Balance of county power at stake
What a difference a day makes.
With Robin Sutherland taking the District 4 supervisors race and Drew Bedwell holding an ever-so-slight lead over incumbent Bruce Conklin in District 3, the Nevada County Board of Supervisors is on the verge of a dramatic reversal in its political makeup.
The current board tends to vote 4-1 on many issues, with four of the supervisors seen as slow-growth, environmentally oriented legislators.
At least one of those four – Elizabeth Martin – was defeated in Tuesday’s election by Sutherland. Another, Conklin, is losing by a razor-thin margin.
That means a shift to a 3-2 conservative majority if Bedwell hangs onto his unofficial 24-vote lead, with more ballot counting to be done.
But Bedwell and Sutherland stressed Wednesday that they want to represent the majority, rather than engage in partisan votes.
Supervisor Sue Horne, currently the lone conservative dissenter, is keeping her fingers crossed that Bedwell hangs on.
Horne was cautious about discussing a majority that hadn’t been confirmed as of Wednesday afternoon. “I’m watching like everyone else – it’s a very close race right now,” she said.
But if conservatives gain control of the board, Horne can foresee a few things they might do.
A new board may take another look at rules and regulations passed over the last four years, rules that some people are unhappy about, said Horne.
That includes another look at the second-units ordinance. Enacted to increase the stock of affordable housing, Horne said the ordinance was “diluted” with an exclusion from very high fire danger areas.
She also thought the board should take another look at the 2002-03 budget.
It’s not a given that Horne, Bedwell and Sutherland will vote as a bloc, said Horne. It depends on the issue.
“I wouldn’t say it’s going to be black-and-white, but it’s certainly going to be interesting,” she said.
Bedwell said he would look at less government – not less people, but less intrusion in people’s lives, like unenforceable regulations such as the leaf-burning ordinance. He would also encourage affordable-housing developments.
That’s assuming he wins. Even if he does, Bedwell noted he really doesn’t have a mandate.
He said, “I want to make myself available to everyone, so I’m trying to represent the majority opinion.”
Bedwell said he had no plans to get rid of Ted Gaebler, the county’s chief executive officer whose contract has been criticized by some conservatives.
Gaebler said he has no plans to quit.
“I would be delighted to serve at this board’s pleasure, or the next board, as long as they choose,” said Gaebler.
He said he is a paid professional who works for whomever the citizens elect. Political changes are nothing unusual, and government managers continue on. Gaebler said he planned to do the same.
“I work for all stripes and brands, pro-growthers, no-growthers, all kinds of folks,” said Gaebler. “My job is to implement the will of the people as directed by their representatives.”
Supervisor Peter Van Zant, who has often espoused “smart growth,” said it is hard to read how things would change if Bedwell and Sutherland are on the board.
They did say in their campaigns they are going to be more open to development, said Van Zant, the only possible change he can see at this point.
Bedwell and Sutherland ran campaigns based on what they didn’t like about incumbents, said Van Zant, and he hasn’t seen a lot of information on their positions.
Van Zant said most of the issues supervisors deal with are management and organizational issues, rather than partisan and political ones.
Sutherland foresees a more balanced board, and shied away from partisanship. The balance would represent a segment of the population who feel they haven’t been heard, she said.
“It isn’t a partisan board; this is a board comprised to represent all of the people in the county, regardless of their political stance,” said Sutherland. “And that’s how I’m going to approach it as a supervisor.”
Jerry DeRego, a Penn Valley resident, said he voted for Sutherland because he was sick to death of Martin and her “whole damn crowd.”
DeRego said he had been interested in the District 4 race ever since the introduction of Natural Heritage 2020, the county’s embattled land-use program.
“I’ve been watching this one for a while,” he said.
Rene Antonson, a write-in candidate and former supervisor, said he hopes the winner works to bring the community back together.
“This sitting board could take a lot of the blame for what happened in the election,” said Antonson. “They were perceived as a partisan board, and an ideological board, and conservatives banded together to take it back.”
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