they have done that is they were ordered to do so by a court and lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit,” Cervantes said. “When dealing with DWP, you’d better have a dozen lawyers in your pocket.”
“Obviously they gave me a job! And quite a few of my friends as well,” said an unrepentant Gentry. He went on to say, “The Sports Complex comes to mind, but most of it comes from the employees of DWP. We have a good power unit here in Lone Pine, changing lights at the ball field I don’t know how many times. I agree with Richard on one thing and that is their prime objective is to get the water down to L.A. – that’s what they bought the land for – that’s what they are going to do. They have tried to be good stewards by leasing land back to most of the ranchers; they don’t have to put a whole bunch of water back on the lake, and other things.” He admitted he was going to say something that some in the audience would likely not want to hear from a candidate for Supervisor: that DWP has kept the area small and that’s why he lives here – he likes it small.
How do you plan to protect the water resources of the South County from further export and privatization?
Cervantes said the County has an ordinance on exporting water. Exceptions are the bottling plant – if it’s in a bottle they can export it. He said the problem is the City of Los Angeles continues to acquire land and water rights, and that water ends up in the Aqueduct. He also noted DWP is trying to reduce the use of potable water on the lake by pumping water from under the lake for dust mitigation instead.
Gentry admitted that, “I don’t think that I can do that.” He said maybe the county could shut Crystal Geyser down, which is unlikely. The only thing that will stop the export of water from the county is if it becomes too expensive for the City of Los Angeles to export it from here to there. He thinks that eventually that may happen.
Kingsley said that to stop the continued export and privatization of water takes good leadership, implementing the Long-term Water Agreement, and maintaining it so that they are abiding by it. “We cannot litigate every issue, we cannot afford it,” said Kingsley.
He offered three steps on how best to deal with LADWP: partnership; negotiate; and litigate only as a last option.
“Good leadership and building relationships with the City of Los Angeles is our only hope besides enforcing the Long-Term Water Agreement and the ordinance that Richard talked about,” said Kingsley.
A question was directed at Cervantes about a non-existent fire station and non-working equipment in Tecopa.
He responded that he has been working with TerraGen Power to donate a nice metal building along with a 60-foot trailer for the tractor to be hooked up to move it to Tecopa to serve as the fire station. As to the equipment, it has been kept out in the sun and deteriorates.
Kingsley said it has not been happening for two years and the Tecopa Fire Department is frustrated. If it does happen, he is not sure who should get credit for it. (Cervantes wished to respond to Kingsley’s comments but the rules of the forum prevented it.)
The candidates were asked if they are concerned about the negative effect of children in Olancha being bused to school in Lone Pine and what they would do to make Olancha more welcoming to young families.
Gentry noted that shutting down Olancha was a sore subject when he was on the school board and he sympathized with those who went through it. “If people are going to move to Olancha,” he said, “well they’re going to move to Olancha. A family will take care of the family.”
Kingsley acknowledged that busing is not popular and that it is a long ride, but at the same time he noted that some students live even farther out. “When you locate to a certain area, you buy into the lower level of services that are available,” he said. He also said he was trying to find a way to use the school, perhaps a boot camp to train people on fixing or maintaining solar panels or wind turbines. As far as making Olancha a better community, Kingsley said he is not sure there is much the county can do other than making sure the area gets its share of county funding.
Supervisor Cervantes had no comment on the question.
Kingsley was asked how he plans to help small communities such as Keeler with their fight for different water regulations and reform.
He noted that the problem is not restricted to Keeler, but rather is an issue for the whole county. He said the county can support the Water Agreement and maybe a re-greening project is needed that might enhance the community. “It is a problem district-wide. The drinking water system is OK, but DWP might be persuaded to put some money into it,” he said.
Gentry said he knows Keeler has an issue with meeting new qualifications from the federal government. He said he’d like to help but he doesn’t know what can be done. Gentry added he even owns property out in Olancha, so he’d like to be able to do something.
Cervantes said that Keeler has arsenic in the water and the State has regulations limiting arsenic to safe drinking levels. He noted that the one-size-fits-all regulations for small districts don’t work for everyone and he is working to have the regulations adjusted to accommodate very small districts.
Someone wanted to know why they did not have residential curbside recycling in Lone Pine.
