The Union Q&A: Sue Horne, District 2
This is the fifth 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.
Sue Horne, 49, of Lake of the Pines is running for re-election as supervisor for District 2 against Steve O’Rourke. She and her family have lived in south Nevada County for 23 years. She can be contacted at 530-269-3041, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Union: Tell us a little about your background, personal and political.
Horne: My family and I have lived in south county for 23 years and I first got involved in the community through the schools, just through the educational process with my kids. When my oldest son, who is now 29, was a junior and senior, I was on the Site Council at Bear River.
And then I got involved in local politics and did some volunteer work for a candidate running for the Assembly, back in 1992, Bernie Richter. He was from Chico and he wanted to have some eyes and ears here in Nevada County, so I became his representative. We had a satellite office where the sheriffs’ substation is right now. And I did that part-time for about six years.
Bernie always encouraged me to think about running for office. I was working with the supervisors at that time, interacting when constituents would call and have an issue with local government. I got a little taste of what that role would be about, so I decided I would run in 2004. I planned go back to school, Sac State, and finish my government degree before I did that run.
But during the 2000 election, after the primary, one of the two remaining candidates dropped out. Since it was an open seat, because the incumbent, Karen Knecht, wasn’t running, I had a lot of encouragement across the community to take the shot at it. So I ran as a write-in and it was successful.
Over the last three years, I’ve really enjoyed it. I feel am making some positive changes. I love serving the community, and I like to be able to be in a position to effect change for individuals’ behalf. I would like to continue that for another term.
The Union: For your first two years, you were on the short end of what was often seen as a 4-to-1 split on the board. That changed in the last election.
Horne: The first two years I would say more often than not, yes, it was a 4-to-1 board on controversial issues. I certainly was the more conservative voice on that board. Although I have to say that one of the first things I felt proud about was the redistricting compromise that was accomplished in 2001.
I was six months into the seat, and there was controversy over how the supervisorial districts would be redistricted. And some of the folks in Chicago Park were very unhappy about one of the plans that was brought forward. I was able to come up with a compromise plan that I got a 5-0 vote on. That was the right step as far as trying to work with the other board members.
And lots of times there are controversial issues, and there are a lot of 5-0 votes, both on that board and on the present board. This board is interesting because it’s evolved a little bit, and sometimes the votes are all over the map on how they line up. Definitely, there are three members that are more conservative and two liberal members. But sometimes issues aren’t necessarily defined like that.
The Union: Considering the heated nature of the last election, it was thought this past year would have been more contentious on the board than it has been.
Horne: One of the things I heard loud and clear from my first two years on the board is that some folks in the community felt they were not being listened to, that there wasn’t an equal voice before the board. So when I became chair, I wanted folks to feel like, whether I agreed with them or not, absolutely had equal access to the full board, and that their voices and concerns would be heard. I think I accomplished that as chair.
The Union: Obviously, the key issue in this county has been growth, and will be for the foreseeable future. Steve O’Rourke, your opponent, has stated his opposition to the proposed regional super sewer.
Horne: Let’s go back and look at some history on that issue. The board previous to when I was elected was looking at the issues facing the Lake of the Pines treatment plant. Former interim CEO Tom Miller approached the board about the regional sewer concept that was developing because of the new costs we were facing because of the onerous state mandates on water quality requirements that were coming down, and would Nevada County be interested in looking at the possibility of that maybe being a feasible option for Lake of the Pines?
That board voted 5-0 to have Nevada County sit in on the discussions and be informed. Even at that time, there was some consideration for Alta Sierra in the future ” if there were some areas that failed in Alta Sierra, it might be possible to service even parts of Alta Sierra.
When I came on the board, I was appointed as the board’s delegate to be on the Placer-Nevada Wastewater Authority. The LOP plant is facing millions of dollars of upgrade costs, whether we just meet the current state requirements. Perhaps we may look at upgrading the plant to expand the capacity of the plant to service areas in the Higgins area that are approved in the General Plan. Or the other option is looking at the regional system concept.
So at this stage, what the board has approved is basically to be at the table, to be part of the discussion, to get the facts, so that we can make an intelligent recommendation. Ultimately, it’s the ratepayers that will make the decision. Because of Prop. 218, they can protest if they don’t want to have an expansion of the plant, just as Cascade Shores protested the first time around.
