The Union Q & A: Josh Ramey, District 1
This is the first of a series of question-and-answer sessions conducted by The Union’s Editorial Board with candidates for Nevada County supervisor and Nevada City City Council.
Josh Ramey, 29, is running for the District 1 supervisor seat currently held by Peter Van Zant, who is not seeking re-election. Ramey is a businessman, and a fire captain for the Peardale-Chicago Park Fire Department. He has a wife and young son. His campaign web site is http://www.joshramey.com.
TOMORROW: District 1 supervisor candidate Olivia Diaz.
The Union: Tell us a little bit about your background, and what motivated you to run for office.
Ramey: I’ve been interested in our county government for years now. I spent some time on the Grand Jury in 1997-98, and that was very interesting experience. It opened my eyes to some of the issues in the county – and that some things are going smoothly, some things are not going so smoothly.
The Union: When you were on the Grand Jury, what were some of the issues you studied?
Ramey: There were some personnel issues, and some employees relating to the supervisors, and some very bad work-environment problems going on in certain departments. And there were other issues that didn’t really relate to the county government, from schools and stuff like that, that were interesting also. I just thought how important it is to have employees that are appreciated and that are working in a good environment.
The Union: What were the hot buttons on the annual report in 1997?
Ramey: One of the things that comes to mind was the assessor not spending enough time in the office, and there were some nepotism charges and issues about that.
The Union: What is the company you’re manager of? What does Circo Innovations do?
Ramey: My father invented some PVC pipe clamps and . . .patented that, and that’s the core of our business.
The Union: Where’s your company?
Ramey: It’s a home business in Peardale. It comes in from the manufacturer, we send it out wholesale to several of the businesses in town, and other states and some other countries.
The Union: And you are a lifelong resident; your family has been in the county for some time?
Ramey: Yes, I’ve had relatives in the area since before World War II. In 1937, my grandfather and his brother moved to Nevada County and started a little business here, or rather our ranch, and that’s where we live now.
The Union: So you went to school here?
Ramey: Yes, I went to some primary schools here and then I was home-educated through high school.
The Union: How’d you like that? Did you miss the social stuff?
Ramey: No, I had a lot of other social outlets to take the place of those at school, and for me in particular it was quite a benefit.
The Union: Any higher education?
Ramey: I took some college classes and then paramedic school and rescue school, and have been doing continuing further education with the fire service.
The Union: Back to the issue of why you’re running in this race. Was it a sudden decision or have you been thinking about it for awhile?
Ramey: I have been thinking about it awhile. One of the main things that told me now is the right time was seeing that the other candidates running have only been in the area three or four years. And that is a concern to me. Although they may be very experienced – even more experienced in some ways than myself – they don’t have the background and history of our area. When measures may be proposed that appear beneficial, without the background of knowing the history and the attitudes and basically our culture here, I don’t know that wise decisions would be consistently made.
The Union: Did you wait to see who was going to run before you made that decision, or were you going to run anyway even if [incumbent District 1 supervisor Peter] Van Zant had decided to run?
Ramey: Actually, I would have enjoyed running against Van Zant if he had decided to run – I was looking forward to that.
The Union: One of the big issues in this county has to do with growth. Summarize for us your stand in this area.
Ramey: As we look at how we want to grow as a county, we’re faced with the fact that we are going to grow. All three candidates agree that we are going to grow as a county. We have to decide how we are going to grow in the most beneficial way to our county, what will hold our way of life, the beauty of our area, the financial stability. And there have been things proposed which I believe are detrimental to those objectives. It’s been proposed that we go with the smart growth view, where you concentrate your growth into the cities ” in our case, Grass Valley, Nevada City and maybe the Truckee area.
I believe this is the wrong approach. Our historic cities are the gems of our county. And to try to infill our cities with high-density apartments and high-density housing is out of character to our area. I also am concerned for young families. When they want to raise their children in our area, I am concerned that they wouldn’t have the option to raise their families out in the countryside, and just be able to afford an apartment to rent.
The Union: What about proposals for high-density development in the countryside?
Ramey: I have a problem with that, because it is not very family-friendly, and then I think it may be a definition of countryside. A mile out or two minutes out of Grass Valley as still being in the Grass Valley-Nevada City area. I would like to see people be able to grow the areas distantly out of Grass Valley-Nevada City area more than is currently being allowed.