Gentry said he’d like to have it, but he didn’t know what could be done. He promised to work on it. Cervantes said that solid waste is a big issue and explained that new regulations are coming down from the state wanting to minimize amount of solid waste in landfills. He said, “We’re all going to have to deal with it.” Kingsley said “all of us” support recycling and perhaps someone in town could be encouraged to take up the business. His suggestion was that perhaps the county could help someone start a business through re-zoning and other efforts.
The candidates were asked about their vision of broadband communications in the Eastern Sierra.
Cervantes said digital broadband is on the verge of becoming reality in Inyo County and that local providers will be able to deliver it 100 times faster. Kingsley said that the Digital 395 is disappointing in that, yes, it brings it to the 395 corridor, but the Fifth District has many communities that are not close to the main highway. Even so, Kingsley noted there is potential for small business startups with the higher speeds and residents will have access to telemedicine and teleconferencing.
Gentry said he was in a meeting last week in Palmdale on the subject and learned a lot about it. He agreed that it will open opportunities and an effort should be made to get it in all Inyo communities.
Was the Caltrans bypass of Olancha and extra funding justified?
Kingsley said that it is impossible to be “for” bypassing any community in the Eastern Sierra and that if it happens to one town, it will happen to others. “If you are not for the bypass,” said Kingsley, “you certainly are not for spending the money for one.” Gentry said the U.S. highway system was put in for commerce and that by bypassing communities, you are hurting commerce. “Caltrans is mostly concerned about safety, but I agree with Matt,” said Gentry. “If they bypass one community, they’ll bypass others. At the same time I understand Caltrans’ concerns for safety.” Cervantes said he is vehemently against the bypass and that all that is needed is a simple widening of the 395. He noted that the bypass will cost much more money and it will destroy hundreds of acres of wildlife habitat.
How about a new animal shelter in Lone Pine?
Gentry admitted that he just doesn’t know if it’s a possibility, but maybe it is something that can be looked into. Cervantes said, “We definitely need a new shelter in Big Pine far more than a new county building in Bishop.” He acknowledged that it would be nice to have a small shelter down in Lone Pine. Kingsley said that it would be a benefit, but he just doesn’t know if the county can afford it. He suggested that maybe a short-term animal care facility or approaching ICARE to have an adoption center in Lone Pine would save having to take some of the animals to Big Pine.
Film production companies are a major part of the local hotel business. They complain the process is slow and complicated.
Kingsley reminded everyone of his earlier comments that county government needs to stop being a speed bump and do everything possible to support anything that helps Inyo. He said it is best to just keep the process simple. Gentry said, “I don’t think the county is the obstacle; the problem is the state and federal government.” Cervantes said he is working on this all the time and he would like to see the county departments respond in a timely manner. At the same time he said sometimes there are extenuating circumstances “but we need to simplify the process.”
The Fifth District has been economically depressed for many citizens. Some politicians will not end tax breaks for the wealthy. Cutbacks threaten social programs that some depend on for their survival. What would you do?
Gentry admitted that he was not sure how to respond, saying that certainly nobody wants senior citizens and children suffering. The county has so far managed to have a balanced budget and he admires that success. He promised to work to make sure it keeps happening. Cervantes reminded the audience that the State is broke and the first cuts are always in health and safety services and parks – those cuts that hurt the public the most. He promised to keep things going in the County.
Kingsley said that if the county loses money, the Board of Supervisors must have a process to prioritize services. He feels it is important to maintain law enforcement, the safety net, and seniors.
How do you define being a part of the team with the Board of Supervisors and how do you plan to create teamwork as a supervisor?
“Contrary to what you’ve heard, on 93-94 percent of that which comes before the board, we get along well,” said Cervantes, “but on issues harmful to our district, I have to take a stand for my constituents.”
Kingsley reminded everyone that he coached basketball for 22 years and taught leadership classes for federal government for many years. He said it is important to build relationships and trust, so that when you make a recommendation or idea, people trust you. “On the school board we do not always agree, but we trust each other,” said Kingsley. He said they all have a role to play in questioning, working through problems and making decisions toward a common goal.
Gentry agreed with Kingsley saying that after 18 years on the school board, you know that you are not always going to agree with everyone. He also agreed with Cervantes that 92 percent or more percent of the time, most decisions are cut and dry issues and you just vote on it. He said that you can build trust, but you have to accept that things do not always go your way. Even so, you just don’t slam the door on others.