The future of Yuba County: Supervisor candidates discuss their plans | News

As part of the lead up to the June 7 direct primary election, the second of two candidate forums hosted by the Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Appeal-Democrat took place Wednesday night at the Yuba County Government Center in Marysville.

Among those who took part were candidates running for contested Yuba County Supervisor positions. They included incumbent Andy Vasquez and candidates Kristopher Kramer and Eric Mallow, who are all running in the Yuba County Board of Supervisors District One race; and candidates Zachary Cross, Bob Bagley and Jon Messick, who are all running for the Yuba County Board of Supervisors District Five seat.

On Wednesday, each candidate presented their vision for the future of Yuba County and how their presence on the board will affect the community.

First to give his opening statement at the forum was current Yuba County District One Supervisor Vasquez.

“I’m humbled to be given the opportunity to serve as the Yuba County Supervisor for District One,” Vasquez said. “I take my role as representative seriously and my goals are simple: To improve the lives of those that choose to make Yuba County their home. Jobs will solve 90 percent of Yuba County’s problems. To do this our building department implemented Yes to Yuba and it is becoming more business friendly.”

Vasquez then rattled off his life experiences and the accomplishments he had overseen during his time as supervisor, including “10 years of repaving in one year” in Yuba County.

Kramer, who said he was not a politician but a “concerned citizen,” said now is the time to “change the way our county governs.”

He said if elected he wants to prioritize Yuba County citizens. As part of that prioritization, Kramer would like to see a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) plan put in place. This idea is described as a “local government determining that it will make the electricity purchase choices for its residents instead of having the Investor Owned Utility (IOU) make these choices,” the Appeal previously reported.

“My CCA plan will form a power broker for the county and we’ll be able to sell power at a retail rate instead of a wholesale rate and also provide cheaper power to the community and residents,” Kramer said.

He also said he wants to focus on using labor from Yuba County for county contracts and increase transparency about decisions made by the local government.

Mallow said as a foreman/supervisor for Union Pacific Railroad he understands structure and unity.

“I think that’s what we’re lacking in this community. My main question to everyone is not what you want me to do, it’s what can I do for you as constituents? That’s the question that gets left out by most politicians and I’m not a politician,” Mallow said. “The elected officials have forgotten that people come first and foremost and they do not have a voice out here. I’ve talked to many of them and they feel that there’s no representation. I think that’s very vital.”

Mallow said with increased division taking place both locally and nationally, he would like to bring unity to the community.

“The other thing that we really need to work on is unity. Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or liberal, we can all work together for the same cause,” Mallow said. “I see so much division in this country it’s actually heartbreaking. So as a supervisor I want to bring the communities together. … What can we do as a community to build it together? I think that’s the major question and we will overcome those bridges together as a community.”

Without providing specifics, Mallow said as a supervisor he will protect “civil rights” and the “constitutional rights” of constituents. 

“They’re concerned about it and if you’re not out there talking to them, you don’t know what they want,” Mallow said. “So it’s not about what I’m gonna do, it’s about what they want me to do if they elect me.”

The first of the District Five candidates to speak on Wednesday night was Cross.

“I’ve lived here all of my life and I’ve been a volunteer and an activist,” Cross said. “You might have seen me working on such things as ‘Stop Dollar General’ in Loma Rica, which wasn’t very popular at the time which seems to be OK now. One of Andy’s (Vasquez) recall attempts. I’ve registered probably close to 300 voters in the last eight years.”  

Cross said his main concerns for the county are water and crime. 

“Water is where it is at, ladies and gentlemen. We are in a drought for yet another year. Luckily we have 81 percent capacity in New Bullards Bar Dam. We need to expand our conveyance … We need to take the old miner waterways, which we still have water rights to, and convey water for example from Bullards Bar into Collins Lake,” Cross said. “We have a crime problem in the hills which many of you know about. Crime and water is where it’s at. I believe 20-plus years of activism and volunteering in the area, creating a network of like-minded individuals to fix community problems is going to be an asset that I bring to the table that my opponents do not. I’m here to run for supervisor because our entire community was put into disarray for three years, just like the rest of the country. We have a lot of work to do.”

Bagley, a resident of the District Five area for more than 33 years and a former retail manager, said he will be focused on leadership and management training. 

“I’m retired. I have unlimited time to serve as your supervisor,” Bagley said. “I am passionate about forest management, fire risk reduction, the out of control cost of fire insurance, broadband expansion, protecting agriculture and preserving farmland. I also support the construction of the second spillway on Bullards Bar Dam.”

To highlight his experience that would be essential for the supervisor position, Messick, who was born and raised in Hallwood, said he spent 13 years on the Yuba County Planning Commission and is the current commander of the Yuba-Sutter Sheriff’s Aero-Squadron.

“My goal is just to make Yuba County a safer place for the next generations to come,” Messick said.

After their opening statements, the supervisor candidates answered several questions related to the seats they are seeking to fill. The following is a summary of their answers.

What is your vision for the future of Yuba County?

Kramer said he imagines a tight-knit community that is well-informed and involved. 

“I plan to lead by example,” he said.

To accomplish that goal, Kramer said he wanted to work on the CCA plan and make sure that work done in Yuba County is done by county residents.

“We are going to invest in our citizens by using resident-owned businesses and supplies to fulfill our county contracts when possible and keep our money in Yuba County,” Kramer said. “I would like to start an annual community day and other community events to bring everybody together. Going to create a fire explorer program and work with the union trade center to create an apprenticeship program to help keep kids off the streets.”

Mallow’s vision and focus is the area’s youth and making sure there are opportunities for them.

“They are our future for the generations to come and we really need to invest in them and I don’t see a whole lot of that right now,” Mallow said. 

He also said he wants to work on the homelessness problems that exist in the area.

“We’ve already initiated working on the homeless issue,” Mallow said. “… I’ve talked to (Sheriff) Wendell (Anderson) about it. We’ve already actually implemented some programs. There are a few facilities we’re looking at to actually do mental health. These people, we can look down at them at our nose all we want, but they actually need help. Some of them are addicts and some of them choose to be homeless.”

He also said with regards to economic expansion, he wants to keep the history of downtown intact and be “very selective” on what is brought to the area.

Cross said his vision and plan for Yuba County is the community’s plan and vision for water. He said along with increased conveyance, the county needs extra water storage.

“We have two planned dams that have been proposed and a lot of the work’s been done. One is above New Bullards that would increase extra storage,” Cross said. “If we’re gonna spend a quarter-billion dollars to half-a-billion dollars on an emergency spillway, which may or may not even save us from a 1,000-year flood being that it’s a concrete dam and it is used for an emergency spillway itself, perhaps we should look into spending that money on water storage.”

Bagley said he wants to continue being a “yes” county.

“I want to continue working with that,” Bagley said. “When you go into the departments of Yuba County, we have begun to see a trend where they’re working with the public trying to find out ways to say yes. I want to continue enhancing that.” 

Messick said he wants “smart growth” in Yuba County.

“We need to grow where we have infrastructure for growth, which is down in south county where it’s already been approved and protect our rural areas,” Messick said. “Representing District Five I have pretty much the entire county and all of the rural area. I’d like to protect that rural area. Part of the protection of that is for fire safety.”

He said he would like to work with logging companies to get back into the “logging and grazing” of forests to increase fire safety. Messick also said he would like to bring in more manufacturing businesses in and around the airport.

“We have a lot of infrastructure around the airport for manufacturing,” he said.

Vasquez said the biggest “disaster” that could happen to the county is for the state to take over New Bullards Bar.

“Unfortunately, what most people don’t realize is the state giveth, the state could taketh away,” Vasquez said. “Right now we’re one of the bigger targets. One of the first things we do for every new supervisor is to send them down to legal to discuss what they can and can’t do with the water. That is the most important thing. If we lose that, we lose everything.”

What areas of improvement are needed in your district?

Mallow said what’s really needed is something for kids in the area to do.

“What I get from everybody I’ve talked to is there’s nothing for the kids. There’s absolutely nothing around for them to enjoy,” Mallow said. “We’ve talked and threw around what would be beneficial. We know that there’s a homeless issue there. So that’s the big question is if we do implement and put parks in, are they gonna be tore up?”

Cross said District Five needs more vocational training and more coordination between the different water districts in the Yuba County foothills.

“We have an issue up in the foothills where we have multiple water districts fighting with each other. North Yuba Water District and South Feather are two of them,” Cross said. “In order to get water conveyed to all irrigation district customers, we need Browns Valley Irrigation District, Yuba Water Agency, North Yuba Water District and South Feather working together. That’s going to allow us to move water around from where it is at to where we need it. … We have to get these people working together.”

Bagley said a pipeline is the answer to water issues in the district.

“By running a pipeline you eliminate seepage. You eliminate saturation. You eliminate theft,” Bagley said. “And so putting a pipeline in District Five will allow us to supply water to all the district with no trouble whatsoever. Without that, we’ll continue having issues with not getting the water to all the folks in District Five that need it.”

He said another area of improvement in District Five is protecting against catastrophic wildfires.

“One of the couple things that I’d like to see improved is bring back grazing,” Bagley said. “We need to get grazing back, so we eliminate all the brush underneath that is really causing the fires. We’ve already been given grants which we’ll be working on feverishly to clear the roadsides and to thin the trees and take down the trees that are dead that cause the fires to go.”

Messick agreed that the improvements needed are water and fire protection. 

“Saving our water, providing our water, goes hand-in-hand with fire reduction. … I would also be in favor of more logging, which also clears out the underbrush,” Messick said. 

He said he’d also like to see more deputies in the foothills and another code enforcement officer. Messick said with regards to permitting, he’d like people to be able to put up small animal barns for 4-H projects without having to go through an entire building permit process.

Vasquez said he wants a continuation of the growth that has been happening in Yuba County. He then detailed some of the housing and other projects that have been occurring in the county.

Kramer said the biggest problems in District One are homelessness, no sense of community, and crime.

“For crime, I would like to work with Wendell Anderson to make sure that he has everything he needs to provide safety to the community,” Kramer said. “For homelessness, I would like to look into other municipalities who have created programs to help the homeless. A lot of the blueprints for problems we are having are already out there.” 

What kinds of businesses do you think Yuba County could attract and what will you do to make sure those businesses are interested in the county?

Cross said the first thing he wants to do is try and bring an Amazon fulfillment center to the area around the airport. Another business he feels would be ideal for District Five is an ammunition manufacturing facility.

“We all seem to really like our ammunition and guns around here,” Cross said. “Definitely got secure areas up there in the wilderness. Why not bring it in, especially with the shortages we have.”

Bagley said infrastructure is required in order to bring in new business. He also wants to continue the Yes to Yuba program.

“There’s a lot of things involved … but I think one of the main things they’ve done and I will continue to do and work on enhancing is the fact that when you go into the department there and you want to start a business, we now have a program that we can improve even more where they will take you step by step on how to start a business,” Bagley said.

Messick said utilizing existing infrastructure around the Yuba County Airport will allow more agriculture manufacturing to come into the county.

Vasquez said current projects and plans are already in place to help spur economic development in the area.

Kramer said he wants to encourage small business growth, instead of bringing in money from outside organizations.

“To encourage that, I think the county could offer microloans, work with some local banks and lenders to offer the same thing,” Kramer said. “Do some easier permitting. Maybe even suspend sales tax for a duration.”

He said cleaning up North Beale also is a way to bring in more businesses.

Mallow said expenses and permitting are preventing businesses from coming to the county.

“Right now, with the economy the way it is, we really have to get together with a fortitude of people to actually come up with a plan of what we want to bring in here, what’s gonna be beneficial,” Mallow said. “I want to be the dumbest guy in the room with the smartest people around me to help grow this community. … Permitting is not enticing up here. Businesses don’t want to come up here because of the crime. So, we’re gonna have to clean those things up to entice businesses to come in.”

How would you make sure more affordable housing is available in the county?

Bagley said “second-unit housing” is a real opportunity for the county. He also said by continuing to build homes, competition will bring down prices.

Messick said infill lots around places such as Linda and Olivehurst are hurting development.