What I want to stress is that the board has made no commitment to hook up to a regional system. In fact, all the entities, including the smaller Auburn facilities and the Newcastle facility – none of those jurisdictions have made a commitment to hook up to the regional system. It’s a very long process of planning, and what we’re doing now is in the mode of gathering facts.
The other thing about the Alta Sierra area is that this was just a concept. If LOP does decide to hook up to the regional system – and cost is going to be a major factor in determining whether we recommend they do that or not – then you’re putting a pipeline in the ground that should service that area for 50 years. If you’re going to put that kind of investment into the ground, should you look at the feasibility of expanding that pipe, maybe two inches in circumference, to increase the capacity to the degree that if in the future – maybe 20 years, maybe 30 years – if there were areas in Alta Sierra that failed?
We get stories all over the map on what’s happening in Alta Sierra. Some people say, absolutely, there’s no issues here. Some people say, yes, there are issues in certain areas. So my thought is, let’s look at the feasibility. You can’t make an intelligent decision without adequate facts, and that’s all that we’re trying to do, gather the facts.
The Union: So people who have the impression that you are beating the drum for the super sewer would be wrong?
Horne: Absolutely. I’m beating the drum for having the information. Because to me, the ostrich approach, putting your head in the sand and not wanting to get information, is irresponsible.
The Union: There are a set number of homes at Lake of the Pines that would be hooked up. Alta Sierra is an existing development. If the sewer plan did get to the point where it was feasible, would it be capped at the existing development and to what is identified in the General Plan?
Horne: It is presently capped at what’s been approved in the General Plan. I just hosted a meeting for SIRS, Sons in Retirement, at the Alta Sierra Country Club. The project facility use person for Placer County came out, and a question was asked, “What is the population that the regional system would accommodate?” And for all those seven entities, it was 125,000.
That’s a really important point ” that it is not growth inducing. It’s about clean water requirements. And you’re not going to be able to just willy-nilly hook up to the pipeline that’s in the ground. You control where people hook up by zoning, sanitation district zoning, just like we have in place for Lake of the Pines. You would have to create a zone for the Alta Sierra area, and it would encompass certain parcels or certain areas, and that is all controlled. So where people could hook up can absolutely be controlled, and would be controlled.
The Union: So the sewer plan you are exploring would not encourage rapid growth, but more smart growth or controlled growth?
Horne: It would service the area that’s already been approved for growth by zoning in the Higgins area. There are parcels in the Higgins area that are zoned for multifamily housing. There is no sewer to service those areas. How can you have affordable housing if you don’t have affordable sewers? Because those small treatment systems are incredibly expensive, so you defeat your purpose.
LAFCo [Local Agency Formation Commission] just completed their wastewater treatment municipal service review for all of western county. One of the main points was that the lack of affordable sewage treatment is a major hindrance to affordable housing in this county, and they encouraged looking at regional concepts of sewage treatment.
We’ve also directed staff to look at other wastewater treatment facilities in the county that could possibly consolidate facilities, expand their services, to get more efficient and reduce the cost. Because the state is merciless in what they’re pushing down on to rural communities. It is just unbelievable.
This is all being driven by the state, and here Lake of the Pines has a perfectly good plant and they want us to put in $7 million worth of improvements. It’s crazy. But the board hasn’t even committed to the Lake of the Pines plant hooking up to a regional system, much less Alta Sierra. My only thought for Alta Sierra was maybe 20, 30 years down the road, if there were areas of failure.
Because if we hook up to LOP, the pipe’s only going to LOP. No one’s talking about putting a sewer line into Alta Sierra. If it comes to LOP, the project construction initiation is like 2011. I’m talking about long-term planning for a very basic human need, and that’s sewage treatment. In no way want people in Alta Sierra to be under the impression that I’m pushing them to be forced onto a sewer system. My opponent knows that.
The Union: The state is also pressuring for affordable housing. Both Grass Valley and the county are likely to be seeing pressures for developments. Can the county board and its commissions guide where that’s going?
Horne: The state expects the county to come up with a housing element. We have a mandated housing element plan that is required by law to be renewed every five years. They can review that plan and say either the county is coming up to speed or they’re not.
