The Union roundtable: Nate Beason |

The Union roundtable: Nate Beason

The Union photo/John HartNate Beason
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Voters are already familiar with you from the primary, so let’s kick the interview off by asking whether between March and now, with all your door-knocking, are people still concerned about the same issues?

I think they’re pretty much the same ones – they may have them prioritized a little differently but it’s traffic and fire safety and growth and drugs – and I think the newspaper, by the way, did a great job in raising the level of awareness of the drug use. Affordable housing for young folks, workforce housing, is still a big issue for a lot of people. It may be the most daunting task in the county, I don’t know.

Here’s a question one of the members of our Reader Circle sent in: “What was the most interesting encounter you’ve had while canvassing the county door to door?” Anybody greet you with a shotgun?

I met some colorful characters, don’t get me wrong, but everybody I met, save eight or 10, was very polite, regardless of their viewpoints, regardless of their political bent. And what’s surprising and kind of refreshing is that most people don’t ask what party you’re in or if you’re in a party, they just start talking about county issues. I’ve probably had 10 people out of thousands who were rude – and when I say rude, they didn’t slam the door in my face, they were just more abrupt than rude. But I’m really happy with the reception I’ve gotten and I feel good about the kind of folks we’ve got living in this county.

That’s kind of the approach you’re trying to take, a bipartisan approach?

I’m trying.

Since it’s early in the interview, let’s bring up that issue of the flyer sent by your opponent, Olivia Diaz, that was the main controversy from the primary campaign. A reader specifically wanted to ask: “I would really like Nate to explain clearly his position on Deer Creek Park II, which is a development coming into Nevada City. It is the one issue he continues to be hammered on by Olivia, and what she is saying is his position is not his position.” Is that true?

Yes. First of all, let me state my position, and my position has been the same for almost a year. My position has been that I do not support the Deer Creek Park II project as it’s proposed. There are all kinds of issues – there’s traffic, questions about septic, other things – those are the two big ones. Basically, it’s too darned big. And I was quoted in the debate as saying that I do not want to prejudge the planning process but I cannot support Deer Creek Park II as proposed.

My opponent took that, and here’s what she said is my position: “I don’t want to prejudge the planning process.” Clearly the implication is that I’m somehow dodging that issue when I have been very clear and consistent on it throughout. There’s been a whispering campaign going on, it started back in October. And I’m going to take some measures here soon to rebut that – well, I’m doing that now – but there’s going to be some things to households soon.

But the bottom line is that my opponent has mischaracterized – actually has fraudulently expressed ” my position. Which I think is a violation of her campaign promise to run a clean, honest campaign.

Here’s another question from a reader who I think probably sounds like a Nate Beason supporter. “Can you pledge to run a clean, honest campaign with no last-minute mailers attacking your opponent, with questionable charges and out of context quotes?”

I pledged this last July. I pledged to run an honest, clean campaign last July – all three candidates did. Two of us kept our pledge, one of the two is no longer in the race, and I’m the only one in the race and I will continue to maintain that pledge. I will not sling any mud. I’m going to go after the issues. I’m not going to hit below the belt. And one of the things that seems to be lacking in political office is people who go at it with honor and integrity. That’s what I intend to do. There’s things more important in life. There are two things my wife and I decided early on – I’m not going to compromise my dignity or my integrity to win political office. So the answer’s yes.

May I just ask, is my opponent willing to make that pledge?

Not that specific question, but she denied violating her pledge to run a clean, issues-oriented campaign.

Well, she had two positions on it – first she said I have a right to characterize my opponent and then off-line she was telling people, “I didn’t realize it looked as bad as it did until it came out in the mail.” So take your choice.

Since you brought it up, her side keeps focusing on quoting me out of context. They never bring up the fact that they took my statements and turned them around and reworded them, which is not only dishonest, I think it’s fraudulent.

Here’s a question related to that bipartisan issue you were talking about earlier. “Locally, many voters participate as either advocates of property rights or preserving the natural environment. Activists on both sides run campaigns, attend government meetings and influence officials. What of the average too-busy voter? How will you reach out to them? How will you represent them? They may not have time to attend zoning or housing workshops. Does their silence mean you’re doing a fine job?” The Silent Majority question.

First of all, when I started out to do this, one of my goals was to represent the people you just talked about, that large group that don’t attend all these meetings and don’t write letters and don’t make a big noise. And there’s a lot of them out there. And I have gone to virtually every residence in the district – and I’m on my second time around and it’s the same. Most folks want good, honest, common-sense government. They’re tired of the extreme right and they’re tired of the extreme left, just as I am.

I think it’s a travesty in U.S. politics at every level that it seems we’ve become polarized, and the object has become one to try to deny any credit to the other side rather than making good policy. One of the things I’m going to try to do is to forge enough of a coalition to try to make some good policy on some of the bread-and-butter issues that affect the county.

We’ve got a lot of posturing right now, and a lot of agenda-driven stuff going on, and I’m trying to overcome that. I think I’m doing a pretty good job of convincing people of that, and that my message is getting out, and going door to door and attending public events and making a legitimate attempt to be nonpartisan. I think is working.

How about in the event that you’re elected? How will that transfer into how you do your work on the Board of Supervisors?

First of all, I’m not supported by any particular interest, and I’ve made that one of the fundamental precepts of the campaign. So I think that alone will tell people that I’m trying to represent the broader interests. I don’t have any huge campaign donations. I’ve got two or three that are in the – probably my biggest campaign donation is about one-third the size of my opponent’s.

I’m a common-sense guy – I spent 30 years of my life – 35 years – solving problems based on the facts and merits, and it’s internalized. I know that you don’t get what you want when you’re on a five-member board. You have to go in there with a sense of trying to forge a consensus. But I think the general interest of the people is fairly evident, despite the noise and some of the letters you read in the paper and some of the things that go on in public hearings.

Let’s talk about affordable housing. A reader asks, “Housing prices continue to rise while jobs are scarce and pay is substandard. Is affordable housing a reasonable goal in Nevada County, and how do you plan to help provide it as a supervisor?”

I think affordable housing is a reasonable goal, and I think it is probably the toughest solution to any issue that we have to come up with. If you talk to the superintendent of schools, he will tell you it is the number one issue in the county.

To put it in perspective, California has a housing crisis. I think we’ve increased our population by 500,000 people a year the last four or five years, and we’re building on the average 100,000 residential units, fewer than we need every year. I think we need 200,000 and we’re building 100,000. So that all translates to good old Nevada County.

We’re not just suffering from Bay Area migration; we’re suffering from a big housing issue in the state. And Mr. Ackerman did a pretty good job in a column here a year or so ago and addressed that issue, and it’s a fact of life. How do we solve it? I think government’s role is to try to provide an environment in which it can be solved. I think it’s going to be solved by the private and maybe the nonprofit sector.

In Grass Valley, these two affordable developments they’ve come up with recently, it was the private sector that did that. The real issue obviously to cost is land prices. And what we have to do is try to find a way to maximize the value of the land in terms of distributing it over a broader spectrum of occupants in the housing.

You mean density?

Yes, density. And a lot of people get really excited when you say that, but there are ways to do it. And we can get into a big discussion about the General Plan and the $150,000 cap if you’d like – but it’s achievable, I think. At least I’m not ready to give up on it. And I don’t want to do something crazy like create some traffic problem or other kind of nightmare.

Recently the Nevada County Fire Plan was submitted to the Board of Supervisors, and here’s a question from a reader: “Of all the recommendations in the fire plan, are there any you would identify as ones you would support for immediate implementation?”

Reduction of fuel loads, without question. Whether it be thinning or reducing the amount of fuel in the woods or defensible space. Reduction of fuel loads and defensible space, each in itself is not the answer; together, there’s the answer.

Let me give you an example. Forty pounds of dried grass has the same effect as a gallon of gasoline. We’ve got some parts of the woods that have 200 tons of fuel, which kind of puts it into perspective. I spent eight months going to meetings twice a week as a participant in the development of the fire plan – I think I missed two meetings in eight months – that’s how important this thing is. I believe that fire is the most consistent and imminent – and that’s imminent with an “I” – issue we face.

