About three dozen residents turned out to listen to the three candidates for District 5 supervisor during a forum hosted by the Plumas County League of Women Voters in Graeagle on April 17.
Tim Driscoll, incumbent Jeff Engel and Mimi Garner seek to represent District 5, which encompasses Graeagle-Blairsden and Clio, portions of the Highway 70 corridor and parts of East Quincy.
League member Susan Christensen emceed the evening and began by giving a brief history of the league, explaining that it’s open to men as well as women, and laying out the rules for the evening.
In addition to the three supervisorial candidates, the League invited all local candidates whose names will appear on the June ballot to speak, even if they are running unopposed. District Attorney David Hollister was the only official to take the opportunity. He told the gathering that his office handles roughly 1,000 cases per year and there have been no reversals since he took office. He mentioned some high-profile cases, a couple of which made the national news. “It has been an honor to serve you,” he concluded at the end of his remarks. Hollister stayed for the remainder of the forum and was available to meet with the public after the event.
Each of the candidates had two minutes to introduce themselves.
Tim Driscoll moved to Plumas County 18 months ago, but has lived in neighboring Calpine since 1997. He is a general contractor who has worked primarily in Eastern Plumas, building in Whitehawk, Plumas Pines and Grizzly Ranch. He owns rental properties in Portola and Quincy and served for eight years on the Sierra-Plumas Joint Unified School District board of trustees. Despite being a new resident, Driscoll said he has always felt a part of Plumas and wants to serve.
Jeff Engel is the incumbent supervisor and remarked that he knew most of the people in the room. He grew up in Plumas County, raised his own family here and has operated his excavating business locally for 36 years. He said he ran for supervisor four years ago following a shooting at the Portola hospital, which spurred him to want to ensure there was adequate law enforcement. “I hope I’ve earned your trust in the past 3 years, four months and 17 days,” he said to laughter.
Mimi Garner has lived in Plumas County since 1995 and is the original developer of Gold Mountain, Nakoma and the Dragon. She is a Realtor and until recently served on the recreation district board. She is running for supervisor because she wants to promote tourism to revitalize the county and said that marketing and advertising are her expertise.
Following the introductions, candidates were allotted two minutes to answer questions in a rotating order.
Q. Is your campaign self-funded?
All three candidates said they were self-funding their campaigns, though Driscoll said he had accepted a $200 contribution.
“I have never taken a contribution,” Engel said. “I owe nobody anything.”
Q. What is your opinion on commercial marijuana grows?
“I am against commercial cannabis activity,” Engel said, “but I’m not against personal medical use.”
Garner said that she was “pretty open-minded to see what the people of Plumas County are thinking.” She added that she thinks it is “inevitable,” so it should be controlled properly.
Driscoll said that in the same way property owners wouldn’t want a pig farm next door to their homes, they wouldn’t want a large grow either. He said that both sides of the commercial grow debate must come together.
Q. What have you accomplished in your term as supervisor? (A question directed to Engel.)
“I got the board to approve the position of CAO,” Engel said to applause from the audience. “It took three years, four months, and 17 days.” He said that the county needs to be run like a corporation.
Q. How do you propose to address the county budget deficit?
“Increase income and reduce liabilities,” Driscoll said. He said he would use some of the transient occupancy tax to invest in tourism. He would also like to see long-term strategic planning. As the situation is now, kids grow up locally, go away to attend college and earn degrees but then have no jobs to return to at home.
“I’ve been through three of these,” Engel said of the budget process. “It’s the worst days in the boardroom.” His approach is to run the county like a business — “If it’s not coming in, don’t spend it.”
Garner proposed setting up a Blue Ribbon Commission and putting up billboards in the Bay Area promoting the area. When people called, a Realtor would answer the phone. “Tourism is the only industry we can immediately tap,” she said.
She suspects that the county isn’t collecting all of the transient occupancy tax that it could be and she suggested hiring a compliance officer to review whether lodging providers were paying their amount.
Q. Up to 35 percent of TOT is not being received, what is being done? (A question directed to Jeff Engel.)
Engel said that he would audit all of the lodging providers, but that he has heard a lot of different numbers pertaining to the amount of TOT that isn’t being collected. Currently it brings in about $1.2 million per year, and while he knows that some would like to see that go to promote tourism, he doesn’t agree. “TOT is designed to pay for infrastructure that supports these lodges,” he said, and cited law enforcement and paved roads as examples.
Q. I came here from a county where tourism took over; do you believe in Airbnb?
Garner said she supports Airbnb and VRBO. “I think it should be done if it’s allowable (in an area). It’s a way for people to pay their taxes, their bills.” Garner said there are 110 units where she lives and estimates that 70 percent of them are vacation rentals. “I’m all for tourism — 100 percent. If you don’t want it to come in, I guess you don’t want a job.”
Driscoll said he left Truckee because it became too costly to live there. He also is a proponent of tourism, but sees it as twofold — bringing people from outside in, as well as getting local people to get out of their homes, to walk downtown and to shop and to eat.
Engel said, “Tourism is fine, but our biggest asset is recreation.” He is a proponent of the bike events organized by the Sierra Butte Trails Stewardship. “This is what we need to promote,” he said.
Garner said that she decided to run for the board because she wanted to accomplish something and discussed her work with special districts.
Engel said he appreciated the opportunity to be a supervisor for the past “four years, three months and 17 days” and he would continue his business approach to the position. “I could have balanced that budget in 30 minutes,” by lining through all of the requests the county couldn’t afford. “All you have to do is say ‘no,’” he said.
Driscoll said, “I want to be your supervisor. I don’t always want to be the ‘no’ vote; I want to have a better idea.” He continued, “We need to have some ‘yeses,’” and suggested that there were a lot of opportunities to get more money out of Sacramento, but it would take a grant writer.