We feel, quite frankly, the state is unrealistic in its expectations of rural communities. Because, and I’ll go back to the sewage treatment issue, we don’t have the infrastructure to have those kinds of developments. Or even topographically. You’re not going to see big, huge developments like you see down in Placer County, in the Lincoln area. We don’t have the topography for that. So what I see the county doing is having smaller projects.
As far as county government’s role in that, the county needs to be able to have a CDA, Community Development Agency; they need to be pushed to be more friendly in their approaches for those kinds of projects, for assisting those projects through.
I know it’s very frustrating – it seems like there’s a lot of bureaucratic red tape to get a project through. But I also see that it is partnership with the private sector that is going to enable those kind of housing projects to take place. Whatever the county can do to assist that, we should. But I think the state is very unrealistic in the numbers that they’re saying we’re supposed to provide in this county.
The Union: Another issue that people keep talking about is traffic related to development.
Horne: Well, I go back to infrastructure – Highway 49 and the improvements, and the Transportation Commission. We have the Dorsey Drive interchange, we have the Idaho-Maryland/East Main intersection. They’re trying to solve some of those major issues. That all takes money. And of course the state’s in a mess, so we’re going to be fighting that.
But we’re going to have to invest in infrastructure to solve the traffic problem, the circulation problem. And development will pay its way on that. Every project goes through a very intense planning process. And the Department of Transportation and Caltrans weigh in heavily on every project to mitigate traffic impacts.
The Union: You talked about fiscal problems with the state. It’s not going to go away. What can the county do to protect itself?
Horne: Last year the county was very prudent fiscally, not counting on the vehicle license fee backfill, the million dollars. This year it’s going to be tougher, and we’ll have to reduce budget. You know, we have a healthy reserve . . . Including designated and undesignated, about $10 million.
The Union: What’s the difference between designated and undesignated?
Horne: Designated would be like our contribution to PERS [Public Employment Retirement System], which is huge. Our liability to PERS is huge. So we have that designated and we keep that set aside. And then we have undesignated, which is for emergencies or litigation that comes up. For the undesignated, where there’s a little more flexibility, I think it’s about $4 million to $5 million.
The Union: And the annual budget is what?
Horne: $138 million. But workers’ comp has had a huge impact on the county as well. Our workers’ comp went up 55 percent in the last two years, cumulatively. We feel those kinds of issues, too.
The Union: Tied in with the financial health of the county is the financial health of its business climate. As a rural county, what can Nevada County do to improve the tax base?
Horne: Support organizations such as the ERC [Economic Resource Council] and the business association and the Chambers of Commerce and their roles. Again, I go back to the Community Development Agency – to streamline and try to reduce the processes of that whole process for businesses. Support the business community in ways that we can.
I would like to hold the line on fees and taxes, but I don’t know that we could reduce fees at this point. In a very small way, the board did revise its home business ordinance in which we were able to be more flexible and expand the hours of operation for tutoring businesses like educational tutoring, music businesses. That’s a small thing, but for certain folks that was important.
The Union: How much does the county contribute to the ERC?
Horne: Our contract last year, about $45,000. And the chambers – the Grass Valley and Nevada County chambers – I think $95,000 is our contract.
The Union: Is that enough of an investment to do what ERC has do to?
Horne: If we could support them financially at a larger amount, I would be open to doing that. In the last year, we’ve asked what we call community partners, because of the budget crunch, not to come in with a number higher than what we gave them last year, because we just don’t have it. But I would love to be able to do that in the future when things start looking a little better.
The Union: District 1 candidate Josh Ramey says the county needs to make it easier to have home businesses. Are there roadblocks to home businesses in Nevada County?
Horne: No. I mean, if a business grows to a certain degree and you start impacting your neighbors, that’s when it gets difficult. But there are numerous home businesses in Nevada County. A lot of contractors operate out of their homes.
The Union: How do you stand on issues related to the South Yuba River, particularly about federal Wild and Scenic designation and damming?
Horne: With the state designation, you’re not going to see a dam on the Yuba River. It’s not going to happen. In fact, I talked with Congressman Wally Herger’s office when this was an issue that came before the board, and he told me that this isn’t even going to come before Congress. It’s just not on the table right now. So with the state designation, it’s no threat to the Yuba River.
The Union: Your personal view?
Horne: On the Yuba River? No, I wouldn’t want to see a dam on the Yuba River.
The Union: How do you feel about the whole issue of forestry and fire issues as they relate to growth?
