Inyo County District 1 Supervisor Candidates Forum
By Charles James
With only one week before the primary election, a District 1 County Supervisor Candidates’ Forum was held at the Bishop Senior Center on late Tuesday afternoon. Approximately 60 voters showed up in support of their candidates and interestingly, most of them showed by a vote of hands that they had already voted by absentee ballot, so there was actually little opportunity for the three candidates to change anyone’s mind on either issues or their candidacy.
Typically county voters in the Bishop area have an opportunity to attend at least two or three candidates’ forums, but this year, with the demise of the local Bishop California League of Women Voters, who sponsored the forums in the past, it almost did not happen at all. The Inyo Register newspaper felt, that as the largest local, county-wide news publication, county voters should have at least one forum before Election Day, so they stepped up to sponsor the event. They were joined by a group of volunteers from the Independence Civic Club, who are well-known for sponsoring and hosting candidates’ forums for the 4th and 5th Districts. They also had help from Dee Younger, the website owner of Blogging Bishop.
Four questions were given in advance to 1st District Candidates for the first part of the 2-part forum. After a brief break, questions were then
taken from the audience.
Asked the next day after the forum, Kammi Foote, the Inyo County Clerk/Recorder & Registrar of Voters, said that 377 absentee ballots have already been returned from the 1st District with is 18% of a total of the 2,145 voters registered in the 1st District. There have been 1,527 or approximately 16% of absentee ballots submitted county-wide from a total of 9,506 registered voters.
“Most voters will cast their vote in person on June 3,” Foote noted, “Statistically most Primary Elections in Inyo County garner over 50% turnout.” She went on to say, “This election is projected to have a historically low turn-out, but I would like to think that the reporting done on the debate may drive that percentage upwards,”
Because of the nature of some of the questions (some were simply not answerable) or the candidate’s unfamiliarity with an issue, there were times when candidates had to admit that they had little information on the subject or could make little comment. Clearly, the most prepared
candidate at the forum proved to be Dave Tanksley, although he often read his responses to the pre-forum questions that were given to all the candidates. To be fair, none of these men are professional politicians. They did not try to finesse many of the questions; if they did not know the answer or simply could not answer it, they said so, and they all came across as sincere, caring citizens.
The candidates for the 1st District Supervisor are also alike in many ways: successful middle-aged, white males and business owners with experience volunteering in the community. Totheroh used to work in government. Tanksley served in the Army. All three have interacted with city or county government as businessmen and concerned citizens on various issues, served on a citizen advisory board, or have met with one or more county supervisors or officials on a variety of issues.
Forty-six year county resident Dave Tanksley of Bishop owns a local construction company. He volunteered and chaired the Inyo County Natural Resources Advisory Committee until 2011. He told the audience that he has worked with the Board of Supervisors and with county departments from Planning, Public Works, and Environmental Health on many issues over many years.
Dan Totheroh of the community of Starlight owns a company that operates community water districts. He has served on the Starlight Community Services District for 17 years. He is proud of the more than 10 thousand hours he has volunteered to the Bishop Union High School. He also had a 30-year engineering career with the U.S. Forest Service.
Candidate Bill Stoll told the audience that he was raised in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles and worked as a salesman for a $5 million company for several years before deciding to move to the Eastern Sierra at the age of 30. “Working at local pack stations in the backcountry,” he says, “taught me to “get the city blood out of my system.” He has volunteered for the past eight years as a member of the County Planning Commission and noted that he was the only one on the County Planning Commission that voted “No” on the Renewable Energy General Plan Amendment and against LADWP’s proposed Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch.
The candidates answered the following questions:
Should the City of Bishop continue to receive 30 percent of the county’s half-cent sales tax in excess of $300,000? All three candidates said “Yes” and that they thought the agreement was fair, especially given that the City of Bishop generates a comparable percentage of the sales tax county-wide.
Stoll said the tax should not be used as a way for the county to get out of its current budget problems and that the county’s residents benefit from many of the law enforcement and social services provided. Totheroh said the tax was voted on and approved by the public and any changes would have to be approved by voters. Tanksley thought that many county residents benefit from the city’s parks programs and the city benefits from the county’s use of the funds for its solid waste program.
The candidates were asked to name their top three priorities for the county given a worsening fiscal picture and what cuts they would keep or let go.
Totheroh’s priorities were for creating more sustainable communities, utilizing the potential of the Digital 395 high-speed network to promote the county’s businesses and protect the uniqueness of the area, and protecting services to the elderly and youth. He wants to speak with department heads before making any judgments on cuts and is generally not in favor of eliminating programs, but rather selected program reductions.
Stoll said his top priority is tourism and that not enough is being done to promote it. He said we also need to work on our budget and we need to provide county employees with a positive working environment so that they can do their jobs effectively. As to possible budget cuts, he said that while he doesn’t know much about county spending on the issues related to the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Repository, he thinks it is something that the county does not need to spend money on.
Tanksley’s priorities would be to focus first on cost-cutting to deal with the budget problems. He also would talk to local businesses to see that their needs are being met so that the county doesn’t have more businesses closing. “Optimization of the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport,” says Tanksley, “should also be a top priority as well as District 1’s fire response capabilities.”
