With the June 5 Primary fast approaching, The Inyo Register is now offering voters the opportunity to see where local and state candidates stand on specific issues.
In addition to providing previously published “candidate statements,” the various political hopefuls were also invited to respond to a set of questions dealing with matters on a countywide or state level and specific to the districts where they are running for office.
Each candidate was provided with the same set of questions as his or her political challengers and asked to keep the responses as concise as possible.
This series continues today with the questions given to and responses received from the candidates for Fourth District Supervisor: incumbent Marty Fortney and challengers Christopher Dangwillo, Mark Tillemans and Nina Weisman.
District 4 covers an area of the county that stretches just south of Bishop and continues to just north of Lone Pine, encompassing the communities of Independence, Aberdeen, Big Pine, Keough’s and Wilkerson.
Future issues will include the responses from the District 2 Inyo County Board of Supervisors 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.
Marty Fortney: The County is currently paying leases on the office buildings that are targeted for consolidation. The current amount of the leases would be rolled into the lease payment for the new building with some additional monies from the county budget. There would be no loans or bonds used for the construction or lease of this building. The consolidated office building should be funded through the annual county budget. I do not support anything outside of this scenerio.
Christopher Dangwillo: Using tax payer money to fund the construction of a county office building in Bishop would be an egregious error in this unstable economy. Furthermore, the projected amortization is an illusion based on the current economy, rather than a future of hyperinflation. If the county is going to spend money, a better solution would be to use California’s eminent domain law to condemn the old Kmart or the Cottonwood Plaza.
Mark Tillemans: No. With fiscal conservancy on everyone’s mind, it’s time to take this issue to the ballot and let the people decide what to do with their money. Perhaps some of the office consolidation can be done within vacant properties. Don’t we already have numerous empty buildings in all of our towns?
Nina Weisman: I would only support this project if it clearly saves money and is in the best interest of Inyo County. It is not yet clear if a new building would be less expensive than the current and future rent. There are issues of workplace safety, comfort, and efficiency that need to be addressed whether or not the project goes forward. As your supervisor, I will question all the numbers to make the best choice for Inyo County.
2.) What are the greatest challenges facing your district and what are some possible solutions you’d like to have a hand in crafting?
MF: The declining population within the fourth district is alarming. We need to have adequate services available to attract people to live here. I am working to enhance all emergency services throughout the County. Ongoing property issues due to the Center fire in Big Pine, I have been instrumental in creating Fire Safe Councils in both Big Pine and Independence. The Animal Shelter needs to be replaced; I encourage the County to build a new affordable building at the location of the old Big Pine Care Center to replace it.
CD: The greatest challenge facing district four is overcoming the dominance of Bishop and the North County. The North County has the infrastructure of an incorporated city (Bishop), an over-zealous Chamber of Commerce, and 3 of 5 supervisors, all working to ensure the North County’s political and economic supremacy over Inyo. Inyo needs to separate itself from the Chamber of Commerce. The result might be a more unified board of supervisors, whom recognizes the people’s needs over the Chamber’s interests.
MT: Business and Education; our schools are suffering, and so are many businesses. We must find community-based solutions that work to address the abundance of vacant structures, and make it appealing for people to visit and/or relocate here. I believe working with some of the larger employers to help offset educational budget cuts, by supporting vocational training and funding would be a worthy project. There is great potential with the upcoming Digital 395 fiber optic network, encouraging e-commerce through a regional marketing approach to assist small businesses.
NW: The 4th District has the specific challenge of services and jobs relocating to the Bishop area. I will ensure that every effort is made to keep jobs in the district, and keep the county seat in Independence. We will continue to provide services to all of the communities of Inyo County.
A big challenge facing all of Inyo County is the economy and I have some concrete plans to boost the economic development here.
We can increase revenue from tourism by heavily promoting our recreational opportunities, especially in nearby population centers such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Bakersfield, Las Vegas, etc.
The county needs to assist Independence and Big Pine in improving the appearance of their downtowns, to encourage travelers to stop and visit.
I will encourage development of local agricultural products, which can then be advertised as Owens Valley products, and sold locally as part of the tourist economy.