We’ve had fires all summer, and fortunately we’ve been able to contain them. But the moisture content in the vegetation I believe is lower than it’s been in years, and we’re at the height of the fire season or we’re just entering it. It’s serious.

What about the sale of fireworks? Is that something the county or city should allow, or should there be a ban under certain conditions?

Well, that’s a good question and I’ve tried to come to grips with that. There should be more restrictions in the rural areas than there are in the urban areas. Just like you have high fire hazard days, maybe that should be implemented in the fireworks control. I’m one of these guys who believes basically that the average person makes pretty good common sense decisions and we can probably continue to allow fireworks to be used as long as it’s done in a safe and sane manner.

And how do you prevent the wrong person from getting hold of them – that’s the question. Banning fireworks is starting to enter into the very fabric of our culture. There’s a lot more risk of fire than fireworks on the Fourth of July. We’ve got people going into the woods all the time, we’ve got lightning, and we’ve got all kinds of things that can cause fire. And are fireworks alone going to solve the problem or, rather, restricting them going to solve the problem? I don’t think so.

Let’s get into growth – a high interest area. A reader asks: “What actually is smart growth development? Whose property rights do you protect, the developer or the individual, when the development might cause loss of property through eminent domain?”

Well, that’s kind of a three-part question; I hope I understand it. Smart growth basically consists of trying to build what they call walkable or more mixed-use type communities where a person can live, work, shop, pretty much in the same general area. These places in a lot of cases have been in-fill type processes in cities, where they have gone in and renovated or reshaped certain parts of the city that might have been industrial-commercial and made them more mixed use. And I support that.

I don’t know if you really get into condemnation when you do smart growth. I’ve not heard of that. I wouldn’t think you’d get into condemnation anymore than you would anything else. I think you get into condemnation when you’re talking about building public infrastructure like freeways and things like that.

I don’t think what’s being pushed forward as smart growth in Grass Valley is really smart growth. Because when you take the boundaries of a city and expand them and then build in that expansion, I don’t think you’ve really done any in-fill – it’s sprawl, is what it is. I’ve looked at all of them and a couple of them are really nicely done. The only problem is they’re in the wrong place and are going to create what I think is a traffic nightmare.

What are your thoughts about the whole issue of traffic, particularly concerning these four very large projects?

As you might remember, traffic was probably my central issue along with drugs when I first became a candidate, and fire and affordable housing. There were four, but traffic probably was the one I talked about the most because it affects more people almost every day.

The Grass Valley General Plan limits for residential units is either 600 or 650 – I want to say 650 but it may be 600. If you take all four of these proposals for these Special Development Areas – Loma Rica Ranch, Kenny Ranch, Northstar and Bear River Mills or Sawmill, whatever you want to call it – we’re looking at 3,600 residential units being proposed. That’s six times the General Plan limit. Where does the traffic go?

For years the county has brokered things and then tried to figure out how to deal with the impact, and what we need to do is look downstream and try to figure out what the impact is going to be and take appropriate measures upstream. Like maybe these things shouldn’t be quite as big, for example. I’ve been making a lot of noise about these developments for over a year, I’ve taken a lot of heat from some of the people associated with the developments. And some of the people associated with them might surprise you, by the way.

The Dorsey Drive interchange will help. It will relieve Brunswick ” I think 50 percent of the traffic on Brunswick ” but that’s not going to start until 2009. Idaho-Maryland at Brunswick, that’s an unsafe intersection, and we need to do something with that, sooner rather than later. And it shouldn’t be held hostage to the Loma Rica Ranch development, because I think the Loma Rica Ranch development is just too darn big and it’s in the wrong place.

Northstar is going to create – it’s already creating issues about Allison Ranch Road. He’s talking like 2,300 residences in there and a golf course and I don’t know what else. And then Kenny Ranch has its own set of problems. It’s going to load up Highway 20 and West Main – there’s a strip between it and the city of Grass Valley where those folks are going to have to vote if they’re ever going to annex it. I think it’s too big – the General Plan’s limit for Kenny Ranch is 100 residential units and the proposal now is 360. The irony of Kenny Ranch is that the project manager is a fellow who is very prominent in protesting a lot of the developments; his name is Brian Bisnett.