There have been a lot of restrictive zoning measures on our outlying parcels, and when a young family looks at a parcel that is 40 acres, that is prohibitive because of the size ” they can’t afford that. If it was possible to split those into five-acre parcels, those would be much more affordable.
The Union: What areas specifically are you talking about? Toward Colfax?
Ramey: Yes, between here and Dutch Flat. Maybe up towards the end of Red Dog, Banner, Idaho-Maryland. But with that we would have to plan 50 years down the road and say we want to grow in this way, and we’re going to have to have the roads and infrastructure to handle it.
The Union: Infrastructure is important ” sewers, roads, water.
Ramey: We have a lot of little connecting roads. Fifty years down the road, we’re going to need a road that will handle this growth that’s expected. And even though we may not build it for 20 years, we need to have its location on the books so that when people split parcels or whatever, we get the easement for that road and don’t have to condemn houses to put that road in.
The way our roads are now in the county, they’re so tightly packed with houses you can’t expand a lot of our existing roads without condemning houses. I don’t think that’s a measure anyone is willing to take, financially or in relation to those property owners.
The Union: How is the county have doing now for planning for roads 20 or 30 years in the future?
Ramey: There are plans for roads – a lot of them are fire-access roads. I would like to see us take a little longer-term look at it. My view is to try to avoid problems like Stonebridge, and look out into areas that don’t have a lot of neighbors and small parcels that will have issues like that. When there are 40 to 50 or 100-acre parcels, to say we’re going to want a road going through here so that when it does go, everyone knows ahead of time. Then you don’t have all of a sudden a new street going in your back yard in terms of traffic. We may not build a road like that for another 20 years, but at least everybody is planning around that. The land out in those 40- to 50-acre parcels is a lot less expensive to get easements on than when you start going through people’s back yards.
The Union: How about main roads like Highway 49? Should that be four-lane all the way?
Ramey: It would be good to improve that in needed ways right now. However, looking at 49 there are so many small driveways and roads coming into it that it’s very difficult to expand that road. We need to look at 20, 30 or 50 years down the road and say is there another access we can make to [Interstate] 80 that would alleviate some of that pressure on 49. Maybe bypass Auburn or something like that.
The Union: What about other infrastructure issues like the super sewer, or water issues?
Ramey: Water is an issue in our area, but not as much as a lot of people are saying. I personally don’t think we need to spend a lot of money on a groundwater survey. Our lay of the land is not like the valley, where you have a water table that you are going to drain. We’re so mountainous that there are a whole bunch of little water tables. Sure, you have problems in a drought, but it’s not because of one guy down the road taking a lot of the water and one guy up the road not being able to get his. It’s more of a rain issue, so I don’t see that as big of an issue in our county as it is in the valley.
The sewers – there are areas in our county that have poor soil and would benefit from a sewer. But a lot of our areas would be just fine with septic systems. If you think you need a sewer because of high-density housing, maybe we should look at not doing the high-density housing.
The Union: So as far as that proposed super sewer is concerned, it’s not something you think the county needs?
Ramey: I think it’s fine to study it, and a lot of it goes back to what’s the most economical option.
The Union: The South Yuba River is going to be a hot topic in coming years, particularly regarding wild and scenic designation and dams. Where do you stand?
Ramey: The south fork of the Yuba River is a beautiful area of the river – I’ve enjoyed swimming through waterfalls, and it’s a great family recreation area. I’ve also enjoyed Englebright Lake and other lakes in the area. I would not at all support a new dam up above Bridgeport on the South Yuba; I don’t think the amount of water you could hold, due to the terrain of the area, would outweigh the benefits of that river to our area as it is now. So I would be against any dams there.
As far as wild and scenic designation, I am totally against the federal wild and scenic designation for that area. As a firefighter, I’ve worked in forests that have had special federal designations and I’ve had to carry medical gear on my back onto the fireline because vehicles weren’t allowed in those areas.
Now, I know that that may not be restricted under federal wild and scenic river designation, but when we turn that jurisdiction over to the federal government we don’t have control over the new measures and controls that they may dictate for that area. It would be best to retain as much of that control ourselves rather than turn it over to the feds. If I saw consistent common sense coming out of Washington, regardless of the administration, I would be much more prone to trust the government on that issue.
The Union: Fire issues and property rights ” are those two issues tied together in your point of view?
Ramey: Yes. As a firefighter myself, I look at what we can do to improve fire safety in our county. We are in one of the top fire areas in our nation. And when we have strong winds come through, we are very prone to fire disasters.
The most important thing a homeowner can do is to clear around their property and make that area fire-safe. We are working on a plan right now to encourage homeowners to clear around their property and their driveway. I just attended a fire committee meeting that the county commissioned, and talking with them on our ideas. I’ll soon release the details of my plan on how to identify homes that are fire-safe so that when fire trucks pull up to the driveway, they know which homes are winners and which ones to pass one by because they’re not able to be defended.
The Union: How about property owners of fire-risk property, or absentee owners” how do you hold them accountable?
Ramey: That’s a tough issue. Some of the fire departments in the area have passed measures to take care of irresponsible property owners, and I would say that would be their right or their prerogative. However, this plan I’m working on will actually be a model plan for the rest of the state, and I’m really excited about that.
The Union: What’s your opinion on the issue of building on a 30-percent slope?
Ramey: With proper clearance around a structure, I think you can safely have a house on a 30 percent slope. However, in all these issues you have to go back to clearance around a house; that’s what makes the difference. I was on a fire crew down in the biggest fire in the state’s history this last summer, and on many of the houses they just pulled the fire crews out. If we were able to stay at the house, it was because they had adequate clearance and construction.
The Union: So you would like to see a good defensible-space program for Nevada County that we don’t currently have?
Ramey: Yes. An incentive program.
The Union: Rather than a punitive program?
The Union: Another issue in the county is drugs, specifically methamphetamine manufacturing and use, and crimes in relation to that. Have you given any thought to a role the supervisors can play in trying to deal with this problem?
Ramey: It’s not one of my campaign issues particularly, but it’s important for us to hold the line on the drug issue, not just for the sake of enforcing the laws but also for the sake of the families and victims of drug abuse. That has been very destructive to families. And I would support measures by our county to improve our response to drug issues, keep our sheriff’s department funded . . .
The Union: What about any treatment issues and funding?
Ramey: I believe an important part of a good drug program is treatment; I don’t see anything wrong with that.
The Union: Affordable housing, workforce housing, is attached to the growth issue. We see you have a platform item on that.
Ramey: A lot of people can talk about what they want to do for affordable housing, but there are some measures we can do right now to really make a difference, immediately. We can remove the age limit on our granny units. Right now you have to be 60 years or older to live in granny unit. By removing that age limit, we would allow our young, workforce families a place to live. And they’re the people that often need the housing the most. The limit is not enforced very much because people realize that you don’t want to kick 200 families out into the street. But if somebody complains, that’s the case.
The Union: As a young man with a family, you feel you can identify with people that are starting out in life and want to find a place to live?
Ramey: Yes, very much so. A lot of the people I grew up with have left the county because they cannot afford to live here. And I think it’s a tragedy when families who want to live in the same area have to live in a different area. We should try to, for the strength of our community, keep our families strong.
The Union: There has been discussion about public-private partnership to encourage affordable housing construction. On the other hand, you discourage infill apartments and condos. So what is the solution?
Ramey: There is a place for apartments and condos, for a family or someone who just gets married, to live maybe for a couple of years. When that’s the only option for the full period of time when you are raising your children, that’s very damaging to families. That’s what contributes to our drug problems, that contributes to teen pregnancy, child obesity ” not having a safe place to run off their energy.
So rather than locking up these large parcels in the outlying areas of the county, I would like to see people be able to split those into three- and five-acre parcels and let families move out there. I just talked to a family that bought a parcel of land and put a home on that, and it is smaller than the acre minimums in that area because it was split before the current zoning laws were in place. Under our current zoning laws, this parcel would not be allowed. That’s not right.
The Union: A one-acre parcel with a house in this county is likely to be priced out of the affordable housing category. How do you provide places to live for service industry workers or others? How do you keep from having a “bus them in to take care of our services needs and bus them out at 5 o’clock” kind of community?
Ramey: First of all, make it so second dwellings are allowed, which will give the families the option when they’re renting space. And then by allowing people to move and develop into the farther outlying areas, you will get affordable parcels out in those areas. When I talked to somebody that just moved into the area, with all their money from selling their house in southern California, they don’t want to live way down on Red Dog Road where there’s no power. They’re not going to live there.
The Union: Are fire restrictions too onerous as far as producing second units for workforce housing?
Ramey: Some of them are and some of them aren’t. Some of those fire restrictions don’t make a lot of sense, actually. There are some water supply issues where people would have to put in a holding tank on their property. Yet from a firefighter’s point of view, when a neighbor’s house starts on fire, we have no idea there’s a water supply down that road. So it doesn’t make a lot of sense to require that. I think it would be a lot more logical to see neighborhood water sources rather than individual water sources on the parcels. It would be a lot less expensive, and it would be much more useful.
All houses in the area would profit, even if they didn’t build a second unit, because their insurance rates will go down if they get a water source within – I think it’s a thousand feet from the house. I would like to see the funds that those people would pay for their little individual water system maybe go into a pot for that area. When enough people come into that area, they could afford a community water system that would meet the fire needs much better for everybody.
The Union: You’re not supportive of increasing housing density in the community center areas, but that is one of the guiding tenets of the General Plan. Would you try to change that?
Ramey: Unfortunately, the General Plan will be mostly reviewed before I take office. If elected. I would encourage those board members who are reviewing the General Plan to consider families and their needs.
The Union: In the debate about sprawl, one of the widely recognized sprawl inducers is the three- to five-acre gentleman farmer lots, which it sounds like you support. Usually they are all on their own septic systems, and there is the traffic issue. Can you clarify how that can deal with affordable housing?
Ramey: I used the example of Red Dog Road because I know several people, young families, who have just bought affordable parcels and have affordable houses on Red Dog Road – so it’s working there. But there are very few of those type of places in our county where you have that setup. It’s down in the valley where you have farmland that you don’t want totally built out with subdivisions, and that is a valid point there. However, the land here is not basic farmland, and it is very good for raising families. Would it be totally wiping out our natural resources in the county to let people build on three- or five-acre parcels? I don’t believe so.
If you take one-quarter of our county’s area, that that would accommodate another 50,000 people on three- to five-acre parcels, leaving 75 per cent of our area as natural, wildlife areas. So it’s not like we’re taking over the whole wild areas of our county.
But also I believe that families can live in the environment and be complementary to it. When you put those families in an apartment complex, their personal environment is really poor. Where our priorities are wrong is when you have working families in such a poor environment yet we’re trying to preserve people’s 40-acre parcels for looking at.
The Union: Another development issue, which we haven’t seen another candidate bring up but which you have on your platform, is what you call “development behind the trees.”
Ramey: When I drive through the Grass Valley/Nevada City area, I look across the horizon and I see a line of beautiful trees that have been here for ages and it’s beautiful. One of the things that people value about this area is the towns nestled in the trees. However, I look at some of the developments, some of the apartment complexes they put in, and they’ve pretty much moonscaped the area.
I don’t think that is consistent with how we’ve built in the county in the past, and I would like to see new developments like Loma Rica, set up there in the trees and not an eyesore. Not moonscaped. They do that in the valley because there are not a lot of trees there to start with, but here we have a good heritage of beautiful trees. I think we should put our development behind the facade of trees.
The Union: And make it part of the requirement for project approval?
Ramey: A lot of it is a city issue, and of course that’s the city’s jurisdiction. But in the things that are the county’s jurisdiction . . . That’s one of the reasons that they do not want people building on 30 percent slopes ” because when you look off in the distance you see buildings and not trees. You have to carefully balance those two interests, making sure we still see a nice line of trees around Grass Valley and Nevada City.
The Union: If you want people on these five acre parcels, they will have to drive everywhere for everything unless these projects include parks, shopping, post office – whatever.
Ramey: That’s very true, and there are some specific things we can do at the county. One is allowing and supporting and encouraging home businesses. As you know, the commute to a home business is the shortest commute possible, and I encourage that. Also, as we look at our county, our history is of strong communities. And in those communities are often post offices and stores to take care of immediate needs that keep people from having to drive all the way into town. I’d like to see us reinforce that historical look of Nevada County, of being a community-based county.
The Union: But should we be careful of creating these work camps where people have to take a bus into town to run errands: The beauty of being close to town, in an apartment even, is that you can get out and walk.
Ramey: That is true, but the people who live in these apartment complexes are often driving their cars around town ” probably more often than people in rural areas. As a person who lives out in the rural area, we try to go to town as little as possible because it’s a half-hour round trip. So maybe just two or three times a week, if we can get by with that, versus somebody in the city going back and forth to work, making more traffic in an already-congested city on roads that can’t be expanded because they have houses on each side of them.