We need to increase the energy efficiency of county property wherever possible.
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?
MF: Over pumping of Big Pine, Aberdeen/Taboose and Sawmill/Thibaut well fields, causing dryer than normal brush areas, Black Rock 94 area is just one example. Engage DWP to work out solutions rather than delaying the process.
CD: The biggest water related issue facing the county is the selective interpretation of the Long Term Water Agreement (LTWA); and, the fact that the LTWA is non-binding. Without a binding contract, both parties rely on each other’s goodwill to settle disagreements. The solution is a re-evaluation of the LTWA by all interested parties, and the formation of a binding contract, which would provide the necessary remedies for violations of said contract.
MT: It’s vital that the current water agreement is adhered to, but with a changing climate it will become important to reassess where our water goes, what it is used for, and who benefits from it. As a community member, I have a special interest in this issue, and as County Supervisor I will ensure fairness is adhered to.
NW: The biggest water-related issue facing Inyo County right now is ground water pumping by the LADWP to supply the aqueduct. This year, the LADWP’s annual pumping plan indicated a range of acre-feet for each well field, instead of a specific number. If the highest amount is pumped at each well, the total will be 93,000 acre feet; higher than last year’s total of 91,000 a/f, and higher than the total proposed of 88,000 a/f. Inyo County has documented significant negative impacts of this groundwater pumping and has complained in the past. The county needs to use solutions recommended in the water agreement, such as dispute resolution, and if that isn’t successful, I will initiate stronger measures to prevent harm to the environment from groundwater pumping.
Another important issue is the air quality in the Owens Valley. The particulates measured at Owens Lake are still significantly higher than safe levels. There are serious dust impacts from the Laws area. Since June 1997, LADWP has not completed re-vegetation of areas impacted by groundwater pumping. That is 15 years too many.
If the City of Los Angeles is not willing to abide by the Long Term Water Agreement and the EIR, then other solutions should be pursued.
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?
MF: Tourism is a major part of Inyo County and should continue to be supported. We also need to continue to support Agriculture in our County and look toward new industry such as renewable energy. Renewable energy can create new jobs, and possibly create educational opportunities to help educate a new workforce. Working with companies to create this would be a step toward helping our County and the residence.
CD: Inyo County relies far too heavily on tourism; however, what else is there? Between obscene environmental laws and control of water/power/land by the LADWP, there are not many opportunities for growth. The county could promote more agriculture to include a dairy, organic farming, and a slaughter house. By developing sustainable agriculture, Inyo can reduce its carbon footprint created by importing food, and provide healthy, low-cost food to local residents.
MT: Although our economy relies on tourism, we have a great deal of untapped potential yet to be discovered. Outdoor and experiential educational opportunities exist that could boost our economy, such as the Sierra Adventure Camp’s ability to host all types of groups and populations, such as geology, astronomy and other earth sciences; family adventures; business retreats; at-risk and inner-city youth; diabetes prevention; spiritual retreats; and more.
We’ve got a lot of potential for community supported agriculture. By working with ranchers, Tribes, schools, local citizens and non-profit organizations, Inyo County can grow our own food crops. By promoting business to business commerce, Inyo County has the means and resources to become self-reliant and much more resourceful.
NW: An upcoming economic report from the Sierra Business Council will state that tremendous additional economic value can be derived from an increase in recreational and tourism opportunities in Inyo County, due to our abundance of public lands and a growing national trend in visitation of these areas. We can assist that growth by developing recreational infrastructure and increasing access to information about tourism opportunities. The Lower Owens River Recreation Use Plan is an excellent example of how this could work to boost our economy. We also need to promote tourism opportunities both nationally and internationally, and increase ways of making visitors feel welcome.
Inyo County would benefit from an increase in technology-based businesses, especially when Digital 395 is online. We can encourage this by providing specialized education in the schools, and in training courses, such as Workforce Investment Board training.
Local agriculture is an important part of Inyo County’s economy. This can be built on by creating processing facilities within the county, and promoting the availability of our products outside of Inyo County, thus creating more jobs and tax income.
With California’s new renewable energy standard, there are opportunities for growth in Inyo County. I will make sure the county streamlines the bureaucratic hurdles and encourages development that is in our best interests.
