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Friday, May 30, 2008

County Supervisor Hopefuls Meet in League of Women Voters' Candidates Forum

Just a few days before the June 3, 2008 election and for the first time, the three county supervisor candidates met for a candidates forum moderated by Jean Canary of the Davis League of Women Voters. This is the only chance fourth district residents would get a chance to see the candidates square off. There was a decent crowd of mostly the usual suspects in attendance, but the event was televised on Cable Channel 15 throughout the community, a telecast that should be replayed a few times for those who missed it.

Each candidate got four minutes to make an opening statement and answer the three prepared questions.

John Ferrera in his opening statement talked about his commitment to preserving Davis as the special place that it is. He then went on to talk about both his community experience on the library board for six years and his professional experience in Sacramento most recently as Chief of Staff to State Senator Denise Ducheney. He is proud of his endorsements from County Supervisors Helen Thomson and Mike McGowan, Sheriff Ed Prieto, former County Supervisor Betsy Marchand, DA Jeff Reisig, and Davis Councilmember Stephen Souza and Ruth Asmundson. He said that he felt we need leadership in this county, and that is not about waiting to see which way the wind is blowing. He has worked on issues that he will face as a member of the Board of Supervisors in the next four years. He looks to turn problems into opportunities in order to meet challenges.

Jim Provenza talked about how his career was based on the notion that he would go out and help the poor and disenfranchised rather than trying to make a lot of money. As a result, early in his career, he represented victims of housing and employment discrimination. He related a story about how they cut the budget for his job and he went to work for free continuing to help people until the funding was restored. He looked toward maximum jurisprudence--for all wrongs there is a remedy and he has sought through his career to fix the wrongs. He is proud of the four years he served on the school board. He talked about working hard to lift up and represent low achieving students, particularly Hispanic students, and that his work helped to increase scores. This he was particularly proud of. He cited his record as an assistant to the Los Angeles District Attorney's office and his enforcement of environmental laws for other counties that could not afford to fight their own cases. He wants to take the same values to the Board of Supervisors in Yolo County. His vision is to preserve Yolo County as an agricultural county, to build a strong agricultural economy and to be a model for other counties.

Cathy Kennedy talked about herself as being a business woman from the private sector, and having a very different set of attributes from the men to her right. She is a high school drop out from a dysfunctional home. In this election, instead of being ashamed of that background, she has put this to the forefront. She said it takes grit and perseverance to rise up from poverty. She learned that she have to give in order to feel better. She had a teen daughter at 18, and she never married. In 2005, she took an estranged relative's child. She called that child who was 14 and he wanted to know about his other two siblings. When she told him that she could not take on three kids, he offered up his youngest sibling. She eventually took the three kids. From that perspective she saw the county from the side of someone who received services and she said that we are not getting what we think we are getting, the social services program is not what we think it is. These things need to change.

The first question related to the pass-through agreement and whether it was sufficient to protect the county.

Jim Provenza said the pass-through agreement is not simply about the shifting of revenue. Rather it is an agreement through the city and county, to preserve agricultural land. Davis' planning area includes the best farmland in the area. The pass-through agreement gives the county redevelopment funds in exchange for them to not develop in the Davis planning area. During the entire period of the pass-through the amount is roughly $84 million which is not an insignificant total. It preserves our way of life in Yolo County and encourages growth within cities. It discourages sprawl development. We are losing thousands of acres of farmland each year in California--up to a half million acres. Once paved over, that farmland is forever lost. Agriculture is the strength of our economy. We need to fight to keep the pass-through agreement in effect. We can always look to update it, the last update was in 2001. We need to work together between the city and county to make sure we protect agriculture. In fact, he said there are provisions within the agreement to work together and consult when issues arise. City and county need to work together to support development and growth that fits the needs of both jurisdictions while preserving the pass-through agreement.

Cathy Kennedy said that while she agrees with much of what Jim Provenza said, she does not think the pass-through agreement is sufficient. She does not know if the county needs are being served at present by the agreement. While she respects city rights, she said that the county also needs to serve its constituents and act in terms of what the county needs are. And the county is in a budget crisis at present and needs to look toward generating revenue.

John Ferrera cited the pass-through as a tremendous example of cooperation between the city and county. It was first entered into by Betsy Marchand and Dave Rosenberg as a way to preserve services from the county while at the same time allowing Davis a decision on growth on its periphery. Originally this was based on an economic study on the cost to the county for providing services and a method for relieving the pressure on the county to seek housing for revenue. Cooperation is an important thing about this relationship. We need to insure revenue from the pass-through agreement is sufficient to keep the city of Davis from losing services. He thinks this protection is important, but we need a cooperative relationship that includes dialogue, consultation, and cooperation.

Next the candidates were asked about the current budget crisis and which programs were a priority to protect.