You mentioned earlier there were some other people involved in some of the other developments – would you care to mention that? Are these political figures?

Some of the folks that are advertising smart growth, for example, want to put a huge development in Brunswick Basin. The owner of the Loma Rica Ranch project, I believe, is the Getty Trust, and there are people associated with them ” like [Supervisor] Peter Van Zant is a big supporter of that. I think my opponent is pretty much a supporter – but I haven’t seen her latest position on it. She’s taken two or three positions, but I’ve never seen her come out and say that she thinks Loma Rica Ranch is the wrong project and it’s too big for that location. So I think there are some relationships there.

If you look at what we like about Nevada City and Grass Valley, you can’t build those communities today under the current zoning restrictions and regulations.

That’s right – but the thing about Loma Rica Ranch is I spent three hours with the project manager one day, he wanted to show me what he was doing and I went over there to listen. He’s a nice guy, he’s a good guy, and I looked at his project and it’s really neat. But I told him it has a fundamental flaw. Where does the traffic go? He said he is doing a traffic study, and rather than each of these developments doing a traffic study, we need to do a comprehensive traffic study and see what the impact’s going to be, not just on Grass Valley per se but all of western Nevada County, because all of this is going to have some direct or indirect affect on western Nevada County.

What I’m concerned about is that there’s been some shuffling of numbers in terms of the industrial park requirements, and I think that’s been reduced. And if we build a bunch of high-end houses down there, we’re really going to defeat . . . I know there’s some affordables involved – there’s some apartments, some condos, and some single-family detached – and I know that to get the affordable you have to build the high-end stuff to pay for it. But the trick is going to be making sure we don’t go too far overboard on the high end, and we actually do mixed use to provide opportunities for people to live there where they don’t have to get in the car and go someplace. And I’m not convinced that we’re there.

While we’re talking about it – I’ve got this idea that we can improve our public transit system in this county, and we need to start thinking about that instead of just building more roads. We are constrained geographically, I know that – topographically. But we can do better. We’re in a spiral right now. We lose money, we cut routes, so we have fewer riders, so we lose more money and cut more routes, and on and on. I’m wondering whether it’s time to maybe look at privatizing Gold Country Stage, just like Telecare is, and try to really focus some brainpower on improving the transit system.

Now the way to make the transit system work is to give people incentive to get out of their cars and take it. Right now there is no incentive. So that’s one thing we have to do is try to come up with something that’s reasonable. We can’t get to everybody. I’ve been up all these old roads. But you could have satellite parking. I’m just putting out some ideas, but I think some really smart traffic guys might come up with something better than we have. One of the things I want to do, if I get elected, is to find ways not just to improve the road system in the county but to convince people that they can get out of their automobiles. How about a bike path, for example, from Nevada City to Grass Valley? I know there are some roads that don’t lend themselves to that; we’ve got all these old mountain roads that we’ve paved and that have no shoulders. And people drive too fast on them.

How might that tie into efforts to create a greenway along Wolf Creek or along Deer Creek?

I think that’s something we ought to examine. In fact, there are folks that – I think they’re called Friends of Wolf Creek in Grass Valley – who are doing just that. And I applaud their efforts. There’s a group called Friends of Deer Creek, but I think their primary purpose has been water quality. If they’ve been talking about greenways along Deer Creek, I missed that. And there are geographical differences.

There are some limitations on Wolf Creek in terms of changing it or reverting it back the way it was – there is some serious cost involved down where it goes underground, right? But I applaud that. Have you been to Reno?

They’ve done a lot with the Truckee River.

Yes, they have, my wife and I had a great time. If you go to Portland, for example. And we could do things like that. Could we do it on that scale? I don’t’ know. But we’ve got to stop thinking automobile. And I know there are people who are dependent on their cars to go to work, or for services or whatever, and that’s fine. But you know if we could get 20 percent of the people out of their cars 20 percent of the time, that would be a step forward.

A reader says: “Methamphetamine use is probably the single largest problem for law enforcement in Nevada County. What ideas do you have to address this problem?”

