The Plumas League of Women Voters held a forum for the four candidates running for the District 1 supervisor position at the Portola Veteran’s Memorial Hall on the evening of Jan. 23.
The candidates are Dwight Ceresola, Jason Christian, Bill Powers and write-in candidate John Pato.
League moderator Lee Anne Schramel opened the forum with a warm welcome, and said she was happy to visit from “beautiful Indian Valley.”
The League is non-partisan and was formed in Plumas County in 1993 to encourage informed and active participation of citizens in government.
Each attendee was given an index card on which to write questions directed toward the candidates, and the cards were sorted and read out in a standard league format by the moderator, with each candidate allotted a response time of two minutes.
“A big thanks to Feather Publishing for spending so much time in publishing information about the forums and candidates,” Schramel said. “Certainly, an electorate that knows what is going on is better than the opposite. We also appreciate Plumas County for not charging us for room rent.”
Candidates received two minutes to introduce themselves, with the session opened by candidate Bill Powers.
Bill Powers is a retired teacher and currently serves as Mayor Pro Tem of the Portola City Council, as well as serving in 15 other roles ranging from chair of the Juvenile Justice Commission to Commissioner at Plumas County LAFCo (Local Agency Formation Commission).
Powers introduced himself as a lifelong resident of Portola, born at the Western Pacific hospital and thanked the room for their participation.
“I’m running because we’ve been left out of the process since Mike (Sanchez) resigned in August, and I have the set of skills it takes to step right into the position without having to be trained for it,” Powers said.
Powers went on to state that the building of trust was the first order of business in success, and that he had already gained trust with supervisors, the D.A., and many more, due to his service with those individuals.
Write-in candidate John Pato is a 40-year resident of the area and has run the Graeagle Chevron for nearly 26 years.
Pato introduced himself to the room as a man that “is not a politician, but knows right from wrong,” and expressed his interest and participation in local government.
“I’m going to do the best I can do for our county and our district,” Pato said emphatically, after expressing a focus on fire prevention and community safety.
“I plan to learn as I go,” he said with a smile. “This is who I am.”
Pato explained his experience in problem resolution and also his fundraising experience, having hosted an annual fishing derby in support of the American Cancer Society with his wife Kellie for the past 10 years.
The microphone was then passed to candidate Jason Christian, an economist and native of Loyalton, with life-long ties to Plumas County leading to his returning to Portola in 2012.
“I’m a life-long member of the Plumas-Sierra business community and have been passionately involved in the interests my home, the Sierra Valley, and the surrounding region pretty much my whole life,” Christian said.
Christian went on to express his passion for forest health issues, and the urgent need to reinvest in the care and management of the forests and communities in and around them.
“Our towns are logging communities,” Christian said. He went on to state that the best work he had undertaken outside of his formal work was participating in the work of the Quincy Library Group, “a marvelous episode of self-government and developing the art of community-oriented resource management.”
Dwight Ceresola is a retired Chief Master Sergeant (E9) from Nevada Air National Guard, after having served 30 years, and is currently a full-time rancher and active community member in Sierra Valley after moving to the area with his family in 1982.
Ceresola explained his background in law enforcement with the Nevada Highway Patrol, as well as in the Marine Corp, Air National Guard and 152 Security Forces management.
“Due to my background, I became aware of how to budget, how to deal with manpower, how to write grants,” Ceresola said.
He added that he felt that this experience combined with his experience working within the law on multiple levels would benefit the community. “I’m sure that I can work with the supervisors to get things accomplished for the people of Plumas County.”
In your opinion, what is the most important issue facing the district, and what is the first thing you will do as supervisor?
The first question of the evening went to Pato, with a two-pronged question from the audience.
“I’d have to go with the fire issue,” Pato said. “My first job to attack would be putting together boards and meet in Sacramento to work with insurance companies and get rates lowered.”
Christian then responded, stating that he felt that the state of the forest was clearly the most important issue facing the community.
In his first move as supervisor, he would convene an organizing committee comprised of residents, area fire departments, and other local and state representatives to “plan a process to identify the amount of wood that needs to come out for forest health and then take it from there.”
Ceresola agreed that fire is a matter of high concern but emphasized that the county needs to put a focus on monies. “It all reverts back to money,” Ceresola said. “We have to look at how we’re using what monies we have, and how to stabilize our economy and increase what we have.”
Powers closed the first question with his response, stating that he felt the first order of business to be reporting out the many, many things that have taken place since there has last been representation for the district in August 2019.
Powers highlighted a few items, including the fact that a groundwater report for Sierra Valley is due in 2022, as well as the push to merge six fire districts and plans to get a burn box and chipper program going in the area.
“There is a major fire break that is being built up Willow Creek Road that will protect the town of Portola, at least from that side, and creating a defendable area to Willow Springs,” Powers said.
He went on to state that getting in tune with the other supervisors and being an equal partner as soon as possible was the most urgent action needed.
Do you support legalizing commercial marijuana grows in Plumas County? If yes or no, why?
Christian stated that he supported the experiments in large-scale hemp production such as the ones taking place in Sierra Valley in order to maximize values from the water that is available.
“I’m skeptical of the future of winery-style recreational plots and grows, but I also don’t think it’s particularly anyone’s business other than the people who are doing it,” Christian said.
“I do not support commercial growing of marijuana, pigs, chickens or cattle in residential neighborhoods. There’s a difference between agricultural and residential areas and I see very little point in messing around in farmers’ decisions on their land.”
Ceresola stated that it appears that if cannabis is federally legalized, California would follow. “I would probably not really be for it. On one road where it was being grown, there ended up being armed guards, and had never had legal problems until that started.”
He went on to state that if it were to be looked at again, there would be much to look over, from enforcement to safety. He also noted that the dollar amounts claimed to be generated for counties from cannabis tax is not what was initially projected.
Powers touched a few key items in his response — first that the city of Portola allows six plants to be discreetly and safely grown per household, with strict limitations.
“One of the big reasons to allow legal growing of marijuana, and sale of cannabis, is to drive the illegal sales and growing out of the woods, which have been a huge problem here in Plumas County, as well as elsewhere,” Powers said.
Pato stated, “No, I am not for a marijuana shop in our district. I’m good with the hemp, and if people want to buy marijuana, Reno is right there. I don’t think we need it.”
What do you know about LAFCo, and why should Portola have to pay a 50/50 share in costs?
Ceresola expressed his knowledge of the agency, stating that it works to review area fire districts amongst other things. He said he was unsure why Portola was paying more, but that he would research the matter.
Powers responded that LAFCo was initially designed by the state to limit expanding growth into natural areas, but now covers all districts.
Powers went on to clarify that the city of Portola pays an equal share of costs to LAFCo due to the fact that it is the only incorporated city in Plumas County.
“It’s state law,” Powers said. “The law reads that the costs shall be shared equally between cities and the county. A cure for the inequity is to get Special Districts to join LAFCO to distribute the costs between the three entities.”
Pato said he was aware that Portola pays equally toward LAFCo and added that it was “a real sticky wicket.”
Christian closed the question with his response, saying that it seemed like a good idea when it was formed back in the 1960s.
“It seems to me that it is appropriate to go back to the legislature and ask for some kind of dispensation,” Christian said regarding the share of LAFCo costs. “This pattern is found across the timber territory of California.”
What do you plan to do to help people with fire insurance losses and rate hikes?
Powers explained that due to the increasingly severe fires in California, fire insurance companies have changed regulations.
“The only way to counteract that is to have actual fire barriers so that we can knock a fire to the ground and control our own destiny that way,” Powers said.
Pato expressed the need for defensible space and stated that he felt it would take “everybody to work together on the issue.” He added that the matter should be taken to Sacramento for assistance, and that there was a need for a voice for the district.
Christian said the issue was one of the most important ones currently facing Californians.
“I think we need region-wide planning and to bring the insurance commissioner in here to recognize that we are on the cutting edge of a very big problem of critical importance to the entire state of California,” Christian said emphatically.
Ceresola agreed that the fire issue was serious, but that Plumas County supervisors needed to put a focus on coordinating with other small counties to go to the state.
“The governor is supposed to come up with something by December 2020, which is too late,” Ceresola said. “He needs pressure from our combined counties to force the issue further. It affects everybody.”
Road paving, potholes and A-23 Maintenance
Speaking about road maintenance concerns, including mowing the sides of the roads, Pato stated that he would work with the county to achieve clean, better paved roadways, adding that working on the streets of Portola went a lot deeper than simply repairing the surfaces.
Christian added that A-23 is important for the communities of both Portola and Sierra Valley, as many use it to commute to Truckee.
He also stated that he felt the issue was a lack of funding, with budgets stretched thin, and that there must be a stop to the “starving of local government.”
Ceresola said that the county transportation plan is currently being revisited, with draft finalization set for Jan. 29, and Powers joined him in encouraging community members to make comments on the plan up until Jan. 27 either online or through the Public Works Department.
“The only way we can decide where this money goes is to pay attention and attend these meetings,” Ceresola said.
Powers agreed that it was indeed a money problem, with Plumas County being rather large and containing a small tax base. “We currently get subsistence funding for our roads,” Powers said.
Detail your plans to balance the county budget
Christian stated again that the value of the county as a whole must be recognized to the state in a loud manner, and that the largest part of the state water supply comes out of Plumas County.
“The water that California depends upon for its tremendous wealth comes out of the forests which have been neglected. If we care for the forests with state money paying for the watershed that we’re caring for, the level of economic activity goes up, tax base goes up, and these problems recede a bit,” Christian said.
Ceresola said he would first take a look at the current use of funds and look at grants and funds that could be better utilized from a variety of sources, which could be used for needed projects.
“We’ve got to figure out how to write the grants that make us more special than anybody else,” Ceresola added.
Powers noted that the county budget is squeezed, and that grants were great, but they could be restrictive when looking at long-term funding.
“We have to learn how to sell our water at high premium to the state,” Powers said. “Let’s make the best use of what we’ve got. We need to up the game on this side of the county.”
Pato agreed with what had been said, and added, “Bottom line is, we just need to stop the spending. We also need to be at these meetings to have a voice — it’s everybody. It’s our district.”
Our community is considered disadvantaged to the state, how would you change that designation?
Ceresola responded that according to the Transportation Commission, Portola has been shrinking an average of 2 to 3 percent annually according to census studies. The Beckwourth area and Sierra Valley are maintaining.
“We would have to look at promoting smaller businesses, bring in bigger businesses, ask ourselves if we could facilitate a tech type company,” Ceresola said. “How can we entice a business to come in, and make it easier for small businesses to succeed? This would bring up monies and jobs and keep our people here.”
Powers commented on the fallout from the closures of the mill in Loyalton and the railroads’ decision to move to Sparks, with a huge hit to the local economy.
“We are really optimistic that it’s starting to bounce back,” Powers said. “We’re seeing a nice pickup on reconstruction of uninhabitable homes in Portola, and events like the Lost and Found bike race are bringing revitalization to the area.”
“The huge amount of inventory that we have to get rid of in the woods is a huge opportunity if we can convince SPI to reopen a plywood or flakeboard mill,” he added.
Pato stated he would need further input from the community and other supervisors to reach a solution to bringing in more business to the community.
Christian answered that he felt that the timber industry was not stable, but said that he felt the use of biomass for energy was a potential source of economic growth for the area.
We live in a beautiful area but there are homes surrounded by trash; should there be efforts made to clean up the county for all?
Powers answered that he hoped the county would follow the example of the city of Portola in an abatement program.
“Many of the owners that tend to not care for properties are either long-distance or just need a gentle reminder,” Powers said. “We can make a move at the city and county levels with a real solution.”
Pato agreed that there should be steps taken, and stated, “You have to be accountable for your property.”
Christian noted that with the issue often comes the poorest members of the community, and that while uncared for property is a problem for the community, all should be mindful of those that enforcement would be hard on.
Ceresola added that the county has been making progress in plans for abatement of abandoned vehicles, and reiterated that there are some people that simply need a little help.
Do you think California Fish and Wildlife needs to change its practices away from using hatchery fish?
Pato noted that he would need to look into it further, and Christian added that California seems to be in the business of fish hatcheries, saying, “The Department of Fish and Wildlife has bigger fish to fry!”
Ceresola noted the methods used to stock the sought-after fish at Pyramid Lake, and that the fish chosen were not picked just by bulk cost, but with a look to the practices of the hatcheries and the probability of the survival of the fish in that ecosystem over time.
“Perhaps the department could re-evaluate how their doing their business towards the end we are looking for,” Ceresola added.
Powers said that last year at Lake Davis, the city had signed off on the planting of sustainable brown trout and that fishing was too big of a recreational plus for the state. “We’ve got enough fights going on right now, without trying to breach that one,” he concluded.
What would you do to put a lid on rising utility rates?
Ceresola said, “In the real world, there is nothing that I can do to stop the rise of rates. In the world of reality here, there are costs related to these wildfires.”
Powers added that with our longer transmission lines, more maintenance is required, and that change has to happen at the state level.
Pato said, “It’s really up to you to control your costs. Try turning the lights off, or lower watts. There’s really not much we can do.”
Christian added that he felt facilities like the Loyalton co-gen plant would bring positive change, and said, “We’re on the edge of the best energy regions in the world between solar, wind and co-gen power. This will get better, not worse.”
In closing, the candidates emphasized their priorities, with Pato saying that he hoped to do what is right for all in the community if elected. “I want to make this a thriving district again,” he said.
Christian noted that he looked forward to building partnerships with entities and politicians, and that he hoped to serve and be bold for the community.
Ceresola said, “I have experience, and it’s a misconception in the military that things are just handed to you. When I take on a job, I go 110 percent.” Ceresola emphasized his past experience as an asset to District 1.
Powers concluded with his hope that his past experience as a county supervisor would again serve the district and added that the challenge is to remain relevant. “Everything changes all the time, and I can adapt to the situation at hand,” Powers said.
Ballots for the Plumas County election will be mailed out Monday, Feb. 3, with the election to be held Tuesday, March 3.