On the question of balancing the export of county resources, which generates county revenue, and the “detriment” it also poses to the tourist-based economy, Stoll spoke about the 71 mines that he says are operating in the county and doing well. As to dealing with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, he said that “you have to work with DWP as best you can.”
Tanksley noted that most of the County’s land is owned by LADWP, BLM, and the U.S. Forest Service. He feels the county is fortunate that leases to local ranchers for cattle and farmers for crops provide the county with “good stewards of the land.” He praised Southern California Edison and LADWP for keeping most of their lands open to the public for recreation and enjoyment of wildlife rather than opening them to development. He also acknowledged the benefits that mining has provided to the area over the county’s history with employment and revenue. “We cannot operate in a bubble. A multifaceted economy is the only way to sustain our community. Let’s not put all of our eggs in one basket.”
Totheroh said the premise that there are conflicting interests should be looked at carefully. It is not always so, he said. He gave the example of South Lake and Sabrina Lake being open for the public’s use as a “good example” of how a potentially conflicting interests and resources can be a benefit to the public and not a conflict of a use of a resource that promotes tourism.
He said that he would make decisions on the long-term interests of the public after first hearing from the public, and then looking at the constraints of applicable laws, agreements, and MOUs.
The final, if not perennial, question in Part 1 of the forum was the candidate’s position on the relationship between the County of Inyo and the LADWP on water issues and specifically their position on the Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch.
Tanksley noted that LADWP is one of the county’s largest contributors to the General Fund and provides a payroll of around $30 million. DWP employees he said are our neighbors, coaches, and a vital part of our communities. “We need to have an open dialogue and to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship.” He mentioned water conservation on the Owens Lake which he says is an important issue, especially if it can be kept here and used locally. He finished by stating that he supports the latest proposed REGPA that excluded the LADWP’s proposed SOVSR and that looking to the future, the county must be on alert over the possible construction of new power transmission corridors through the county.
Stoll acknowledged the “love-hate relationship” between the County and LADWP, but credited them with keeping its lands open to recreation. He is not in favor of large-scale industrial solar developments and prefers small projects and roof-top installation (a.k.a. point-of-use), although noting that roof-top installation can be an expensive proposition for many home owners.
Totheroh is also opposed to large-scale industrial solar development projects and thinks that roof-top solar installation should be looked at more closely, saying that he is opposed to any project that potentially harms local viewsheds. He feels the problem is more at the state level where green energy goals are established, often to the benefit of lobbying from large power companies.
To questions from the audience during Part 2 of the forum, all three candidates expressed the need for balancing interests when it comes to OHV/ATV use. Tanksley supports the Adventure Trails Program and feels it has great potential for bringing in revenue. Totheroh supports multiple use of roads. He believes in balancing competing interests and doing what is best for everyone in the long-term. Stoll acknowledged that he is an ATV user and he thinks it is a great thing to do with families.
Stoll and Tanksley are both undecided on the issue of the proposed new Consolidated County Services Building in Bishop especially in light of the current budget situation, with Tanksley saying he would like to see what the effects of the building might have on property tax revenue. Totheroh feels that “sometimes you have to spend to save.”
When asked if the cost of campaigning is worth it, all three candidates felt that, while it is difficult, it is worth it. All said they want to serve the public. Totheroh felt said that many of his neighbors suggested that he run. Stoll felt that his eight years on the Planning Commission convinced him that he wants to serve the people… and got a laugh from the audience when he said, “I’m getting’ old and construction is killin’ me!” Tanksley feels a sense of duty and that he can make a difference, “Besides,” he said, “I need to get away from the house being as I have been using my wife’s credit card for this campaign!”
To the question “What are some real, immediate steps the county can take to make opening and running a business easier?” the candidates seemed flummoxed. They appeared to entirely miss that the question was about supporting economic development and incentives for businesses.
Stoll said, “I’m not sure the county should be running businesses. That should be done by the private sector.” Tanksley praised the county saying the departments have served him and his business well. Totheroh said he’s worked with many counties and Inyo County is one of the most responsive counties he’s ever seen.
To a question about what they would do as a Supervisor about the embezzlement of funds at Health & Human Services and what steps could be taken to make sure it does not happen again within the county, all three candidates cited employee confidentiality issues and respect for the county chain-of-command within departments really do not give Supervisors control over such things.
Asked what their position was on LADWP’s proposed pumping of water from beneath Owens Lake, which will affect Owens springs, Tanksley said, “It’s really easy− I’m against it.” Totheroh said that he would consult with the Water Department’s Director Dr. Harrington. Stoll brought up a Planning Commission meeting saying, “A gentleman stood up and said, “Why can’t we just say ‘No’? So ‘No.’”
To a question on mineral extraction and opportunities in Inyo County, all three candidates support it. Totheroh said there should be a balance of resources and that extracting minerals on Forest Service land is a legitimate activity. Stoll felt that state mandates are killing the mines and that there should be room for mining in Inyo County. Tanksley said that he “had no problem with mineral extraction on public land.”