First of all, let me just say that I agree that it is one of the single largest problems – it is the largest for law enforcement. Seventy percent of the crime in the county is drug related. Ninety to 95 percent of the spousal and child abuse cases are drug or substance abuse related, which probably comes as no surprise and that probably doesn’t make us atypical.

I grew up in a family that had a couple of heavy drinkers and that has its ramifications. You have to approach it in three ways. The way you make the sheriff’s department’s job easier is to try to reduce the number of customers they’re going to have as a result of drug abuse. And the first thing is education and prevention – we need to start earlier, like the fourth or fifth grade. There are some drug prevention, drug information programs, but I think we can do better.

I talked to the superintendent of schools about if he’d be willing to investigate that as a partnership with the county, and he said he would. He’s got restraints on him, on what he can and cannot do, in terms of time and money. But I think we’re better off putting more money on the front end because it will save us more on the back end. If you look at cocaine abuse, for example, incarceration costs 20 times as much as prevention and treatment programs. And I’m guessing that meth is at least 10 times as much or more.

What we have to try to do is internalize the idea among our young people that drugs are not a good alternative. And there are conditions in society that have to be fixed; the county supervisors can’t necessarily influence as much as they would like. But we can prevent a lot of kids from using drugs through education. I think we can take a lot of users and turn them around with good effective treatment programs and hold them accountable.

And further, we should throw the bad guys in jail – the guys who make it, the ones that transport it and sell it. Is that going to clear the county of drugs? Probably not, but it will sure make a dent. And again, it’s really going to take a committed community with a level of awareness and a conviction that they’re not going to allow drug use in the county.

Nevada City is a good part of your district, and here is a question about the Patriot Act from one of your Nevada City constituents. “Do you feel the Patriot Act violates the Bill of Rights and will you support Nevada City’s citizens’ request to uphold the Bill of Rights?”

Well, first of all I’m not sure I agree with the premise that underlies that. And I’m not sure the Patriot Act is a living, breathing, imminent issue for county supervisors. The city council voted to pass a resolution opposing it. The Patriot Act has some flaws, I believe. Is it unconstitutional? I don’t know. There’s one way to find out and that’s to take it to court. I’m unaware of any court case that anybody has brought forward.

Another way, if you believe it’s a bad law, is to get it overturned in Congress or get it changed. We make the assumption that it violates the Bill of Rights, but I’m having a hard time with that because nobody’s taken it to court to prove that it has. I think there is a mischaracterization of the premise of that. In fact, they’re kind of presuming the answer. But let me just say this. We’ve got a lot more important things like drugs and growth and traffic and crime and senior services to deal with at the bread-and-butter level of the county that we need to give priority to. We can pass all the resolutions we want, but that’s not getting the job done locally.

Here is a question from a reader about older members of our community. “Some nonprofits that serve the elderly are running into hard times. Do you think the supervisors should do anything to improve the situation and, more importantly, can they do anything?”

There are certain things they can do and there are certain things they should try again. I’m one of these guys that believes that government should create an environment for prosperity more than it participates in, although in a pluralistic society like we have, government has to participate more than it used to.

Let’s go back to what I was talking about with transit. I’ve talked to people on the Senior Advisory Council, and they say transit is the number one issue right now for senior citizens. Because a lot of them, when they get to a certain age, have the same physical impairments in a lot of cases as folks that are classified as disabled. I mean, they meet certain ADA parameters. That’s one thing the county can help with.

And like I said before, we need to look at some ways ” other than just the same old everyday historical public transit experience ” to try and find new ways that will serve everybody better. Trying to serve the seniors better with public transit, for example, is the lily pad for us to leap from to bigger and better things. There are devices now, for example – I’m getting off public stuff – where folks can have a transmitter in their house and they can send a certain signal, like a command signal, to a hospital and they can give them a diagnosis of some symptom. If they’ve got a condition, they can tell them, yes, it’s bad, or it’s not quite so bad, go do this, then that saves you traffic. There’s all kinds of technology.

So should the county fund all that? No. Should the county help private enterprise and the nonprofits move forward with creative ideas? Absolutely.

