The Union Q&A: Nate Beason, District 1
This is the third in 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.
Nate Beason, 60, of Nevada City is running for the District 1 supervisor seat currently held by Peter Van Zant, who is not seeking re-election. Beason is a retired Navy captain. He and his wife, Betty, moved here in 2000. HisWeb site is http://www.NateBeason.org.
The Union: Why are you running?
Nate Beason: I retired from the Navy in 1998 after 30 years and immediately flunked retirement and went to work four days later for Pella Window and Door Co. These guys were the distributors, a family-owned outfit, and they had the northern California and Oregon distributorship.
I started out as the project manager for implementation of a computer software system for 400 users in 24 locations. Not because I’m a wizard in technology, but because he wanted somebody who knew how to make it work, get it done, and someone who could make the project come to fruition. And then I was teaching leadership and management for about three to four years after that to the executives . Then one day I called up the CEO and said, “I think I’ve done everything I can for you,” and so we parted friends.
The Union: This would have been when?
Beason: June of last year. Let me walk the cat back a little bit. About 2 1/2 years ago I started attending the Board of Supervisors’ meetings on a fairly frequent basis ” not every week, but maybe half the time. It started out as a curiosity, then developed into an interest. Then I got motivated and thought that with all the management and leadership experience I’ve got, and all the problem-solving experience I’ve got, and all the experience I have in managing assets – I mean, I’ve managed $500 million in taxpayers’ assets and have had the accountability for the safety and welfare of up to 1,500 people. I thought that maybe there’s some value I can add to this process that goes on down here.
And one of the things that really concerned me – and still does – is that we seem to generate a lot of heat but not too much light, and for a variety of reasons. And I don’t think the atmosphere of the county is as healthy as it could be in terms of mutual respect, civility and trust.
The Union: Was the period of time that you began to attend the meetings during the NH 2020 debate?
Beason: I went to a couple of those meetings – committee meetings – and then started going to the supes’ meetings, and I saw the process becoming more distrustful and more rancorous.
I thought it might be a good time for somebody who has pretty much done what he’s going to do professionally in life and who has reached a point to where he has sufficient experience – and really not beholden to anybody – to get into this thing and see if that person could be a point of coalescence, to try to attempt some sort of consensus-building.
You’d think, “Who has to build a consensus in the military?” But we had to do it all the time. When I was working at the Pentagon, I had to build a consensus among the reps from the other services. I was a commander of an international task force that had seven ships from six different countries, and believe me, we had to build some consensus.
The Union: How do you plan to develop cohesiveness?
Beason: I’ve been successful in the past in just general personal relationships. I’m one of these guys that believes that personal relationships really affect professional and political relationships; that if you’ve got a good personal relationship, and you have trust, at least cordiality, you can start from there.
Obviously, when you try to build a consensus you have to start with points of agreement, and we seem to start off with points of disagreement a lot and diverge. Now, I’m going to need a couple of people to go along with this, you know. I’m not just going to march in and say, “Hey, I’m here now, everything’s fine.” We’re going to have to find consensus.
If you try to find something you can agree on, maybe take a small step. If it feels good, maybe take a bigger step. It’s not a process you do in a week or a month. Trust is a matter of experience, mutual experience.
The Union: You were writing opinion columns for The Union during the NH 2020 controversy. Were you trying to be a voice of reason then?
Beason: I wrote a column debunking another guy’s column about a different issue, and I think the second column I wrote was about NH 2020 – that was a kind of a vehicle. I was saying it was a matter of trust, and it was a matter of our being able to get along. I don’t know if I used the word consensus or not, but that’s where it started.
The Union: Looking through some of your columns, you did throw around terms, labels – “environmentalists,” “left wing.”
Beason: I don’t think they are inconsistent at all. If you go back and look at what I was writing in that column – that was pretty hard-hitting language, I admit. But there was a motivation for it by a certain two or three parties, and I think it was accurate.
The Union: So if the rhetoric does crank up on one side or another during your tenure, if you’re elected, it’s no holds barred then?
Beason: No, I’ve learned that the rhetoric cranking-up doesn’t get us anywhere. I have empirical evidence from watching what is going on.
The Union: Could you outline for us how your platform and approach differentiates you from your two opponents?
Beason: I’ll tell you what my platform and my approach is – I’d rather not speak for them. I believe that you can’t solve problems in this county if you come at it from the left or the right. We’ve proven that’s not working very well. And we’ve proven that if we go left or go right, it just increases the polarization in the county. And the polarization goes way back; I don’t know where it started, I think that’s immaterial. What’s important is we have it, and we have to try to find a way to resolve it.
I don’t have an ax to grind. I have no personal ambitions in terms of politics beyond this. I have no personal agenda, per se. I want to see if we can get in and get some results. Regardless of what you do, you’re going to get criticized. In fact, a friend of mine who is a judge said that if you get elected, half the people are mad at you and the other half are livid.
The Union: We understand that you don’t want to characterize your opponent on the issues. We’re just trying to help the readers see where they stand and where you stand.
Beason: OK, I will characterize Mr. Ramey as being to the right of me, in general, and I will characterize Ms. Diaz as being to the left of me. I’m not putting a value judgment on this, but she said that Barbara Boxer is her role model and inspiration. So that tells me that she is to the left of me.
The Union: How does that break down on the issues, such as the proposed “super sewer”?
Beason: Olivia has come out and said she is opposed to it, I mean she’s taken a position on it. Steve O’Rourke has come out and said he is opposed to it. I believe that we are going to have to resolve sewer issues in this county, because sewer issues and the cost of water treatment is really going to impact the residents as we go forward.
Is the super sewer the answer? I don’t know. But we need to explore all of the alternatives. I understand the Board of Supervisors voted in favor, or has taken a position on in the majority, to do a study. A lot of people get nervous, but we have to start somewhere. A study doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to have a super sewer.
Does this mean I advocate a super sewer? Not necessarily. I’m saying, let’s have a study. The study may say this is the wrong path to choose. Maybe there are other alternatives. Maybe NID someday could be the agency that takes care of water treatment. If you think about that a little bit, there may be some possibilities.
The Union: Do you see the Board of Supervisors directing whoever conducts this study to look for any and all alternatives? Or just to look at the concept of a super sewer?
Beason: In the overarching context, the Board of Supervisors should look at all possibilities.
The Union: Including those that may be more protective of the environment?
Beason: I consider myself as much of an environmentalist as most people. There are people who call themselves capital “E” environmentalists, and then here are the small “e” environmentalists. I think we should consider any feasible alternatives.
The Union: So you consider yourself a small “e” environmentalist?
Beason: Yes. I take a back seat to nobody. This is my native state – I’ve surfed its beaches, I’ve fished its rivers and streams, I’ve hiked its mountains, and skied. I don’t want to screw this place up.
The Union: What do you see as the most important issues in the county today?
Beason: I’ve visited 6,300 houses. One-third of them were at home, on the average, so that’s what, 4,000 people on the average I’ve talked to?
Growth is the gut issue in the county – growth-associated considerations. Traffic, sewers, stop lights, sprawl, all that stuff that goes with it.
One of the issues associated with growth is the planning. One of the things we are lacking and have lacked is good planning in recent years, because of the spirited nature of politics and the fact that one side is always trying to get in the way of the other. We can’t seem to go forward. We just had a General Plan update, so we’re going to have a new test to see if we can move forward on that; we’re in the process now.
NH 2020 was an attempt at a certain type of planning, but it blew up because it was poorly handled. The average person I talked to says, “I recognize we’re going to have some growth. I would like to keep it managed and I would like to have good planning.”
The average person in the county ” and I’m talking about 75 percent of the people I talked to ” is pretty savvy. We have people who say they are slow-growthers who really would prefer no growth ” which is a bad idea for a variety of reasons. First of all, you can’t do it, and No. 2, the housing costs would go through the roof and the economy would go the other direction. We tried it in some cities in California and they suffered unintended consequences as a result. But that’s one issue.
When you want to get specific, they worry about traffic, the Brunswick Basin specifically, and that we have problems here that we need to remediate before we think about building another thing. And I think about the four developments that are proposed for the special development areas in Grass Valley, which you total up and they exceed the General Plan limits by 5 1/2 times.
The Union: Would you favor a special gas tax to help finance our local transportation and traffic needs, such as the contractor’s association has proposed?
Beason: That wouldn’t be my first choice. Dan Landon [of the Nevada County Transportation Commission] tells me that the money is available to do the Dorsey Drive interchange. He also tells me if we complete the Dorsey Drive interchange, it will take 15 to 20 percent of the traffic load off of Brunswick ” which doesn’t seem like much, but when you lose a lane on the freeway you lose 20 percent of the lanes, and you see what happens. He said the construction is slated to start in 2008, but it has slipped since the original plan, and it may slip a couple more years, and that is what we want to prevent.
The Union: How do the hospital do Sierra College plan for expansion while being exempt from mitigation fees related to Dorsey Drive? Could the county hold up that expansion if mitigation fees are not paid?
Beason: Easily they could. I don’t know if the mitigation fees are a matter of state law or not. But I think the county as a function of approval could require the hospital or the school to pay something. That is worth exploring. Now, the school might turn around and say we want a sales tax, a quarter-cent or whatever.
You could play the same game with Loma Rica Ranch. One of the provisions of Loma Rica Ranch is that there has to be a connector road built to the Dorsey Drive interchange. In fact, Dorsey Drive is not contingent upon Loma Rica Ranch being built. We can go ahead and do the Dorsey Drive interchange without Loma Rica Ranch being developed. The question about hospital and college mitigation fees, I don’t know the answer to that. It’s a good question.
The Union: But you’re saying that traffic is a major issue with people in your district?
Beason: I’ll give you three examples. Brunswick in general is a problem, and of course Dorsey is one way to siphon off some of that. The Idaho-Maryland/Brunswick intersection is a safety hazard, and there are a couple of plans afoot to mitigate that. One is to realign Idaho-Maryland and bring it down on terrain that’s got less of a slope in it. That’s expensive, and the thinking is that when Loma Rica gets developed, the developer will pay for that. But we’re going to wait eight or ten years if we do that and somebody else is going to get killed.
There is also a plan, in talking to Landon again, there’s also a plan to tunnel under Brunswick and have these mini-cloverleafs where you come back on, instead of having to sit there and make a left-hand turn. And there’s some other things involved, too, some right-hand turn lanes coming off. But we have to do something, and he says there is money for that. Now, could the state always shuffle the deck? I guess they can do pretty much what they want.
The Union: You’ve mentioned good planning. Does the county need to come up with some sort of overall vision for future development?
Beason: I’m not sure the county needs to come up with a better vision; maybe we do. But we need to implement some good practices. And good practices, for example, are planning for traffic before you build something. Good practices are planning for sewers before you build something.
But here’s a perfect example. We have managed on this slope over here to force all the traffic down Red Dog Road, Banner Lava Cap, Idaho Maryland, Loma Rica and, to some extent, Greenhorn. These are narrow roads that are paved, they are old wagon roads, they don’t have a shoulder, you can’t walk on them, they are curvy, they are slippery in the wintertime and people drive too fast. And we don’t have very good circulation. This is a case where topography has not helped us.
Historically, people have opposed the improvement of roads because they are worried about traffic in their neighborhoods. What we’ve managed to do is choke it down certain necks and certain areas where the people of Boulder Street, for example, are suffering because of what’s coming down Red Dog – they’re getting 4,400 cars a day down there.
When Stonebridge was built, the developer was told that he had to reduce the number of homes ” and I think he went from 64 to 42 I think it was, roughly in that neighborhood. And he put up $200,000 or $250,000 to build a connector between Boulder and Willow Valley. Well, people got riled up and we didn’t put a connector to Willow Valley. And maybe that was a good idea, I don’t know. But if you have enough of that over time, pretty soon you’ve got all the traffic going where it’s going.
And that’s what we’re faced with now – Deer Creek Park. Same developer. He wants to build 193 houses on 500 and some acres, and I think he wants to cluster it on 1/2- to 1 1/2-acre parcels on roughly 100 acres or so. He’s going to leave roughly 400 acres of open space, and he ‘s going to log it. That’s got pluses and minuses – one of the minuses is noise; one of the pluses is fire suppression, keep it thinned out.
I read the EIR [environmental impact report] that was submitted, and I went to the planning commission’s first review of the EIR. The EIR has got a laundry list of problems from arsenic hot spots to questions about the size of the leach field and its proximity to Little Deer Creek and traffic. And I don’t want to prejudge the planning process, but I’ve told the developer that I wouldn’t support the project in its present incarnation because he can’t do anything with the traffic. And if you put 193 houses up there, based on the traffic wizard’s numbers, you are adding somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,800 vehicular trips a day on Red Dog and Boulder. Which is a substantial amount.
Also, he has to find a secondary egress for emergencies out of there, which raises a whole other issue that is very problematic. We go back to improving roads, and people get their pitchforks and their torches out when you talk about improving their roads. At Stonebridge, there was so much opposition and lawsuits about the Willow Valley connecting road that Nevada City backed off and the developer said, “Fine, I won’t build the road.” It wasn’t that he refused to build the road; it was that the people didn’t want it. And if he saves $200,000, he says fine.
The Union: Would you like to see more regional planning in terms of the cities and county working together?
Beason: Would I like to see more regional planning in terms of the NID and the county working together? Yes. I think we’re headed in that direction; I don’t think we have a choice. I don’t think you can do it in a vacuum. These Grass Valley developments are going to impact the entire western Nevada County, it’s not just Grass Valley.
The Union: But what could you do about that as a supervisor?
Beason: I don’t know yet – I think there are some strings. We don’t have authority over Grass Valley necessarily. I don’t know what all the conditions of annexation are – I know they have to have adequate sewer, they have to have adequate water, and they say it’s up to the General Plan limit, but I don’t know.
Can we try to influence it? Yes. There’s CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act]. When you have a CEQA project, you don’t have to live in Grass Valley to be able to participate in the process and raise objections. If some guy is building a house in Grass Valley, I can’t go over there and object. But if they’re building a project under CEQA, I certainly can as a citizen, and I think I can as a supervisor. I think the county has a role there, I’m sure they do, but the legalities of it all I’m not exactly sure.
The Union: Affordable housing has been a big issue. Is there anything that can be done?
Beason: It’s just as important for us as a community to help working families to afford a place to live as it is to help people who are at the lower end of the income scale – the lowest end. Not that they’re not important ,but we should help others as well.
Nevada County is on its way to becoming either a bedroom community for Sacramento or a community for senior citizens. If we become a bedroom community for Sacramento, that’s going to increase the air quality problems and it’s going to increase groundwater problems, because all that stuff that comes off those cars and drops on the road gets washed over the side of the road and down into the groundwater eventually. You know when it first rains how slick it is? That’s because all that petroleum – oil and lubricants – is coming out.
Twenty-seven percent of our workforce leaves the county every Monday morning. About 12 percent comes in. They go to Placer County, Sacramento, Auburn, Downieville. Some people go to Reno or even the Bay Area. We have deputy sheriffs and firefighters living in Marysville and Auburn because they can’t live here.
[County schools superintendent] Terry McAteer tells me in the next seven years he is going to lose 50 percent of his teachers to retirement. And he is going to have to replace probably not all of them, but most of them. And the ones he is going to replace them with are not the $75,000 a year teachers; it’s going to be the $32,000-a-year teachers. And those folks have got to have a place to live.
Beyond the just pure housing aspects of it, there is a certain social responsibility involved. People who live in a community have a tendency to invest themselves in time and energy into it. The Little League, the Big Brothers, the church, whatever. If a guy lives in Auburn and commutes to Nevada County, he’s probably going to be involved in the Auburn Little League or the Marysville Little League.
But what I think the county can do is really encourage some private sector involvement. There are creative financing plans, for example, in which you can take a down payment, charge simple interest, and bolt in on the back end and it doesn’t get paid until the property is sold.
Insurance companies can find ways to make the insurance load easier on a homeowner. We have architects who can design very good housing, good quality, that’s cheaper. We have local contractors – not developers, but local contractors – who are willing to build affordable housing. They don’t make as much money on it as they do the high-end stuff.
And I think the county can play a role. I’ve never been one to believe in federally subsidized housing, because the federal government’s record is not distinguished. But the dilemma is that I don’t think we can do it without some kind of subsidy. And maybe we’re talking about condos, I don’t know ” maybe we’re not talking about single family houses with yards. But that’s a start.
The Union: Where?
Beason: There are some places in the western and southern places of the county that have a higher density zoning. And I’m not talking about tracts – not pink ticky-tackies. No, I’m talking about maybe four or five here, six or seven there.
This cohousing project in Nevada City is an example of a possible alternative, although it wasn’t very affordable in my mind – the going-in low end was $250,000. They’ve got some dual-income people like teachers, nurses, bus drivers living in there, and that’s good.
I went down and supported it at the City Council because I think it’s a win-win for Nevada City, where I live. I believe the second unit thing is a tempest in a teapot. With all the restrictions, I don’t think we’re going to have that many. And it’s only going to be a pinprick in the affordable housing market. But it’s a start.
The Union: What are your thoughts on the Yuba issues, federal wild and scenic designation and dams?
Beason: I’m opposed to a dam on the Yuba River, for a variety of reasons. No. 1, it’s a natural resource. Having talked to all these people, nobody I’ve talked to, when it comes up, has said they want to put a dam on the river. They want to keep it free-flowing. No. 2, it’s an economic asset. Is it $18 million, the estimate we get in income from people associated with visits, hotels, kayaks, bicycles, restaurants? That number may not be exactly right.
But here’s a perfect example of where the economy and the environment are working together. This South Yuba River management plan process is a perfect venue for us to find a local solution, where we can come out against the dam and still protect individual property rights on the river. Most of the property along the river, I think, is public.
My concern about wild and scenic designation is twofold: No. 1, wild and scenic has become a litmus test, and historically whenever you have a litmus test you have more polarization around the particular issue. I’m not convinced that wild and scenic designation is going to save that river if the feds want to put a dam on it, anyway.
What is going to save that river is us. And I believe, having talked to all the people I’ve talked to, that if they were to try and license a dam in that stretch between Spaulding and Englebright, there would be an outraged outcry and a rising up in this county, and SYRCL would be only a small part of it. The average citizen would be opposed to it. And I think any politician or federal agent would think twice about trying to do that. Am I right? I don’t know, but I have a sense that I am.
I don’t want a dam on the river, but my problem with wild and scenic is we always have to come up with litmus tests all the time, and I just think we don’t need any more litmus tests.
The Union: What about the shape of Nevada County’s finances today?
Beason: Let’s assume – and this is just an assumption – that the governor’s budget is approved as it is now proposed. And it is pretty iffy now, because there is some question about whether that bond issue is going to pass. But if his budget is approved, Nevada County would suffer a $2.3 million reduction in its General Fund – which is about 8 percent. Our General Fund is about 26 or 27 million bucks, something like that.
So there is $2.3 million — that’s a big hit, 8 percent. We have reserves of about $10 million, a little over half of that is designated. I think about $5.5 million – so that leaves $4 million. So we could just cover it with the reserves. That wouldn’t be my first choice – I think we could cushion it a little bit with the reserves. I would ask the CEO and the department heads – I would give them a target and say, “Tell me how you’re going to meet this target or if it is just going to kill you, or what the tradeoffs are if you do.” And have them come and say, “Here is what we can and cannot do,” and try to rationalize the county’s operations under decreased financial help.
One thing I would do is protect the public safety employees to the point that where the firemen, sheriffs and other emergency service personnel when they go into the field, they are adequately trained and adequately equipped to protect life and limb, because that’s the No. 1 responsibility of government ” the safety of its citizens.
