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On the campaign trail: Candidates for Board of Supervisors face the voters at forum

Patti Ingram Spencer, from left, and Lisa Swarthout are running for the District 3 spot on the Board of Supervisors. In this photo, taken during the primary campaign, the candidates also faced Valentina Masterz, who didn’t garner enough votes to advance to the general election.
John Hart

The subject of fire loomed over the Board of Supervisors District 3 forum, with the two candidates agreeing that something must be done about the threat of wildfire, but taking different positions on the upcoming vote for a half-cent sales tax.

Patti Ingram Spencer and Lisa Swarthout are running for the seat currently held by Supervisor Dan Miller, who opted against running for reelection.

The candidates at a Monday forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Nevada County answered questions about fire, housing and the Idaho-Maryland Mine.

Swarthout said she’s opting to remain neutral on the tax. Ingram Spencer is campaigning against it.

“It’s ill advised. It’s ill timed,” Ingram Spencer said of the tax. She added that there’s no guarantee the anticipated $12 million raised each year from the tax will go toward fire prevention and mitigation.

Jennifer Granger moderates the League of Women Voters forum held Monday.
Screengrab from Nevada County Media

While staying neutral, Swarthout questioned what other option the county has.

“If not Measure V, I don’t know what we’ll do to address this problem,” she said.

Asked how to reduce fire danger, Swarthout said the county must enforce state law, continue working with the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County and make as many Firewise communities as possible.

“Obviously, fuel reduction, modification and maintenance needs to continue,” Swarthout said.

Ingram Spencer said no full debate or economic impact study occurred before the half-cent tax was placed on the ballot. She wants the county to examine alternatives, suggesting the possibility of a parcel tax — with a plan — as opposed to the sales tax.

Asked about a Civil Grand Jury report critical of the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County, both candidates supported the county taking a closer look at the group.

The grand jury began an investigation into the Fire Safe Council after reports of alleged financial issues and mismanagement appeared in The Union. According to the grand jury’s report, issues found by the county, auditors and the public “are far from resolved, and the continued turnover of financial employees may put the organization at serious financial risk.”

The council has said the allegations were inaccurate and used incomplete information.

Ingram Spencer said supervisors should examine the allegations, as the Fire Safe Council provides a significant service to the community. She wants to ensure its transparency.

Swarthout said that the Fire Safe Council started receiving more funds with the advent of massive fires.

“We need to look at what they’re doing and how they’re spending the money, if they’re a government partner,” Swarthout said.


Asked about the Idaho-Maryland Mine, both candidates said they couldn’t opine on the project, as it would prohibit them from a future vote on it if elected.

However, both spoke about what factors and impacts they would weigh when making their decision.

Ingram Spencer said she would consider air quality, traffic, housing and water, among other aspects. She also wants to see the project formally come before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

“I do need to tell you that my concerns are your concerns,” Ingram Spencer said.

Swarthout said the mine impacts not only District 3, which roughly comprises Grass Valley, but the entire community. The community needs to decide what it wants to be.

Pivoting to housing, Swarthout said the area’s older homes used to be affordable. However, without new housing stock, people are priced out. Swarthout noted that she’s served on a planning commission and the Grass Valley City Council.

“I think the county can do a better job,” she said. “That is something that I’m very committed to working on.”

Ingram Spencer, also a former Grass Valley councilwoman, said new homes can cost between $500,000 and $600,000 — not affordable for a young couple.

“Definitely, we need to have housing that’s affordable,” she said. “We don’t.”

However, the county has no sewer like cities do, Ingram Spencer said. Also, unincorporated residents need water.

“It’s not going to get better with inflation,” she added.

Asked what they’d do in their first 30 days in office, Swarthout said she’s been attending government meetings for the past 18 months. Once in office, she’d educate herself about current county business, meet with department heads and attend the annual supervisors workshop. However, she noted that much work will occur before the winner takes office in January.

“I love this place, Nevada County and Grass Valley,” Swarthout said in her closing statement.

Ingram Spencer said she’d meet with the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, as it represents a struggling industry. She’s also talk to the Nevada Irrigation District.

“I will make you proud and I will do right by you,” Ingram Spencer said in her closing statement.

Alan Riquelmy is the managing editor of The Union. He can be reached at ariquelmy@theunion.com or 530-477-4249


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