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.
MF: Each supervisor has the ability to vote for or against agenda items and should weigh each item and vote accordingly. Each Supervisor has only one vote on any agenda item, and would need to convince at a minimum two other Supervisors to vote for or against an item. No one Supervisors vote can single handedly obligate the entire County.
CD: Half of leadership is listening, the other half is doing. A supervisor has a responsibility to represent their constituency and vote in a way that satisfies the majority of the people. If the supervisor informs the public, creates a dialog with the voters, then hopefully, coming to conclusions that benefit both county and district would be the outcome.
MT: Since I am representing the citizens of District 4, I have an obligation to vote in ways that benefit this district. That said, all of the districts are interconnected and whenever I have an opportunity to vote I will consider the impacts it may have on my district, county, state, and country.
NW: An example of this situation is when the half-cent sales tax was enacted in the 1980’s.
The three northernmost supervisors refused to approve this ballot measure unless an ordinance was passed guaranteeing that the City of Bishop receive 30 percent of these tax increase revenues. Those three supervisors did not act in the best interests of all of Inyo County’s residents. A better alternative would have been to trust the judgment of future supervisors to allocate funds as needed. A supervisor has an obligation to vote in a way that best serves all the public and consider the options very carefully.
6.) Is the county and the way it does business as transparent and “user-friendly” as it could be?
MF: Government can always do better. As a Supervisor I have worked with property owners and County staff to find agreeable solutions. The vastness of our County creates difficulties with public participation at times; however our County does a good job in reaching out to the public although it can always do more. As a Supervisor I have always made myself available to the public.
CD: Part of being transparent is being accessible. The board of supervisors meet while most people are at work. This discourages the public from participating. By having some meetings take place in the evening, and at various locations throughout Inyo, residents could have more of an opportunity to take part in local government.
MT: Government can always be more transparent. As District Supervisor, I will maintain a District Newsletter on a quarterly basis, utilize local radio, cable TV, and newspaper venues to reach out to the public. I’ll also maintain a District 4 Supervisor website. I will research ways to make more effective use of technology to assist groups countywide to meet and discuss issues affecting our communities.
NW: No, the County needs to be more transparent and user-friendly. The County is improving, but more can be done. Additional information can be made available on the internet, in the form of department updates, streaming of supervisor meetings, and downloadable printed matter. The public can be made to feel more welcome at official meetings, and can be given additional opportunities to comment and ask questions.
7.) Do you feel the Board of Supervisors has a role in helping to boost or maintain morale of the County of Inyo workforce?
MF: The role of the Board of Supervisors is to work for the residents of the County. Supervisors represent you not the employees. Employees have labor unions to represent them which the Board negotiates with.
CD: The supervisor’s role in maintaining morale is directly linked to their decisions made regarding the county’s budget. Budget cuts often equate to a reduction in workforce. Therefore, if a supervisor familiarizes his/herself with the various departments, their functions, who works where, and the department’s relationship to the community, then the supervisor can make efficient decisions regarding priorities when cutting the budget or saving a job from being cut.
MT: Absolutely. I understand that my influence on the performance of others is instrumental, and as leaders we have the unique opportunity to inspire, educate and assist when necessary. As Supervisor, I see the opportunity to utilize my vast coaching experience to ensure success for the County of Inyo workforce. Public meetings should be used to inform and engage the pubic, not to criticize leadership or allow leaders to take credit for the hard work staffers have done on various projects.
NW: Absolutely! Keeping morale high in the workforce is crucial to the productivity of the county and the health and well being of the employees. If morale is low, it can affect everything that occurs in the county, from emergency services to large-scale projects to visitor interactions; ultimately affecting our economy and reputation. I intend to regularly talk with county employees, both in offices and in the field, in order to keep up with current situations and be able to react quickly.
8.) It’s been more than 10 years since the Big Pine Care Center closed and left the facility on County Road vacant. Do you have any ideas for use of the county-owned property?
MF: My idea is to construct a new Animal Shelter at the location of the old Care Center. I would like to see this new and affordable building constructed to be large enough to provide room for storage for the County and for the Agriculture Department to house their equipment storage needs. This should be done through the budget process and not by putting the county in debt.