The Union: What would you do about the methamphetamine problem?
Beason: We don’t have time … Let me just say that addicts should get treatment, and people who make that stuff and sell it should get jail. Now, there is a long dialogue in-between there. And the sheriff’s department cannot do it alone because they’re stretched as it is. We have a narcotics task force that helps, we have Drug Court, we have Criminal Court. A lot of things aren’t working.
One of the things that isn’t working is we have a public commitment to get on top of the problem, for a variety of reasons. After this latest tragedy, maybe that could be a good thing to come out of it. We’ll just see how long it sustains itself. But I think it’s up to the Board of Supervisors to keep that going, or it is not going to happen. But let’s face it, a lot of people move here to be left alone, people who have worked all their lives.
The Union: The question more specifically would be, are we better off pumping more money into more deputies and bigger jails with more cells?
Beason. No, I don’t think so.
The Union: Or identifying those programs that are at least making a small dent ” treatment facilities, for example ” and better financing those efforts?
Beason: In general, that’s it. We have a tendency to study failure, and we need to start learning how to study success. If you do research on initiatives in states and local communities, most of those initiatives are taken by one community or one state, and the others will follow up on something that works.
There may be a variety of things around the state or around the country that we could borrow from, or combine and try. We’ve got to try something, because what we’ve got right now isn’t working. But I don’t believe that building more prisons and throwing more people who use drugs into prison is the answer. People who are making that stuff need to go to jail for sure.
I read in your paper that drugs are related to 70 percent of the crime that’s committed. I’ve been told by people that work in health and human services that 90 percent of the spousal and child abuse problems are substance-abuse related. So there is a social payoff on the other end of this thing.
Would I throw more money into jails? Probably not, unless there was an overarching need to do so. I would rather put the money into the guys in the field. The jail right now takes a lot of the sheriff’s budget, because there are so many things that are mandated. If he’s got one person in there, he still has to meet all these state requirements.
We’ve got a narcotics task force, and we could bulk that up. Right now one of the patrol areas goes from McCourtney all the way to North San Juan. That’s a stretch.
The Union: How much money is this campaign going to cost you and where are you going to get most of your money?
Beason: Well, Aunt Mildred gave me the most, she gave me $3,000. That’s my aunt down in San Luis Obispo County. I got a thousand bucks from a cattle ranch. We’ve taken in about $33,000, and I suspect if we can get it done in the primary we can get it done for $36,000. The other side is going to try to paint me as the tool of the big developers, and I think they’re starting to grasp at straws, quite frankly.
The Union: If this goes to the general election … ?
Beason: I suspect we’ll spend $75,000-$80,000. In 2000, [Greg] Seghezzi and Van Zant each spent $120,000-plus.
The Union: You’re not going to get that much from your aunt.
Beason: You need to do a paradigm shift in your mind, because I’m not Greg Seghezzi and I’m not Peter Van Zant and I’m not Izzy Martin and I’m not Sue Horne, I’m Nate Beason. It’s called fear of smear ” Roseville is coming, here come the bulldozers, this guy’s in the pocket of the big developers. Where you get the economy is knocking on all those doors ” that saves a lot of money, if you’re willing to go out and beat the bushes.
The Union: Are there any other issues you want to cover?
Beason: I think you got them all. My top priorities within the context of a limited budget are traffic and public safety – primarily wildland fire, because it’s a constant presence – and workforce housing. The drug problem is all-pervasive.
If I were to tell you one thing in general – and if you don’t believe me, well, you don’t believe me ” but I’m making the electorate an offer. I’m saying if you vote for me, I’m going to go at this just like I have everything else in my life. I spent 30 years in a profession that was based on ethics and personal honor, and we solved problems based on the facts and the merits without regard to the popularity of the recommendation made.
A person said, “How can you go from that kind of a profession to politics?,” and I said I’m going to try. I’m going to do it the same way I’ve always done it, and people can take the offer or not. I think if they vote for the other prominent candidate, they are going to get more of the same.
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