Cathy Kennedy said that we need to protect the alcohol, drug, and mental health department. She said this service is essential and needs to be improved. She also cited law enforcement and the Sheriff's Department as a high priority. During a bad economy, we are likely to suffer from more crime. She then shifted focus to longer term issues and said that we need to bring in more business to produce business revenue for the county and create more jobs.

John Ferrera argued that there was not enough money at any level of government. We need to protect direct services to people particularly seniors, children, mentally ill, and people who serve them directly. We need to build a strong reserve during good times to avoid these problems. We must do business differently in this county. Some departments such as public works and economic development have too little resources. He wants to look at ways to combine these two to improve both. He wants to preserve agricultural land by building jobs and revenue. He wants to add value to the agricultural products. We need to do a better job of supporting farmers here so that they do not have to truck their product out of the county and use our roads and consume gas and oil. Finally we need to invest in green technology as a means for both revenue and jobs.

Jim Provenza said that the short term is the most difficult and that we need to protect elderly, low income, and public safety. He said it is important to look at how we got to this point. He cited problems with poor management in some of the county departments like the housing authority and mental health. He said one of the reasons Yolo County is having a problem is that the state balances its budget on the backs of counties, and small counties get hit the hardest. He advocates for a fairer state budget which can enhance revenue to the counties when necessary. He talked about the fact that the state often will make cuts during tough times but not raise it again when revenues increase. He would like to see Yolo County join the rural caucus as a means to work with other rural counties toward harvesting revenues and funds. We also need to look toward longer term development--he emphasizes economic development and particularly environmentally sustainable agriculture. We need to look at which crops will do well in the future. We need to work with the university and regionally. The water supply is a big concern particularly since global climate change may produce less water. Finally we need to get a fair share of state and local revenues.

The third and final prepared question dealt with protecting the environment, meeting housing needs, and urban development in small and rural areas.

John Ferrera talked about the fact that the county has a tradition of growing near urban centers in order to preserve agricultural land. We do have the legal responsibility to take some growth, to do it efficiently in a way that respects farmland and the environment. He has worked with agencies that have done excellent long-term planning. He wants to produce revenue that will enable the preservation of habitat, smart and infill growth around transportation hubs. He wants to protect the environment and to insure that we also protect prime agricultural land. Small communities need to preserve their nature.

Jim Provenza talked about how not to manage growth and discussed communities where the cities have merged together and one cannot tell where one ends and another begins without a sign. He wants to consider growth around cities. He wants growth as infill and in incorporated areas to avoid sprawl. The creation of new communities such as Dunnigan, which is a small area that may become a future city. We need to look at where these developments occur and plan for housing, jobs, and transportation simultaneously so that the people who live there do not automatically have to commute 50 miles to Sacramento in order to go to work. He wants to avoid creating urban islands that are isolated and require transportation and commuting. He has a bias toward allowing the cities to be the ones that develop housing and engage in urban planning. He wants the county to work in cooperation and to be a partner. It must have mutual benefits. He believes that there should be an emphasis on incorporated areas because many unincorporated areas have higher costs in terms of services and are not as well maintained.

Cathy Kennedy believes we should allow unincorporated and small areas to grow. They deserve to have some development so that they might become future incorporated cities of their own. She cautioned about creating hubs around the county. She however is in favor of protecting agricultural land as these places are not replaceable. She said we do not need to sell out to developers. She would be fine with building 10,000 more homes and then stopping.

Then there were a series of short questions and a wrap. I just briefly summarize some key points.

They were asked about raising local property taxes and sales taxes. Cathy Kennedy said she was not in favor of raising taxes in a downturned economy, she would look to shore up inefficiencies first. Jim Provenza cited the difficulty of raising property taxes due to Proposition 13. He said it was a last option but cannot take it off the table. We need to spend money wisely, ensure that we do not waste it, and take care of the people in our community whether they are kids, poor, and the elderly. John Ferrera said that when you do budgets you have to make hard decisions. You need to make sure the county works efficiently. Some programs are good when have lots of funding, but in tough times you have to pick some things like schools over other programs.

In their wrap up John Ferrera said that he is running because he believes in providing for people. He believes we can protect agricultural land and still do all of the other things we want. We can lead the world rather than have the world forced on us. We need to do more long term planning and be proactive. We need to provide for ourselves and not rely on other governments. We should not have to rely on Bay Area growth and other growth to drive our policies.

Jim Provenza talked about not having to make false choices, that we do not have to choose between environmental protection, agriculture and growth. Talked about the improvement with relations with the city when he was on the school board and wants to see the same for the county and the city.

Cathy Kennedy talks about integrity, honor, follow through and dealing even-handedly with everyone as her qualities. She said it is important that she has garnered the support of law enforcement. She cites the DPOA, the Yolo County Deputy Sheriffs, and PORAC as key supporters. Nothing is important unless people are safe. No one wants to be here unless they are safe.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting