By Debra Moore
Will they get a COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available? How will they improve Internet service in the district? Are volunteer fire departments suitably trained and staffed?
Those are just a few of the questions posed to Kevin Goss and Mike Grant, the two candidates for District 2 Supervisor, during a virtual forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Plumas County.
The evening’s moderator, Jane Braxton Little, said that the virtual event was a first for the League, but “We were unwilling to let a pandemic get in the way of democracy.”
The event, which was accessed by viewers via zoom at 7 p.m. Sept. 28, is now available on YouTube and Facebook.
Braxton Little began the questions by commenting on the varying disasters — from COVID to the fires — that have plagued the area and asked the candidates what Plumas County could do to be better prepared.
Mike Grant, who works for the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office and heads up the county’s Search and Rescue program, said that these discussions are held frequently within the department. He noted that he had been out the night prior until 1 a.m. evacuating residents of the Feather River Canyon as the fire approached. He cited the need for “better outreach to the public” and better “Internet connectivity” as essential. “We had no way to contact people who were without power,” he said. “They had no idea we were coming.”
Kevin Goss, who is the incumbent District 2 supervisor, commended Grant on his experience. He noted the recent changes in personnel — with Sheriff Todd Johns taking over after Greg Hagwood’s early retirement from the position, as well as a new Office of Emergency Services Director. He agreed with Grant that communication is essential and he wants to pursue funding to improve access for Canyon residents, as well as at Greenhorn Ranch, which is another part of the district.
Communication was the focus of another question asked later in the forum, when Braxton Little noted that Internet is slow and unstable in Indian Valley and asked what role the Board of Supervisors plays in solving the problem.
Grant said that the current provider, Frontier, relies on copper wire, which he describes as a dying breed. He favors adding wireless carriers. He said that there are funding sources and grants available, but they require a public component, which is where the county could help. He said he has had conversations with Goss, but nothing has come from them.
Goss said that he also recalled having conversations with Grant on the topic since Grant is the “IT guru” for the Sheriff’s Office, but nothing manifested there either. Goss said that he is looking for property access for cell towers, but he also thinks that wireless carriers can be vulnerable in bad weather and sees value in what Frontier can provide. He is serving on a California Public Utilities Commission panel regarding Frontier’s bankruptcy and restructuring.
COVID, masks and vaccines
Three questions focused on COVID-19, asking the candidates about the county’s response, whether they favored mandated mask wearing and if they would receive the vaccine when it became available.
Goss commended Public Health Director Andrew Woodruff for his work with Sheriff Todd Johns and Environmental Health Director Jerry Sipe to develop a county response. “We haven’t had something like this hit our world since we’ve been alive,” he said. Goss said that the board worked with Woodruff and others to convince the state that Plumas as a rural county was different and people were already socially distanced. “We’ve had great outcomes,” he said, adding that the county has only had 50 cases since March.
As for mask wearing, Goss said that he wears a mask whenever it’s required — especially at the pharmacy where he works or when he enters any business. “It’s not that big of a burden,” he said. With regard to a vaccine, Goss said he would take one if it’s proven to be safe and effective.
Grant said that he has been very involved with the coronavirus response with his work at the Sheriff’s Office and Office of Emergency Services. “There were a lot of unknowns, especially in the beginning,” he said. He said that a county supervisor should serve on the county’s task force dealing with the pandemic.
As for mask wearing, Grant said he has his personal thoughts on the topic, but wears one when he goes out. He said that he isn’t sure that it’s effective, but it doesn’t hurt anything. “It’s not that big of a burden,” he said. He likes the Sheriff’s approach with general enforcement through public outreach. And he share’s Goss’ opinion when it comes to taking a vaccine — he will wait until he knows that it’s safe and effective.
Volunteer fire departments
The candidates were asked two questions about the county’s volunteer fire departments — are they adequately staffed and trained, and should they be consolidated?
Goss said that training has improved over the years and their work with the Forest Service on fires such as the North Complex not only gives them valuable training, but funding for their departments. As for consolidation, Goss sits on the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) and said the commission discusses consolidation efforts for a variety of jurisdictions, not just fire departments. However, “We don’t want forced consolidations; they need to be mutually agreeable.” He sees establishing joint power agreements as a good “baby step to take.” He doesn’t think a countywide fire department is a viable option, but he does foresee more regional consolidations taking place.
Grant said that he works with fire departments a lot and regularly attends the fire chief meetings. He agrees with Goss that training has improved, but there is a definite lack of volunteers. He recalled that when he moved to Quincy in 1979 there was a waiting list to serve at the fire department. Grant said that the lack of volunteerism isn’t unique to fire, but if it continues, it could impact responses to calls and homeowners ability to buy insurance.
As for consolidation, he said that when he started working with fire departments, there were 21 for 21,000 people. The population has since declined. Grant also sees a regional approach to consolidation and mentioned the working relationships between Graeagle and Plumas Eureka, and Greenhorn and Long Valley. Formal consolidations would take “a lot of work to get it done.”
Barriers to business
Braxton Little asked the candidates what they saw as barriers to business in the Indian Valley area.
Goss’ comments tended to focus on tourism and the need to draw more people to the area. He said that working with the Forest Service and the Butte Trails Stewardship to build more trails would bring more visitors to the valley. He also suggested that the Chamber of Commerce “needs to step it up.”
