Three dramatically different candidates are vying for Nevada County supervisor representing District 4 in the June 3 elections.
Two-term incumbent and 40-plus-year firefighter official Hank Weston is being challenged by former corporate attorney, business and finance specialist and nonprofits leader Fran Cole and home rule, local governance and public bank advocate Jedediah Biagi.
Weston, 71, is seeking re-election to a third, four-year term in the nonpartisan seat representing the rural district that includes Penn Valley, North San Juan and sections of the Yuba River.
While Weston is banking on his record of service — including saving two state parks and the Bridgeport Bridge from closure, obtaining at least three major grants and helping to keep a balanced budget for eight years — Cole, 58, and Biagi, 40, both said they could bring some much-needed special talents and expertise to the $39,000-per-year county post.
Cole, a former vice president for Charles Schwab Investment Services as well as the former president of Bear Yuba Land Trust, said she respected Weston and his many years of public service, and that she was not interested in running an attack campaign.
However, she said Nevada County would be well-served to have the benefit of her decades of experience on the county board, freeing up Weston to continue his leadership in coaching area fire districts through their ongoing restructuring efforts.
“If you elect me, he will have more time to work on the (Nevada County) Consolidated Fire matter, and you will also have the additional benefit of having my business, legal and community expertise on the board of supervisors,” she said.
She thinks the county could be more pro-active in creating jobs and boosting the economy.
“I don’t feel our local government has done enough to promote economic growth,” she added. “They view all issues of enterprise as being up to the private sector.
“The private sector does drive economic growth, but there are things that the government can do,” she added. “Our country is coming out of recession; we need to make sure we’re not left behind.”
Cole also pointed to the need to fill in for the lack of strong female leaders in area local government.
“Only one-third of the 58 counties in California have a woman on their boards of supervisors,” Cole said. “Another one-third have only one.
“Women represent over half of the population and deserve more representation,” she added. “I am the mother of two teenaged girls – when my daughters and their friends tour the (Nevada County offices) Rood Center, I want them to see women in positions of power, not just men.”
The last woman to serve as a Nevada County supervisor was Nevada County Assessor Sue Horne, who served two terms from 2001-08 representing District 2 in South County.
Biagi, who is holding public forums at 6:30 tonight and May 9 at the Banner Grange to explain his interest in chartering Nevada County and in creating the public bank of Nevada County, said while he also respected the “old guard” leadership on the current county board, that he would bring more “fresh blood” and youthful energy toward ending factionalism and divisiveness and in building strong community networks.
“We need to build a community,” said Biagi, who has backed initiatives on both sides of the political spectrum, from the Tea Party’s opposition to big bank bailouts, to the Occupy movement. “We have enough fracturing in our community that I think people are done with that.”
Biagi, a registered Libertarian, said he is running for county supervisor because its nonpartisan status would allow him to lead a movement toward unity.
“I really have a hard time with the divide that is perpetuated with our partisan politics,” he said. “Our partisan politics is giving us the illusion that there’s this great division between us and our neighbors.”
He would “focus on the things that we really do agree upon” to build up the community, he said.
Biagi said he believes that the “right to local self-governance” is the key concept to join neighbors together. “When we are going to need help from each other, it’s going to be from each other,” he said. “We’re not going to get help from anyone else but from our neighbors.”
Weston, for his part, said he was still highly engaged after eight years on the job.
He said he has the energy and enthusiasm to continue working on his various special projects. He received a $5,000 campaign contribution from the Nevada County Contractors Association.
“I’ve built great working relationships and partnerships with everybody,” he said. “I’ve worked very hard to be accessible and responsive to everyone.”
He said he sees himself as an “elected representative, not a politician.”
“Right now, I think I’m the best person because of the projects I’ve had under way and completed — or still need to complete,” he said.
In addition to his success this year in securing state Senate and Assembly approval for a $1.3 million allocation to fix the now-closed Bridgeport Covered Bridge, Weston said he is working hard to shore up infrastructures in North San Juan and Penn Valley.
He wants to continue work on a 2 1/2-mile bike path that has now been stretched from Penn Valley to Highway 20. He wants to extend it down to Lake Wildwood.
He also wants to move forward on rezoning for commercial growth in North San Juan – previously stalled due to lack of fire protection water.
“For the last four years, I’ve been trying to get a grant for studying the feasibility of getting the water there,” Weston said. “This year I was successful — we’ve got a $50,000 grant to do the feasibility study.”
He expects it will take a 150,000 gallon tank, and five fire hydrants in the town, to allow the rezoning.
In addition, Weston followed through to purchase land for a 13-acre park in North San Juan using a $500,000 state grant, he said.
“It’s slowly but surely becoming a center of the community,” Weston said of the park, which the town expects to expand into a variety of uses.
He supports the North San Juan Fire Protection District’s proposal to increase the fire tax in the district. The proposal, Measure Q, is on the June 3 ballot.
“They’re part of Nevada County fire district, but they’re kind of isolated out there,” Weston said. “It’s all going to be spent locally.”
In Penn Valley, Weston said he was successful in securing a $5 million grant from the state Regional Water Quality Board for a replacement sewer plant and pipeline in Penn Valley – a sewer plant that was under citation because it was inadequate. The county did a three-year study on whether to fix the Penn Valley plant or relocate it. The latter option was recommended.
“It came out that the best option was to take the pipeline out of Penn Valley and take it down to Lake Wildwood, which is a high-end plant, has a lot of capacity,” Weston said. “That’s what the regional quality board wanted, regionalization.”
The $5 million grant was verified in January, Weston said.
The key part of the Penn Valley sewer project, Weston said, is that it will help serve an aging 134-unit low income mobile home park and shopping center in Penn Valley where the septic system was failing.
“I don’t even call it a septic system,” Weston said. “I call it a Third World pond.”
By hooking the mobile home park and shopping center into the pipeline, it will help preserve the properties in downtown Penn Valley.
Cole, however, criticized the county’s approach to planning low-income housing, particularly in Penn Valley.
“While low-income housing is a great safety net for people, and I’m all in favor of it, it needs to be placed in appropriate locations, with infrastructure such as transit, jobs and business activities,” she said.
“What happened in Nevada County was that the board of supervisors directed the planning department to only deal with willing owners to rezone property in Penn Valley to meet the mandatory housing requirements,” she said. “As a result, 42 percent of the low-income housing was in the little town of Penn Valley.
“Penn Valley does not have the infrastructure to handle that,” she said. “I believe that is a very poor result, and was the result of lack of appropriate planning principles being provided from the outset.”
The three candidates, who all sat for videotaped interviews that accompany this article at TheUnion.com, shared different ideas on Nevada County’s proposed revised medical marijuana cultivation ordinance set for the November ballot.
For more on that topic, see the videos or the fact box that accompany this story.
The three candidates also said they were all strongly in favor of promoting high-speed Internet access in rural Nevada County as a way to spur economic growth.
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.