District 4 supervisor candidates speak to Nevada County issues (VIDEO) | TheUnion.com

District 4 supervisor candidates speak to Nevada County issues (VIDEO)

Keri Brenner
Staff Writer

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.

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"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 kbrenner@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.

District 4 Nevada County supervisor candidates

Name: Jedediah Biagi

Age: 40

Current city: Lake Wildwood (moved to Nevada County in 2001)

Hometown: Sacramento

Occupation: Founder of online-based craft beer club business; former retail shop owner, Planet Solar salesman five years,

Education: Associates degree, MTI (Medical/Technical Institute in Sacramento), and Microsoft training, MTI.

Political: Registered Libertarian, opposes partisan politics in general

Family: married to AmousLou Biagi, five children, eldest is 9 years old.

Website: http://www.jedediahbiagi.com

Facebook: Biagi for Supervisor 2014

Name: Fran Cole

Age: 58

Current city: South Nevada County horse ranch off McCourtney Road

(moved to Nevada County in 1999 from Walnut Creek)

Hometown: Farming community in rural central Indiana

Occupation: Attorney with experience in finance, business, securities and regulatory issues

Education: University of Vermont, bachelor’s degree in political science; University of Virginia School of Law, J.D.

Political: Registered Democrat, fiscal conservative, liberal on social issues

Family: Husband is retired landscape contractor, two daughters, one a senior at Nevada Union High School; the other at Sierra College

Website: http://www.francole.com

Facebook: VoteFranCole

Name: Hank Weston

Age: 71

Current city: Lake Wildwood.

(started working in Nevada County area in 1988, moved here in 1997).

Hometown: Born San Francisco, raised on a ranch in Windsor, Sonoma County, then a ranch in Santa Rosa.

Occupation: Incumbent Nevada County Supervisor, running for third, four-year term.

Political: Registered Republican

Family: Married 42 years to Kandy Weston, two grown daughters, one a nurse-practitioner, other owns accounting and bookkeeping business in San Diego.

Website/email: hankweston@comcast.net

Q & A with District 4 candidates

1. Where do you stand on the medical marijuana cultivation ordinance on the November ballot? Optional: your thoughts on the issue of legalizing recreational marijuana?

Biagi: Supports the new revised ordinance. Has worked with the ordinance backers to craft the new version. Says the work and research they did “should have happened the first time.” Thinks Nevada County supervisors should have approved it outright (on April 22) instead of waiting for the November ballot. County could have saved the $72,000 it will cost to put on the ballot. It’s an issue that significantly affects a minority slice of the county; and medical marijuana use is supported by the majority. We need to stop going in the direction we’re going. We can redeem ourselves from things that happened in the past and realize that there’s a good, safe way to do this that also deals with the nuisances and aggravations. Thinks the new ordinance hits the right balance. Important that Nevada County stay open to medical marijuana industry not only for importance it gives county locally but around the world. Something we should be proud of, that we are helping people medicinally with this new things. We are helping people find solutions with things that they had no other path of finding. Believes current ordinance is a detriment to people getting help. New ordinance will help people get back to allowed research and new production.

Cole: California voters have approved the use of medical marijuana, so that’s the law. Issue involves all aspects of our community: protecting neighbors from nuisances; protecting our children from unlawful use of drugs; economic, law enforcement and healthcare implications. It’s the most broad-based and encompassing issue we have in our county. Believes neighbors have to be protected. Problem is that the California medical marijuana law leaves implementation to localities but with very little guidance. So lots of difficulties and changes. Appears that in 2016 will be initiative on the ballot legalizing recreational marijuana. Need to keep 2016 initiative in mind moving forward. Need to protect against the nuisances. I’m not sure the appropriate balance has been struck (with the current ordinance). I think the appropriate balance is out there, trying to find it. I don’t believe that the current ordinance does that, has irregularities, ambiguities in enforcement guidelines. Causes problems for both growers and law enforcement. Regulations should be clear enough so that both parties know what’s expected of them. Need to regulate what’s happening in the public lands, the grows, the cartels, water pollution, killing wildlife. Regulation of marijuana allow us to address bigger issues, such as methamphetamine use and alcohol abuse. Recreational use of marijuana will likely become law in 2016 or soon thereafter. Economic benefit is “elephant in the room,” rarely discussed. If there are revenue opportunities, it would greatly help Nevada County’s economic development.

Weston: Looked into this quite extensively with first ordinance. Pretty comfortable with it (current ordinance). Tried to make some changes, but they didn’t go through. Ordinance basically was a nuisance ordinance. I had received so many complaints, even North San Juan and Penn Valley, surprisingly since a lot of growing is there. I did on-site visits, so I knew their problem. We had to do something. Not against medical marijuana — even got it for my mother before she passed. It’s just that it wasn’t quality of life for those who weren’t interested. I haven’t seen a clear side-by-side comparison of that and new one, not seen a complete analysis, applaud that they got 10,000 signatures, but again that’s only 16 percent of 62,000 voters in Nevada County. Supports “let the people decide” — it’s a quality of life issue in the county, a legacy issue. The people will speak, after they speak, whichever way it goes, if more work to be done, I’m willing to get in and get on the table to work on it. Fix areas that are confusing, vague. I do realize that it’s a very large money issue. It’s not about medical. I talked to a lot of people, growers, its about money. Told by growers that 90 percent of everything that’s grown here goes for recreational. I’m not surprised. I do believe in medical benefit. If we can make it easier for the true medical users, I’m open to that. Recreationally, people can do whatever they want in their own lives. I do believe it’s a gateway drug. I saw in the ’60s, the military, what it did to some of my friends, heavy users. I do have my values, but I don’t want to impose them on other people. Think California likely follow Colorado in 2016 to legalize recreational use. Hope that if they’re going to do it, do it right, get the tax money out of it. If the country decides that what they want to do, let’s make it work to our benefit.

2. What would do to increase high-speed Internet access in rural areas of Nevada County?

Biagi: Current trend is working with some small private businesses to try to get some broadband access in rural areas. I applaud the effort, best we can do right now, in a situation where the real solution is a lot more infrastructure and investment. The real big corporations that have that the ability to do that, don’t find the benefit for them to do that here. Real solution is to get that big infrastructure in, so we can actually be competitive. Even people who have high speed access in America now are slow, compared to the high-speed access around the world. We need to put that infrastructure in. Should be a responsibility that we can approach. Easiest way would be to form a public utility. Same areas that don’t have high speed Internet also don’t have electricity. Could lay the same infrastructure for electricity and for broadband. Next step, at least be exploring the idea of a public utility to address the problem.

Cole: It’s a huge issue. Lack of broadband in our county is the key impediment to us moving forward in economic growth. Lot of public/private groups working on this. Problem that fixed line of sight doesn’t work in all situations in Nevada County because of rural nature. Extensive fiber optic cable laid, but implementation problems. Need to get the “last mile” which is critical. Smarter Broadband, Spiral both working on it with PUC. Facing competitive challenges, existing providers throwing up roadblocks even if they don’t service the areas. There are things the county government can do that they’re not doing now. When a utility is laying cable, make sure they provide a conduit so that fiberoptic cable could be laid there also. Not sure current county government is taking a proactive enough role.

Weston: I’ve supported getting it, it will help people to create cottage industries, supporting business. Several groups working on it. As a supervisor we don’t control that — our job is to facilitate everybody getting it, supporting grants, contract with ERC, one supervisor sits on the broadband task force. Our job is to go out there and make it easy to happen, rezoning, make it easier for people to put up towers, we have to make it the least amount of problems. North San Juan, big issue with high speed Internet, ATT line less than a quarter mile away. I went to ATT, they basically said not enough money in it for us. How do you force a corporation to say, be a nice guy and do it anyway. They just look at you and laugh. Until they get the number of users. Maybe get a petition drive and then they figure out how much money they get back. Strictly corporate money. In the interim, got to figure out how to work around them with private small entrepreneurships, that’s what we’re doing. New ERC director is the best one so far, he has the credentials to make this work.

3. What do you think is the most important issue in District 4, and what would do about it?

Biagi: First is self-governance aspect, our ability to govern ourselves. That right is being eroded by a number of elements, specifically centralized governments that are focused in ways that are not governing in ways that a rural government would do it. State is focused on big city, L.A. County, San Francisco, type of government, and the rules implied by that type of lifestyle really don’t fit in to our type of rural atmosphere. Also, multi-national corporations are eroding our right to governance locally. We can buffer ourselves and strengthen ourselves by chartering our county. After the charter, I would hope to start a public bank, a county-owned bank, not private. Would save on fees and checking costs, keep any fees locally. Modeled after the Bank of North Dakota. Partnership loans, spurring economic engine, keeping our economy going. He is hosting a town hall to discuss the charter at 6:30 p.m. May 2 at the Banner Grange on McCourtney Road. Also hosting a town hall on the public banking proposal at 6:30 p.m. May 9 at Banner Grange. Fire prevention also important issue, should be looking at it in conjunction with local governance and local public bank, we can encourage private owners to do self-clearing of their land. Dovetail with existing fire prevention plans, would provide good cheap way to put it out there, save money and good fire prevention. With public bank, if a catastrophic emergency happens, could address those issues quickly and responsively to aid recovery.

Cole: Economic growth is most important issue. Promotion of businesses, promotion of jobs. I don’t feel our local government has done enough to date. 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. I don’t believe a hands-off philosophy will achieve what we need. Our country is coming out of recession; we need to make sure we’re not left behind. Having high-speed Internet is critical to that. Right now, all the public economic spending goes to the Economic Resource Council. ERC appears to be making great strides, new director has great ideas. But government too often gives money to ERC, not enough follow through, not enough accountability. That’s taxpayers’ money. We need to make sure there are milestones, results being achieved. Make sure government holds them accountable. I don’t believe that has happened in the past.

Weston: Most important job is keeping a balanced budget. Sets the table so that folks can do their job and maintain core services to the county. Fiscal responsibility has to be maintained. And we’ve done that. Very proud, for eight years we’ve had a balanced budget, even while everyone else going into the tank. We had reserves. We kept all our core services going. Quality of life didn’t change all that much. Doing the budget is the most important job, happens every year, takes six weeks. He’s sat on four budget subcommittees. By the time you’re done with that six-week period, you know everything that’s happening in the county, every service, objective, accomplishments. Also set priorities. To me, the game plan for the year. Accomplish the A’s some of the B’s and if the opportunity arises, catch a C. Keep vision. Always things that pop up. For example, parks. We had no idea the governor was going to cut 70 parks, community said no way. And since I had two of them, in the district on the list, became a high priority item. Between all the groups, community, myself, the nonprofits, we were successful in saving, changed the parking at Bridgeport to show generating funds. Malakoff is another one, still working on it. It’s far out, but it is one of the only examples nationally of hydraulic mining, and the damage that it did and what it left. Biggest expense at Malakoff is electrical power, old noisy generators, came from ships. If fix that, save $90,000 a year. Need power up there, over 100,000 antiques, alarm systems, keep them protected, looked into PGE, $2 million, PGE willing to fund $1 million, we have to come up with $1 million. Got a plan, an idea that I’m going to tell the governor, now that we’ve got the Bridgeport Bridge squared away. He testified with the state Legislature and both the Senate and the Assembly have approved $1.3 million to fix the bridge. Now it goes to the governor for his signature.

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