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District 4 incumbent, challengers debate

Eileen JoycePeople packed the Penn Valley Fire Station Monday evening to question the candidates hoping to become Nevada County's District 4 supervisor.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Property rights and Natural Heritage 2020 took center stage Monday night during a debate among the five candidates vying for Nevada County’s District 4 supervisorial seat.

Of the handful of questions randomly selected from an audience packed into the Penn Valley Fire Station, nearly all prompted discussion about the county’s controversial planning process.



“NH 2020 is a plan for the future” and how to accommodate another 50,000 people over the next 20 years while protecting quality of life, said incumbent Elizabeth Martin. “There is no conspiracy with black helicopters landing.”




Martin’s challengers weren’t convinced, however, and didn’t have much good to say about the program and the polarizing effect it’s had on the county since being introduced early last year.

NH 2020 is straight out of the Clinton era, an international conspiracy, said challenger Michael Harris, a self-described right wing conservative who supports the right to bear arms, property rights and family.

“The county tells us it’s an empty box and ‘We promise not to take your land,'” said Harris, a Lake Wildwood property owner and father of three. “But what is it? … 2020 cannot be defined.”

Challenger Rene Antonson – a former District 4 supervisor – said he’s concerned about government regulation and the way NH 2020 was pushed on the people.

“Government will take everything away from you if you don’t fight tooth and nail,” Antonson said.

People in the NH 2020 working groups are not being listened to, said challenger Robin Sutherland, owner of a 27-acre ranch and a small business, who said she’s extremely concerned about her property rights.

“That’s my position on it,” Sutherland said. “I’m going to call a spade a spade.”

Challenger Bill Steele – a San Juan Ridge old-timer and long-time critic of county government – provided comic relief for the audience.

Steele got big laughs from the crowd with lines like “The Sierra Club can kiss my axe,” but had them shaking their heads when he said Nevada County is one of the most corrupt counties in California.

One question picked out of the hat asked the candidates what they thought of all the NH 2020 signs on county roadways.

“I have seen the signs and haven’t had a lot to do with them,” said Martin, who was the target of a failed recall effort last spring because of her support of NH 2020.

“Do I like the signs?” asked Antonson, a staunch and vocal critic of NH 2020. “You bet I like the signs. It’s called democracy.”

When candidates were asked to describe their vision for Nevada County 20 years down the road, Sutherland saw a strong economy based on diversified business, affordable housing to sustain the middle class and a well-planned community where property rights are protected.

Harris envisioned a robust economy and the need for a high school, hospital and more services in the Penn Valley area.

“Government should provide the services and then let the economy work and get out of people’s business,” Harris said after the debate.

The 80-something-year-old Steele saw all the county’s towns and cities filled with senior citizens.

Martin envisioned a county with healthy communities created by directing growth toward cities and existing infrastructure.

“The electorate has told us they want to direct growth toward the cities and protect the natural landscape,” Martin said.


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