Horne: You can’t use the growth issue in order to deter adequate treatment of the forest for fire safety. That’s critical. I sit on the Tahoe monitoring group with the Forest Service. Our forests are overgrown to the degree that there is a critical fire safety issue, for Nevada City particularly.
It’s irresponsible not to treat the forest to the degree that you don’t end up with a healthy forest. If that means some trees have to be cut, it’s a renewable resource, and we’re way to one side of that issue in California when we import 80 percent of our lumber needs when our forests are so overgrown. That’s irresponsible. There’s no common sense that’s being applied.
The new Sierra Nevada Framework – the supplemental environmental statement – is going in the right direction to allow enough thinning and treatment on the forest to bring back the health of the forest without overly cutting. We’re so far from that. When you have a devastating wild fire, like the Emigrant Gap fire two years ago, their hands were tied to even go in and take out the dead trees because of all the litigation. And what happens is you had trees of value there that couldn’t be taken out.
The Forest Service is not allowed to adequately manage the forest ” the dollars that could be garnered from allowing contracts to do that disappear. So what happens is the taxpayer bears the burden of treating the forest. There’s not enough taxpayer dollars to do it federally, so it’s not adequately done, when it could be done if they would allow the Forest Service to have enough thinning to pay for itself.
The Union: What’s the latest on the recreation districts for Nisenan and San Juan ridges?
Horne: As far as Nisenan, it’s moving forward – to my understanding, it’s set to go on the November ballot. It will now require two-thirds vote to pass. And it’ll have to pass for the question of formation and also for whether folks want to fund it. If you don’t get a yes on both of those – and that’s required now by state law – you can’t form a district without having the funding to support it. So if the folks want it and they want to fund it, it will happen. And we don’t, it won’t.
Now for North San Juan, what I’m hearing lately is that there has been a loss of support for that. I’ve heard that from Supervisor Sutherland – I haven’t talked to the folks out there. From what I understand, there are some issues about the fire district up there that is causing a lack of lack of trust.
The Union: What about the North San Juan Fire District?
Horne: They need to get their act together. If you’re going to run a special district, you need to know what the rules are. I can’t believe that they didn’t know what the rules were, and that it wasn’t a conflict of interest for a board member to be drawing wages or contracts, or even to be voting on it. If her husband was the person they gave the contract to, that’s a conflict of interest, because it’s your spouse. It transfers right through. She should have recused herself. The board should have known that. Maybe I’m a little hard on them, but that’s pretty basic government that you should know.
The Union: Your opponent talks about the lack of a park in the Alta Sierra area. Your view?
Horne: Lake of the Pines has probably six or seven little parks inside. We have the lake, and so there’s a main beach and there are playground facilities in different spots around the lake. Ten minutes up the road is Alta Sierra, and it’s a more rural environment.
On one hand, when you come into an area, you might want to check the area out in a little more detail. If you want an area with lots of parks, it’s only 10 minutes down the road. Having said that, Alta Sierra is a 40-year-old development, and most of those lots are developed. But there is a 32-acre parcel on Karen Drive that is owned by the Bear River Rec and Park District whose mission is to develop recreational facilities. Their goal is to develop that park and to have a tot lot, and to have walking trails. It’s a beautiful piece of property, and it’s their plan to develop it.
I don’t know if my opponent has been involved in the Bear River Park District to provide input, but certainly there is a vehicle in the south county that has that as its mission.
The Union: Is the county doing enough, is the board doing enough, to try to help address the seeming increase of drug-related crime?
Horne: We’re doing what we can do under the resources that are presently appropriated for that area. Is that enough? No, it’s not enough. I want to see more resources go toward reducing meth use and drug abuse in this county. I think it’s intolerable. I’ve been here 23 years, and you always feel like this is a really safe place, but I have been really concerned over the last few years.
The board needs to look at its priorities. My understanding that the county has four officers that deal with narcotics. We need more. Those four individuals have to cover about an 80,000 population base. It’s not enough. We need more, and as a person on the budget committee, I’m going to be looking to see if there are ways we can put more resources into that effort.
The Union: People have the impression that the courts are just a revolving door for known drug users.
Horne: I am trying to understand why. Part of the problem is the state laws. My understanding is that judges don’t have as much flexibility as we think they might have.
The Union: But often charges are being dismissed before they reach a judge.