Grant said that while recreation would help the area, the real problem is internet access. He said that half of the people he visited while campaigning said they didn’t have reliable internet. “There are lots of opportunities for people to telecommute to work,” but not in the valley because of the lack of access. “We are staying in the Dark Ages in this digital world,” he said.
Ranching is a major component of valley life, and the candidates were asked what steps could be taken to improve their representation.
Goss acknowledged that they have “the lion’s share of the property and water rights” and discussed some of the issues that they face including dealing with predatory wolves and bears. “I think we’re going to see more wolf kills,” he said.
Grant said that ranching is important to Plumas County and he thinks general plan changes have not benefited ranchers. He also discussed the cost of maintaining water rights, with virtually none of the money being reinvested locally. He described the wolf situation as a “disaster” and said, “We need to do whatever we can to help ranchers thrive.”
Far flung district
The candidates were asked how they would communicate with constituents in a district that is so vast.
Grant said that he has been meeting with constituents in small informal gatherings at public places and in people’s homes, and he has traveled from the canyon through Cromberg. He said that better broadband access would help with communication moving forward. Grant also said that he plans to use Facebook to keep his constituents up to date.
Goss said he uses Facebook, as well as email and phone, but since he works at the pharmacy, he is very visible in Indian Valley. “People come in all the time or I see them at the post office or the grocery store,” he said. As for the other areas of the district he visits when he is needed. “It’s a tough district to handle, but we try to do our best,” he said.
The candidates were asked what steps could be taken to fight climate change.
Goss cited forest fires as an obvious problem with all of the smoke and pollutants that are being put into the atmosphere. He said part of the solution is to manage forests better.
Grant said he wasn’t sure how much the board could do for climate change, but like Goss, he cited better forest management as part of the solution. He noted that the though the North Complex Fire has jumped over fire lines, it slowed when it reached privately managed lands. “We have to work on this fire issue and make it a nicer place to live,” he said. He noted that for three or four days Quincy had the worst air quality in the world.
One question was directed toward Goss and questioned his “high absenteeism” and his lack of verbal communication on the board.
“I do a whole lot of listening,” Goss said. “That’s a big part of this job.” He added that he likes to be tactical and not use words unnecessarily, but that he speaks up when needed. As for being absent, he attributed that to a brain aneurysm last February that sidelined him for a while.
Though the question was for Goss, Grant weighed in also. “I noticed that he doesn’t speak a lot … that lack of involvement makes people think he’s an ‘empty shirt,’” he said. Grant said that while he doesn’t necessarily think that, it’s an expression that he has heard used in reference to Goss many times.
Quincy gets everything
This question was directed toward Grant and noted that District 2 is traditionally Indian Valley centric, while Grant lives in Quincy.
“I feel like I’m smack in the middle of the district,” he said and that he makes every effort to get to all parts of the district. “My plan would be to focus on everyone’s needs,” he said.
Goss said that he lives in Indian Valley, but considers the entire county his home and would go wherever he was needed. Recently that was out to the Sierra Valley for a groundwater district meeting since there is currently no supervisor for that area.
Do you support commercial cannabis in Plumas County?
Grant said it was the right decision to say “no” to commercial cannabis in Plumas County. He said that during his home visits while campaigning, approximately 15 to 20 percent of the people had large marijuana plants. He added that people who need medicinal marijuana seem to be able to get it and he has no interest in the crime that comes along with commercial cannabis.
Goss served on the county’s working group for 18 months, which was dedicated to making a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. While that group was in favor of commercial cannabis, after much public outcry, the board voted against allowing it. “This is the proper choice for our county,” Goss said.
Mental health in the criminal justice system
This is becoming a growing problem, what measures can be taken to improve the situation?
Grant said that mental health services had been extremely lacking, but were improving. He added that it’s a “significant issue” for law enforcement personnel when they have to deal with a mental health issue when responding to a call. “It’s how people get hurt,” he said, because “you can’t reason with them.” He said he could share many stories, but they wouldn’t be appropriate.
Goss said that he worked to combine the departments of mental health and alcohol and drug when he was elected to the board in 2013. “I like where we’re going now,” he said and discussed the tele-psychiatry now available in the jail and at the hospital. He commended Behavioral Health Director Tony Hobson for his work.
The candidates were asked to list one attribute that they liked or respected in their opponent.
“He’s a good man,” Goss said of Grant, and commended his IT communication skills. Grant has said that he plans to retire at the end of the year from the Sheriff’s Office and Goss said he hoped he would have an enjoyable retirement after his great work with the Sheriff and Search and Rescue.
“He’s much more personable than I am,” Grant said of Goss. He added that Goss has done a lot of great work for the county, but perhaps it could have been done at a faster pace.
View the forum
To watch the forum in its entirety go to https://drive.google.com/file/d/1fjUea9KErKeeuwySpQMQzcqlDgDbTAny/view?fbclid=IwAR3Iyv-nE_VjKis3d47el7-npWVt0jxrSSQqePScWlCuQayWffFmM2WCoUc
The Indian Valley Academy is hosting a townhall meeting for the candidates tonight, Sept. 30, at 6 p.m. The link to attend is https://stream.lifesizecloud.com/extension/5563219/7d7155a1-4f0b-452c-83e3-face77ef8c4b.
The election is Nov. 3. Plumas County is an all-mail voting county and residents are encouraged to return their ballots early.