CD: The site of the old Big Pine Care Center could be used to rebuild a new animal shelter; the land could be sold to developers for private homes, and the profits used to build a new animal shelter; the land could be leased to a dairy. Regardless of any ideas, the people of Big Pine should be involved in any decision.
MT: First, a committee should be established for this project. Many wonderful ideas have been proposed over the years, with little success. Providing an opportunity to discuss these options, and to investigate economically viable solutions, while being environmentally responsible, and truly focusing on sustainability, will undoubtedly benefit Inyo County. Water rights on the property, as I know it, are still an unsolved issue, therefore a necessary discussion, prior to evaluating this project.
NW: This is a valuable asset to our county and should not be sold. It has water rights and is a part of Inyo County’s history. This is a beautiful piece of land that could be used for developing recreational opportunities within Big Pine. It could be used as a county park, possibly with a pond for fishing, and other popular features. A plan should be created to design something that will benefit the residents of Big Pine, while also helping the economy by attracting visitors.
9.) Is there anything the county can do to help foster economic development in Big Pine and Independence?
MF: I would like to see more county offices moved from Bishop to Independence, and the Animal shelter/Ag warehouse built in Big Pine. Possibly these two items would help with local jobs in these two communities.
CD: A few things the county can do to foster economic development are: provide reduced rent to people willing to bring businesses to district four; three-year exemption from property taxes for new businesses, repeal the annual $500 hospital tax, recruit a university to build a research center, and provide reduced rent/property taxes for a dairy and slaughter house.
MT: Yes – Develop a County plan that makes our towns more appealing to residents and visitors alike. The County should be active with each town’s business community to find ways to improve and promote the business environment, and bring in new businesses that appeal to visitors and residents. Big Pine and Independence know what they need; the County should listen, offer suggestions, and assist. The County can also help leverage marketing dollars from Mono to Inyo for shared tourism opportunities. Projects like Digital 395 can benefit local economies without compromising the local way of life. Opportunities like this need to be proposed and pursued.
NW: The County can create incentives for small businesses in these communities. Projects initiated by residents, like the Carson and Colorado Railway, should be encouraged. Creation of recreation infrastructure will increase tourism, and therefore increase economic development of tourism-based businesses.
We need to improve the advertisement of our other local attractions, such as the various fish hatcheries, recreation areas, museums, Owens River fishing and boating, etc. and take better advantage of being gateways to so many stunning natural areas. Let’s celebrate the Inyo County Way of Life outside of Inyo County. Improving the appearance of the 395 corridor in both Independence and Big Pine will help the economy and the county should assist in that effort.
There have been many projects proposed for Inyo County but not all of them would actually improve our economy. I will analyze projects carefully to be sure that they are actually bringing in new dollars, rather than just shuffling revenues from already existing businesses to others.
10.) How can you, as Fourth District Supervisor, help to facilitate implementation of the first phase of the Adventure Trails System in the Independence area?
MF: I have worked with a group of folks from Independence to develop the trail system in the Independence area. The trails identified if implemented would allow users to move between the campgrounds and town to help not only the users but the businesses in town as well. As proposed by the group it is a very good working plan.
CD: In order to implement the Adventure Trails System in Independence, it would be necessary to meet with local residents and off-road advocates to determine routes that are safe for riders and sensible to residents. Then submit plans to California Highway Patrol and Cal-Trans for their approval.
MT: The Adventure Trails System is one of many outdoor recreation projects that can greatly benefit Inyo County. If left unregulated, off highway vehicles have devastating effects, but through an organized system with designated routes, user fees, and comprehensive studies on peak season(s) that don’t conflict with sensitive wildlife corridors, the project can be a success. Education for OHV users is imperative, and there is great potential through a “give back to the community” element. Education and enforcement are my immediate concerns.
NW: The Adventure Trails System could potentially boost the economy in Inyo County. It will be my job to listen to input from Independence residents and trail users after it is implemented, and work to improve and enhance the plan as necessary. A successful Adventure Trails System includes happy trail users AND happy residents.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on these issues. I welcome any comments or questions.