Horne: And that’s probably based on evidence, hard evidence, and whether that case if taken to court would be successful. I’m giving a lay person’s opinion of that because I’m not the district attorney. But you’re not going to bring a case unless you feel like there is a high probability that you will get a conviction. And so I would trust that the DA is saying there is not enough hard evidence.
One thing is how long it takes to go after these meth labs and to build a case. You’ve got to catch these guys, and people are afraid and too intimidated to call or get involved, because it’s scary stuff.
The Union: Can the county try to help deal with the problem from a rehabilitation angle?
Horne: Yes, there are resources. That’s what Prop. 36 monies are all about. There are the rehab houses. Look at [accused murderer Scott] Krause. He was a recent graduate from the Lovett Center. Yes, we need additional resources for that. But we can’t take out the factor of the person that is making those choices. There is personal responsibility here, too.
As I talk to probation officers, you can only help the person that wants to be helped. It really comes down to that. The ones that really want to be helped, then be there for them, and let’s get them the help that they need. But some people just don’t want to be helped.
But these programs don’t produce revenue; they are totally dependent upon taxpayers. As we looked at the budget for the Lovett Center last year, there was a large community outcry about not closing it. W didn’t want to close it, so we didn’t. We found the resources to keep it open. But you know what? Out of a budget of over $500,000, there was $300 of community contributions to that budget.
The Union: Are you concerned about key county staff departures?
Horne: If you want to look at statistics and compare about changing over of administrations, you can look at the former CEO’s first year in his office. You’ll see that more department heads and top management people left under our former CEO than under our current CEO. We have an organization of a thousand people. There are three reasons why people leave. They leave because opportunities arise, and that’s the case in a couple of the situations. People leave for personal family reasons. And people leave because of the comforts of management style.
The Union: One of your colleagues is questioning the direction of state grants to special districts through some of the non-governmental organizations. Do you think the county needs to be the steerer of grants?
Horne: No, I don’t. The county certainly needs to go after the grants it can go after. But should the county be the lead agency for all the grants that come into Nevada County? Absolutely not. That doesn’t make sense to me. I just want there to be sunshine on how the money is being spent. Make sure the money is being spent appropriately, for what it’s supposed to be spent for.
The Union: Any thoughts about the legacy of the NH 2020 controversy?
Horne: As difficult as it was to go through that process, particularly over the three years it took to move it through, I feel like I played a role in bringing closure on that issue. No one was quite happy with it, but it’s the best we can do because of the climate in the community about the issue. And so I look at finding a compromise there as one of my achievements ” to be able to move beyond the issue.
The Union: Any further points you want to be sure to make?
Horne: I’d like to talk about what my platform would be for my next term. Top priority in my last term as it is in this term is continuing to ensure fiscal accountability for the taxpayer dollars. And in doing that, provide critical services within the constraints of drastic state revenue cuts that we’re experiencing in county government.
To plan for our growth responsibly means adhering to the General Plan and to mitigate and tax adequately. That includes long-term planning for infrastructure needs ” roads and sewage treatment.
One of my platforms includes becoming proactive in curtailing the drug abuse problem that we have and to look again at the resources we have applied presently, because it’s not enough and we need to do more.
I want to complete and implement the countywide fire safe plan that we’ve initiated. I’m proud that we were able on a 5-0 vote to initiate that process, because that’s critical.
And continuing to provide assistance to individuals that come with their own issues of concern about how they’ve interacted with county government or a department. That’s the whole other side of being a supervisor. There’s the side about public policy, but there’s a huge side about personal assistance to individuals. It’s a big part of it, a major part of it. We’re the ones that get the calls. Someone says, “I’m having a problem here” or “I don’t understand that.” So it’s very personal.
And I want to continue providing common-sense critical thinking to the issues that come before the board. Try to think long-term, not put our heads in the sand and say that we’re not going to grow ” because we are going to grow. And if we don’t plan for the growth, we could end up with intolerable congestion, lack of housing, and a community where we don’t have young families anymore, and declining school enrollments.
So you’ve got to plan for the future, and you can’t be afraid of the word “growth”, but instead acknowledge the growth that is coming, and we need to plan for it.
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This letter is in response to Elias Funez’s excellent article on the relationship between the Nevada County Airport, Cal Fire and the Loma Rica development.