(Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles covering the recent Yuba County Candidate Forum at the Yuba County Government Center on Jan. 29. Part four will run on Monday. Video of the forum can be found on the Appeal-Democrat’s Facebook page.)
They took up the topics of homelessness, priorities for infrastructure and recreational marijuana, and more.
The seven candidates running for three seats on the Yuba County Board of Supervisors participated in a forum on Wednesday hosted by the Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce and Appeal-Democrat.
The seats up for grabs on the board are for District 2 (Marysville), District 3 (Olivehurst) and District 4 (south Yuba County). In District 2, incumbent Mike Leahy is running against Don Blaser and Stephen Heter. In District 3, incumbent Doug Lofton is running against Seth Fuhrer. In District 4, candidates include incumbent Gary Bradford and challenger Joe Henderson.
The following is a summary of each candidate’s response:
Q: Is the county doing all it can to abate the homeless crises? What more should be done?
Bradford said the Yuba-Sutter area is often recognized as a state leader when it comes to dealing with homelessness. He credited programs like 14Forward, the coordinated-entry point and the different partnerships between various agencies and community organizations. He said there’s always room to do more.
Henderson said the homeless crises is largely being driven by decisions that are being made in Sacramento, in terms of driving up costs of infrastructure and increasing the cost of housing.
Blaser said part of the problem is trying to correctly define homelessness and identify who amongst that population wants help and who doesn’t want help. He said he’s seen every type of situation in downtown Marysville as a business owner. He said the coordinated-entry location is the best service the area has going for it right now.
Leahy said there are many different people throughout the community working on the issue. He said a five-year plan has been developed to help eliminate homelessness in the area, and the best part of the plan is that those that want help will get it, and those that don’t won’t want to live in the area because they will face punishment by law.
Heter said the county has done a lot right in addressing the issue, though it can be better. He said the area would benefit from having a one-stop shop type of location where different types of services are all in one place. He said the counties should continue to enforce the no camping ordinance and he brought up the threat to the area’s levees being damaged by transients.
Fuhrer said he doesn’t believe the county is doing everything it can. He said he sat in a meeting with the board a few months ago where county staff were telling supervisors about the need for more affordable housing. Shortly afterwards, supervisors discussed a single-family dwelling development. Fuhrer said they should’ve pivoted and focused more on how to create more multi-family, affordable housing. He said the county can do more.
Lofton said Yuba County has been a leader in handling the issue. He said 14Forward has been an example of success for the entire state. He said another promising development recently is that the Regional Housing Authority entered into an agreement with the homeless consortium for housing vouchers for at-risk youth that are aging out of the foster program.
Q: What are your priorities for infrastructure?
Henderson said something the city of Wheatland was recently able to do was secure funding through the Department of Water Resources, leveraging YWA funds as a local match, to do water infrastructure improvements for residents. He said a Wheatland Bypass is also needed, as well as a new parkway in the south county and flood protection improvements.
Blaser said it’s important to help drive development of industrial businesses in the sports and entertainment zone but part of the problem is that there isn’t adequate infrastructure in the area to support that growth. He said the county also needs to keep in mind the need to improve evacuation routes during an emergency and suggested a Marysville bypass.
Leahy said infrastructure is important because it drives economic development. He said the county needs to have things that businesses need, like water, sewer, electrical and public safety. He said even more important is having qualified employees, and suggested establishing a better college system to help increase assets of what companies might need.
Heter said his number one focus is a secondary spillway at New Bullards Bar. He said the area would benefit from bringing in a type of Cal Poly institute to better train people and keep more workers local. He said a Goldfield parkway would also have a huge impact in the community.
Fuhrer said the Olivehurst area needs an overhaul of its stormwater drainage system, which is one of the reasons he is running. Infrastructure brings business, he said, and Olivehurst and Linda – two of the most populated areas in the county – are two of the most economically pressed following past floods. He suggested having the water agency chip in to help with the project.
Lofton agreed that stormwater drainage is an issue in his district. He said Public Works is currently working to find a place for the stormwater to go.
He said water and sewer infrastructure in the south county is important as the new casino will be a catalyst for new development in the area. He said the board needs to find creative ways to fund those projects.
Bradford said a few of his top priorities for infrastructure include establishing water and wastewater systems in the Highway 65 corridor, not only in the sports and entertainment zone but also in the employment village across the highway.
He said another beneficial project would be for traffic relief in District 4, and part of the solution would be a Wheatland Bypass.
Q: What’s your stance on growing/selling recreational marijuana? What about industrial hemp? If commercial cannabis cultivation is allowed, what steps would you take to ensure the safety of resident and businesses?
Blaser said when it comes to cannabis, it is now legal – what matters most is making sure the industry is covered and kept in line.
He said he does support use of medical marijuana, though he typically wouldn’t support the recreational side. As for hemp, he sees it as a potential new crop, though it brings added costs to the county. He said it will ultimately come down to farmers deciding on the crop.
Leahy said he’s been an advocate for medical marijuana patients since the beginning. He said the community is separated on the commercial side of things, and the only way to put the issue to bed is by having a final vote on the ballot for people to decide. He said hemp is an ag product but also suggested that go out to a vote for residents to decide as well.
Heter said as far as recreational marijuana, it is still considered a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government.
He said there are benefits to the medical side of things. As for hemp, it’s an ag product, he said, and Sutter County has welcomed the new industry well. He said the county should be training new testers moving forward as it’s a high value crop.
Fuhrer said his view on industrial hemp is that, like any business, it must provide its own security. If it were passed by the county, he said it would bring in money from permitting and licensing. He said if residents want that, he’s in favor of making money.
As for marijuana for personal use, he said the county already has an indoor allowance, though there is the possibility of having that limit increased.
Lofton said county voters in the past have shown time and time again that they don’t want marijuana in the county.
If voters changed their mind, he said, he would be compelled to think differently. As for hemp, he said the county recently held a workshop about the issue and the jury is still out – largely due to state regulations not matching up with federal guidelines.
He said Sutter County has experienced some issues with the industry, so he believes Yuba County should take a wait and see approach.
Bradford said he served on an ad hoc committee that looked at commercial cannabis. After extensive research, the committee recommended the county consider allowing commercial cannabis activities in different forms.
When it comes to hemp, he said, the county should allow it at some point.
He said the agricultural commissioner has expressed some concerns about the new industry, so currently it would be best to hold off.
Henderson said he’s against commercial cannabis. He said he’s talked to some industrial hemp growers in Sutter County who are experiencing some growing pains, in terms of the commodity’s stability.
He views it as an agricultural crop, so he’s for it, though he said there are some issues that still need to be ironed out first.