By Debra Moore
For the second time this week the League of Women Voters of Plumas County hosted an election forum — this time for Dwight Ceresola and Bill Powers — the two men seeking to be the next District 1 Supervisor. District 1 includes Portola and portions of Eastern Plumas including the Sierra Valley.
The seat has been open since Mike Sanchez left the position in July of 2019 due to health reasons. Ceresola and Powers were the top two vote earners in a field of four during the March Primary. Due to coronavirus precautions, the event was accessed via Zoom on Oct. 1 at 7 p.m.
League member Laura Rodriguez served as moderator for the 90-minute event, during which she posed a series of questions for the candidates — some of them similar to the ones asked of District 2 candidates Kevin Goss and Mike Grant earlier this week.
The entire forum is available for viewing on YouTube and Facebook, but here is a synopsis of the event. Election Day is just one month away, with ballots in the mail to voters by this coming Monday, Oct. 5.
Ceresola, a Sierra Valley rancher, and Powers, an educator and Portola City Councilman, introduced themselves before answering questions posed by Rodriguez.
Why are you running now?
Powers, who is a current Portola City councilman as well as a former Plumas County supervisor, answered the first question, which pertained to why he had decided to run for supervisor again at this time.
“We’ve been without a supervisor for over a year,” he said, “and it’s vitally important.” Powers cited a litany of issues facing Eastern Plumas, including reorganizing fire districts (a topic that would come up again in the forum) as well as groundwater issues. “I have a solid background in how to do things and procedures,” he said. Powers said it’s important to get to “number three” — the number of votes needed to approve an item on a board with five members — and he knows how to accomplish that.
Ceresola responded to a similar question, which noted that he has lived in Plumas County for a number of years (since 1982) and what was it that prompted him to run for supervisor now?
“People from the valley (Sierra) approached me,” Ceresola said. He added that he discussed the decision with his wife because of what it would mean to them. “It takes a lot of time to do this correctly,” he said of the position.” He described transportation, fire and fire insurance as pressing issues. Ceresola said that he began attending board of supervisors meetings and talked with board members and residents regarding issues. He said it’s time to “come up with new ideas” to tackle the challenges.
Both men were asked how they would address the economic fallout from the pandemic and fires.
Ceresola focused on the impact of fires — the resources that are burning up and being eliminated, and the effect on tourism. He said that efforts need to focus on eliminating built up fuels in the forests and suggested that a barrier needs to be built around the city of Portola to protect it from fire.
Powers said he was proud of the businesses in Portola and that they had “adapted as well as they could” to the pandemic. He singled out Leonard’s Market and the food co-op for their work in making it a safe shopping experience. As for fire, he suggested the need for early and innovative warning systems, as well as addressing the fuel buildup.
Volunteer fire departments
That led into a question about the state of volunteer fire departments across the county — whether they are adequately trained and staffed, and if they should be consolidated.
Powers said there is an effort underway to reorganize six of the departments on the east side of the county, with uniform training and equipment. This would allow them to seamlessly offer mutual aid. As the departments unite, it would make it easier for them to obtain grant funding and have an opportunity for paid, professional staff, such as is the case with the Beckwourth department. The city has recently entered into an agreement with that department which will go into effect early next year.
Ceresola reiterated some of Powers’ points about six departments on the eastern end of the county working to consolidate and the need to take “baby steps,” by training and equipping trucks together. “It takes time, it takes money and it takes devotion, “ Ceresola said, and added that the departments have many devoted volunteers.
The board and the Forest Service
It was noted that 70 percent of Plumas County is federally owned, and the candidates were asked about the interaction between the Board of Supervisors and the Forest Service.
Ceresola cited all of the fires and their ensuing damage. “Everyone says we need to stop this,” he said, and added that the real danger is that the forests are overloaded with fuel. He questioned how it could be eliminated, and the need to use planned burns and to clean up ladder fuels. He said there needs to be more cogen plants (so there are places to take the material that is removed) but those have their own environmental issues.
Powers said he has been talking with local forest officials about timber practices. He agreed with Ceresola that fuels need to be eliminated, but it’s difficult, particularly when weather dictates when underburns can occur and that time is very limited. He pointed to Collins Pine near Chester and its use of chipping as one solution.
It was noted that Plumas County residents are becoming increasingly divided and the candidates were asked what they could do to bring them together.
“I work with all kinds of people every day,” Powers said. While there may be disagreements, “we’re still neighbors; we’re still friends.” He said that “division gets you nowhere,” and that he would use the attitude “this is our baby (the county). Let’s get it done.”