The Union: What’s your view of the Deer Creek Park II project outside Nevada City?
Ramey: Deer Creek Park II will significantly increase the traffic on Boulder Street, a prime example of a Gold Rush-era road that has houses bumping right on each side of it. You cannot widen that street without condemning houses, and that’s not financially possible.
If Deer Creek Park goes ahead, I would like to see a diversion of Red Dog Road. Or maybe a continuation of Pasquale through that new subdivision, and then hit Gracie Road where you have roads that would not be impacted as much as Boulder Street.
The Union: As a home-business owner, you have a platform about making it easier to work from your home. Do you think the regulations about home businesses are onerous?
Ramey: They’re not too bad right now – I would be against any type of registration or fee process for home businesses. It has been discussed in the past and proposed, and I am much against that. Those businesses are some of the core of our life here in Nevada County – it makes it possible for people to afford the high-priced homes that we have in our area. Out of about seven of my neighbors, six have businesses run out of their homes.
The Union: They actually save the county money in terms of traffic issues or road maintenance, just because they’re not traveling around?
Ramey: Right. And if you get your parcels so small you can barely live on them, much less run a business on them, that is a detriment to that historical business atmosphere of our county.
The Union: But you have to have some rules, some definition of qualified home businesses.
Ramey: Right. And I’m not at all proposing somebody running a dairy farm in their residential neighborhood. That’s going to damage the neighborhood. There has to be a balance and consideration for the neighbors. But I think home businesses are a very strong part of our community.
The Union: If you are elected, if you could only get one thing done by the end of four years, what would it be?
Ramey: I would like to see a fire plan in place in our county – incentive defensible space fire plan – that would be of significant benefit to everyone.
The Union: Is there anything we haven’t discussed that you want our readers to be aware of?
Ramey: Particularly, on back roads. In our fire district we had a bridge wash out, and it wasn’t deemed important enough to the county to replace that bridge. As it sits right now, if we see smoke coming up in that area and come to find out it’s on the other side of the bridge, it takes over an hour to get to the other side via Interstate 80. That’s very detrimental.
The Union: What area is that?
Ramey: It’s off You Bet Road, on Lowell Hill Road. The maintenance of our back roads, for fire access and for people that live in the area, is an important thing for us.
The Union: Would you urge some sort of audit of areas like that around the county?
Ramey: That would be wise – to take a look at our roads and put some priorities on what needs to be repaired and replaced, and get input from the residents in the area and find out what is important to them.
The Union: Did any group encourage you to run for supervisor?
Ramey: That’s a good question. I didn’t enter the race as soon as would have been official. I find out now that it would have been much better to have entered earlier on in the race. But no, I’m not backed by any groups. There are a lot of good groups out there. However, I’m not beholden to any of them. I do not accept campaign contributions from any group, only individuals, and that’s limited to $40 per person, so that my eyes would never be blinded in making just decisions for people when their issues come before the Board of Supervisors.
The Union: You have been described by an opponent as being the farthest to the right of others in this campaign.
Ramey: I have a hard time agreeing with that, because usually you think of certain groups supporting an extremist candidate. I believe I represent the views of the long-time residents and working-class people of our area. Those are the people who are coming and supporting me, not people that have a project they want passed.
The Union: Some have said that you and Nate Beason would split the so-called conservative vote, and that your entry in the race actually helps Olivia Diaz, the perceived liberal candidate.
Ramey: That has been asserted before. And I particularly address that on my website. However, this is a primary election, and unless one of the candidates gets the overall majority, the top two will go to the runoff. And that is the purpose of the primary election.
But Nate Beason is a great candidate. We agree on a lot of things. But that’s why we have a primary election ” so that the county can choose the top two candidates for a runoff.
The Union: Do you feel that entering the race a little bit later than the other candidates will be a major handicap, or one that you can overcome by election day?
Ramey: It’s an uphill battle, but we’ve received some very good response. I’ve been to several hundred homes as a firefighter, on medical aids and fire calls, and yet the first day I was out knocking on doors as a politician I get bit by a dog. I’d never been bitten by a dog before.
The Union: In knocking on those doors, what are people telling you?
Ramey: One of the main things I hear is that we don’t want to make an urbanized area of Grass Valley and Nevada City – we want to keep our way of life. With a lot of newcomers coming in, they have their ideas of the way they’ve done things. That’s OK, but we have some traditions and ways we do things here that are good, and we’d like to keep them.
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