“Big developers don’t want to go in there and buy these lots in old subdivisions,” Messick said. “I’d like to see the county come up with an incentive program for lesser building fees or maybe even collect the building fees at final and get some of these local, smaller builders to build on these infill lots and they’ll be less expensive and more affordable for first-time buyers.”

Vasquez pointed to the fact that the county put in “149 Section 8 units in Cedar Lane.” He also mentioned there have been some builders taking advantage of infill lots. 

“It’s happening,” he said.

Kramer said affordable housing in the county is a real issue.

“The average household income in Yuba County is $55,000. Before the pandemic, the average home in California was $250,000, so do the math,” Kramer said. “With costs today we have to be idea oriented – come any, come all. There are grants to help cover some of the costs. But grants are a double-edged sword sometimes. Maybe it’s time to revisit some older proposals that were introduced to the county that people couldn’t come to agreement on.”

Mallow said until there are “more jobs and more structure,” the idea of building more homes should be questioned.

“The income here just isn’t there. Until we can actually revive jobs to have people to have the incomes, we need to come up with low-income housing programs,” Mallow said. “But that’s gonna consist on what we bring in here economically, because if there’s no jobs, who’s gonna move here?”

Cross said along with filling vacant lots and continuing what the county is doing, he wants to use Yuba Water Agency funds to build affordable senior living housing.

“You can build an affordable senior living with solar batteries, everything, moving them out of a flood zone and out of a fire zone,” Cross said. “I don’t have a location picked out for this. But what I figured is if we move our seniors and giving preferential treatment to disabled veterans first, that will open up other housing that maybe they’re living in right now that’s more affordable also to allow more people to get out of their parent’s house or whatever is going on in modern America after the pandemic.” 

How should power generation revenues be spent by Yuba Water Agency?

In his answer, Messick discussed how the power is sold.

“There’s a lot of people talking about plans right now that they can only wholesale that power, they can’t retail that power to the customers,” Messick said. “But the county can come up and form a CSA and then they can buy the power wholesale and sell it to Yuba County residents at retail price, which would be less than we’re paying now. I would be in favor of doing that as long as the county’s not taking over the worn out, dilapidated infrastructure of PG&E. As long as we’re gonna continue to pay PG&E to transmit the power and not take on that liability of their infrastructure failing.”

Vasquez said what can and can’t be done with Yuba Water Agency revenues is restricted.

“The Yuba County Water Agency Act requires us to do specific things,” Vasquez said. “That’s why we started sending people down to the lawyer’s office to get a hour-and-a-half to two-hour (lesson) on what we can do with that money and what we can’t do with that money. Because if we do the wrong thing, if we violate that act, they (the state) can come back in and modify it. And when they do that, they’re gonna be after us. Like I said, the worst thing that can happen is to lose the water agency. So, you have to stay according to the restrictions.”

Kramer said forming a CCA program would increase the amount of money from power generation.

“But first, I’d like to invest that money back into the infrastructure for the power generation to make sure that Yuba County has that for a long time,” Kramer said. “And then we should also use the extra money to pay down our debts. Yuba County has some debt and we should pay it down.”

Mallow said he also would like to see that revenue invested into improving infrastructure and possibly more power generation plants around Bullards Bar.

Cross said revenues need to be spent in accordance with restrictions already in place. He said he would like to see a reservoir and another dam also built.

“We can spend money right and left all day long,” Cross said. “The agency’s only increasing its revenue streams. But that energy money, we have to spend in a correct way and infrastructure is where it’s at – emergency roads to go along with the increased ditches and other conveyance.”

Bagley said he would work with the water agency to make sure everyone in Yuba County has the water they need. He said funds can be used to extend and install piping to deliver water.

“We definitely need water down in the Wheatland area and I think these funds can definitely be used for doing that because it will fall under the guidelines of money used by the water agency,” Bagley said.

On Thursday, DeDe Cordell, communications manager for Yuba Water Agency, detailed the limits of agency spending.