Ceresola acknowledged that the county has “people with a lot of different ideas.” But he said when you talk to those people and listen to their concerns and their issues — they are similar for ranchers, mountain bikers, etc. He would strive to bring groups together.
Rodriguez asked the candidates what they would do if the sheriff didn’t enforce national laws or executive orders.
Ceresola said that he hasn’t observed the Sheriff (Todd Johns) failing to adhere to any orders, but if he did, Ceresola would want to know what it was and why. “It could be time, money or he’s doing something else important,” he said.
Powers said that he has been very happy with the Sheriff and his interactions with the city of Portola. If he wasn’t adhering to enforcement, Power said he would want to know his motivation.
Coronavirus, masks and vaccines
The candidates were asked what they would have done differently to respond to the pandemic, as well as their positions on mandated mask wearing and vaccines.
Powers said it’s important to protect the citizenry and he noted that Eastern Plumas seems to be the most vulnerable due to its proximity to Washoe County. He said that he has studied the outbreak there and it seems that most of the clusters are centered at casinos. Powers said he wears a mask and would comply with state orders so that the economy can open safely as soon as possible. He said that not everyone should be mandated to receive a vaccine. “Stay distant, stay home, and follow your own best ideas,” he said.
Ceresola said that the Public Health Agency has been doing a good job keeping the supervisors updated. He said that since Plumas County seems to be faring well, he would like to see some of the restrictions lifted. As for masks, he said he doesn’t fully agree with them, but he wears them as required. “I don’t get people arguing about it; we need to work with each other.” Ceresola said that a lot of people are going to be hesitant to take the vaccine and he doesn’t “know how they would dictate this.”
What steps could be taken to curb Plumas County’s contribution to climate change?
Powers cited: fuel reduction, protecting water supplies and raising public awareness so that individual residents make their properties as fire resistant as possible.
Ceresola discussed working on public and private lands that are overgrown with fuel, monitoring water resources and improving runoff, and using livestock effectively.
Internet access in many areas of Plumas County is slow and unstable, what role can the Board of Supervisors play in rectifying the problem?
Ceresola said that the board is already considering ways to improve the situation by adding fiber optics and repeaters, but it is costly. He added that by the time you find a solution, it’s already outdated.
“My feed (at home) is through fiber optics and it’s excellent service,” Powers said. He mentioned one company that could be coming to Portola but he couldn’t discuss due to pending litigation.
Both candidates were asked about using Facebook and Twitter to interact with constituents.
Powers said he uses Facebook, but not Twitter because it doesn’t allow him the space needed to provide any background information. He will also use his website and emails, but added that “public discussion on the street is probably the best.”
“This’ll be a short answer,” Ceresola said. He said he has a Facebook page, but prefers the “old-school” approach with face-to-face discussions. He doesn’t do Twitter.
Ceresola said his three budget priorities are taking care of the counties retirees (its PERS responsibility) and current employees, opening up businesses in the wake of coronavirus and “a toss up between water quality and maintaining our roads.”
“I could almost echo what Dwight said,” Powers began. He too cited the county’s PERS (retirement) obligation, deferred maintenance and the need to seek more funding sources.
Rodriuguez asked the candidates to describe the barriers to new business in the area.
Powers cited the need for high speed and reliable internet access. He said that surprisingly, one benefit of coronavirus has been a surge in local real estate sales. More residents means the need for more businesses, he said, which add to the economy. Personally, he would like to see a bakery in Portola.
Ceresola also cited internet as the prime barrier, especially since many people are working from home. He too, noted the increase in home sales, as well as the sale of bare lots. He thought the county might need to add more staff to the planning and building departments, and that transportation could be improved.
The candidates were asked if they would increase staffing at the sheriff’s substations.
Powers said that the sheriff has assured him that District 1 will have a clearer idea of where deputies are located and what their shifts are for coverage. He said he wants to see how the situation works before discussing additional staffing.
Ceresola said he would want to see statistics to support where the sheriff would want to put them, his current manpower and how he’s using it. He said he has talked to the community and there are pros and cons. He said that the county budget is already tight and he would have to see if it’s feasible.
Like and respect
Name something that you like and respect about your opponent.
Both men said that they really didn’t know each other until a lunch event as candidates. Ceresola said that they had a good conversation and a nice time together. “I wish him luck, but I hope I win,” he concluded.
Powers described Ceresola as polite and well mannered and congratulated him for being “willing to run for this thing.” Powers said that Ceresola would do his best to serve the people and wished him well, but like Ceresola, he hopes that he wins.