One of the issues that keeps coming up is the federal designation of Wild and Scenic status for the South Yuba River.

My opponent has tried to make that a litmus test for the election, i.e., trying to make that the defining issue. Let’s go back to those thousands of households I’ve been to. It ain’t on the front burner. I had a meeting with the executive director of SYRCL, the South Yuba River Citizens’ League, about six weeks ago. And SYRCL’s not lobbying for Wild and Scenic right now. They’re more interested in water quality, and I think their priorities are right. Water quality is a bigger issue right now than Wild and Scenic.

They don’t think they’d get a warm reception from the current administration.

Exactly. And even my opponent, who has been making the most noise about Wild and Scenic, came out and said in her last interview with you folks that she thinks that it’s not a good time to do it. So I’m kind of confused about what her goal is here. I think state Wild and Scenic is supportable because it’s there, so why overturn it?

I’m a catch-and-release trout fisherman, and I don’t want a dam on the river. And people will tell you that the only way to really prevent a dam on the river is to get federal Wild and Scenic designation. Maybe so, maybe not. If you go look at the statements of the past president of SYRCL and the statements of board members of SYRCL, they’ll tell you there aren’t any good spots left to put a dam, or they don’t think the government wants to take on an outraged citizenry. I mean, those are SYRCL folks saying that.

I got a thing in the mail from an outfit called Friends of the Rivers. They were telling me how they saved the South Yuba River from a dam. So if we’re saving the South Yuba River from a dam under the current conditions, I’m in a hard spot to understand what Wild and Scenic is going to do for us. I think that we might evolve in that direction eventually. But there are lot of people who just are afraid of the federal government, and maybe we need to educate them more. But it’s not a hot topic; it’s just not.

If we skipped some issues you think are important, now is the opportunity to raise them.

I think we’ve covered most of them. I’m running my campaign on three things: qualifications, issues and ethics. I have 35 years of leadership and management experience. I’ve led 1,500 people. I’ve managed $500 million successfully. I’ve operated eight ships; I’ve commanded three of them in the Navy. Operating a ship is like operating a floating city. You have a fire department, you have a public works department, you have a finance department and on and on.

I understand leadership – and one of the problems with local officials in a lot of cases is that they go to the job and they’ve never had the authority before and they don’t know how to use it. What the staff at the county needs right now is somebody that understands the relationship between the policymakers and the practical, professional experts. And one of the first things that needs to happen is we need to stop micromanaging the county staff. And I guarantee you it’s going on, and it’s going on from both sides of the spectrum. I’m not going to name names but I know exactly who they are.

As far as issues, we’ve gone through the issues. I’m running an issue-oriented campaign and staying away from any kind of personal attacks on my opponent. I’ve proven that. Unfortunately, she hasn’t passed that particular test. And as far as ethics are concerned, it backs up into the honest and clean campaign. I’ve run one, I’m going to continue to run one, and I really believe I’ve got something to offer the county, and I think it’s resonating. We’ll see.

In the next four years, if you were only able to get one or two things done, what would they be?

There are issues that are interrelated. Moderate, well planned, sensible growth encompasses things like affordable housing, workforce housing. Wildfire threats and growth are clearly related, traffic is a symptom of growth . . .

There are some short-term traffic fixes we can do that are not expensive. We can improve Nevada City Highway at Brunswick, we can improve Idaho-Maryland and Brunswick, we can improve East Main at Idaho-Maryland – some of these are Grass Valley issues.

I think we can get a start on the drug problem, and we need to continue the impetus we got from the presentation of the Fire Safety Plan from [CDF chief] Tony Clarabut and his committee. I think we’re on the verge of really moving forward on that. It’s not perfect but it’s a good start. There are also short-term things we can do – we need to get people to start clearing the fuel off of their properties – we can do that short-term and long-term. There are some short-term traffic fixes we can take care of in four years. We need to figure out and move forward on making the county staff customer friendly, more effective, more efficient, more cost effective. And I think we can do that kind of thing in four years.

One of the things I’m going to do is write down three things. Something I want to do that’s achievable in four years, something I’d like to do that’s really hard to do but possibly we might get a start on, and then some fun things, too.

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