“Yuba Water Agency does not have the authority to spend money on things like affordable housing or paying down the county’s debts. The agency was created by the state of California, and the agency act that governs us spells out the specific limitations and authorities we have – what we can and cannot spend our time and money on, legally,” Cordell said in an email. “Those areas in which we have authorities are: water supply; flood control and storm water; wholesale power generation (no retail authority, meaning we cannot sell direct to residents); recreation related to our hydropower license (through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission); fire and watershed protection (to protect water, ensure it is available for firefighting and to protect water quality); contamination/pollution prevention for surface or groundwater; environmental mitigation authority – for example, managing and improving fish habitat; investment authority – investing in bonds or providing loans to other government agencies; public information and education; and the ability to reimburse the county for costs related to our needs, such as the cost of running an election related to us or providing law enforcement at New Bullards Bar, etc.

“So with any requests we get – whether it is a project for us to do ourselves, or for us to provide a grant or loan to others, we have to consider the request against this list of authorities, and if we cannot find a connection, we cannot spend the money.”

Messick, in his closing statement, said his experience in county departments and as a business owner have allowed him to know what comes with the role of supervisor.

“I’m a hands-on guy. So when you call me, I’m not gonna talk to you on the phone,” Messick said. “I’m gonna make an appointment and drive up there. Just as I did in my 13 years on the planning commission. I went and drove and personally looked at every project before I made any decision on it and talked to not only the applicant, but the neighboring people around there.”

Bagley said there are “many challenges and opportunities in Yuba County.” He said water must be managed properly in order to prevent the state from taking over Yuba Water Agency.

Along with reducing the risk of wildfires, Bagley said public protection of the county must be the number one priority.

“Our current budget for public protection is 75 percent of our discretionary fund budget,” Bagley said. “We must continue to support all facets of law enforcement to ensure we keep the people safe. The county has been making progress in dealing with the homeless issue, but we need to intensify the efforts.”

Bagley said because the district is so large, he would like to develop an “ambassador program” to be able to meet the needs of each community.

“I would ask for a volunteer within each community to be the ears of that community. I would meet with these ambassadors on a quarterly basis,” Bagley said. “I will always be available to meet with the people, but these ambassadors will surely assist in my awareness of the concerns. We will together, as a community, work to address the concerns.”

Cross said crime is a serious issue in District Five.

“We have stolen cars being parked, parted out and set on fire,” Cross said. “We have cartel grows up there taking our young ladies from the area and basically enslaving them up there.” 

Cross said he wants to “clean up crime” and corruption in the government.

“We’ve watched what most of the people who sit on this dais during regular times did during the pandemic,” Cross said. “They shut everything down. They took your choices and they made them their own, just like everybody else grabbing power and money in our government during the last three years. I will always keep the power with you because I am one of you.” 

Mallow said he wants to help the youth and the “addiction issue” that is causing homelessness. 

“I want to work with the community. I want to work for the people,” Mallow said. “When you elect me, I work for you. I don’t have an agenda. I’m not a politician.”

In reference to a shirt he wore at a recent Tea Party candidate forum, Mallow said he was not a believer of the wide-reaching conspiracy theory known as QAnon.

“I want to clear some stuff up, I’m not a QAnon conspiracy theorist. I’m not part of a militia,” Mallow said. “Do I like General (Michael) Flynn? Absolutely. Do I agree with everything? No. So, I wanted to clear the air with that. I am a blue collar worker. I have been most of my life. I run four gangs for the railroad. We do maintenance. So I see the infrastructure first-hand in America and how vital it is.”

Kramer said he has a vision for the county that “propels ourselves forward without outside interest” and with an agenda focused on Yuba County.

“I hope everyone in here does a deep dive into everybody on this panel and I would like to turn Yuba County around and I need your vote to do so. Let’s do this together,” Kramer said.

Vasquez highlighted the accomplishments that the county has achieved during his time as supervisor.

“The Yuba County real estate market bottomed out in 2013,” Vasquez said. “Real estate values have since doubled in value in some places and interest rates are still low. In the last three years, we’ve completed over 1,600 homes. This year we should complete 600-plus homes.”

He said the outlook for the future of Yuba County was the “brightest it’s been in years and with the current direction of our board of supervisors we’ll have a prosperous county.” 

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