While not nearly as pointed as the District 3 debate, District 1 Supervisor candidates Bud Pinkham and Alan Ishida touched all of the issues important to eastern Tulare County such as urban sprawl, public safety, health care, roads and economic growth.
In their opening statements, both Ishida and Pinkham said their No. 1 priority was public safety, that economic development would be vital to the county's future and that educating our children would not only keep them in the area but develop a highly-skilled workforce to help attract new and diversified industries.
Ishida also talked about limiting urban growth to incorporated cities and their surrounding areas to avoid an "increased strain on public service agencies." Pinkham said cities and the county government must work together to solve the financial and logistical problems in Tulare County. He also mentioned that "drugs and water are two major problems."
Following the opening statements, Ishida and Pinkham responded to the following questions from the audience.
1. How do you feel about revising Tulare County's General Plan?
Background: Workshops and study sessions have been held by a planning consulting firm since last fall to gather public input on where they see the county in 20 years. The plan establishes where urban growth should occur, what areas are to remain ag land and how natural resources and scenic areas should be protected. The county's General Plan has not had a comprehensive update since the 1970s.
Ishida: I think this is our most crucial obligation. Growth will have a tremendous impact on us. Residential growth should be confined to the incorporated cities and not spread into the county.
Pinkham: This is the biggest decision in two to three years. Everyone has to get involved. There are many segments of residents that have not participated and they must. We need to follow this plan into the future with as few detours as possible.
2. Should we update the Rural Valley Lands Plan?
Background: It is part of the land use element of the General Plan that attempts to preserve 800,000 acres of ag land on the Valley floor. There is a point system used to decide if a piece of land should remain agricultural or be developed.
Ishida: We need this to stay in place. When we have exceptions there is a ripple effect that creates hardships on the ag community. I don't believe in expanding onto farm land.
Pinkham: This is the most objective way to determine if land should stay ag or not. I think the board was wrong in [overturning a Planning Commission decision to preserve a piece of land based on the point system]. I would have voted in the minority. If you deviate from the plan sooner or later you don't have a plan at all.
3. Did the board do the right thing to reopen the Pretrial Facility?
Background: The $22 million facility was closed in 2001, just three years after it opened, due to lack of sufficient funds. Sheriff Bill Whitman worked with the U.S. Marshall's Service on an agreement to house federal inmates there to help pay for the facility. The facility already needed $500,000 in repairs and would have deteriorated the longer it remained unused. However, the facility is still not housing up to its full capacity of 384 inmates. The facility is expected to help with overcrowding at the Main Jail. In 2003, 1,900 criminals were released before their sentences were up.
Ishida: You learn in business finance that the cost of closing can often far exceed the loss of operating. There are many fixed costs like fire insurance and maintenance that are there even if the building is empty. They made the right decision because the deterioration may be far beyond what it would cost to reopen later.
Pinkham: The Sheriff made the right decision. He worked to get as many prisoners as possible. The facility relieves overcrowding of our Main Jail instead of turning them loose. There is already an investment there and an empty building will deteriorate.
4. How would you enhance public safety?
Background: The Board of Supervisors recently approved a plan to eliminate 24 full-time firefighter positions at six county fire stations. Those stations are now staffed by paid call, or volunteer, firefighters only. Tulare County is one of the largest counties in terms of square miles and public service is spread thinly across it.
Ishida: We need to reaffirm our commitment to public safety. There are not enough men in the field. I rode with the Sheriff and it is frightening how thinly we are stretched. I think a lot of people would be shocked. We need development impact fees [to pay for more manpower].
Pinkham: We can't rely on the state to fund counties and cities. We must work together to find more efficiency. Measure T should have been a county-wide sales tax measure. The cities and counties could have worked together to pass it. This is our No. 1 priority.
5. What would you do to address health care issues in the county?
Background: According to the Department of Health Services, Tulare County failed to reach national objectives in 20 of 21 mortality rate categories and ranked in the lowest third in 16 categories. Tulare County ranks 17 of 58 counties for the highest number of mental health cases. The Attorney General's Office reports that 15 percent of criminal cases involve mental health issues.
Ishida: The issue of mental health care especially is very complicated. Mental health care is the No. 1 issue in law enforcement. We have not addressed it in the county and if affects all public safety issues.
Pinkham: This the most complicated issue. Costs are astronomical and insurance costs are growing. There is no true answer. Everyone is entitled to medical care. There are many departments that deal with health care [in the county]. I think this may have to be solved at a higher level.
6. How would you improve roadways in ag areas?
Background: About 3,000 of Tulare County's 5,000 miles or roadways are in unincorporated areas of the county, according to the Tulare County Road Commissioner. However, the county only receives about 6 cents for every 18 cents you pay for Gas Tax.
Ishida: I live five minutes outside of town so I drive on a lot of these roads. Gas tax money is taken by the state and we have been fighting that issue of years because the county is not receiving its fair share. We will have to form coalitions to get it back.
Pinkham: There are 3,000 miles or roadway [in the county]. [The county] gets less than 18 cents on every gallon of gasoline. We only get $2,500 [per mile] a year and we shouldn't have to pay prevailing wage on road projects.
7. How will the county budget address state shortfalls and its own budget problems?
Ishida: We need development impact fees. Fresno County has had them for 20-30 years. We also need to take advantage of unincorporated towns. Some of these towns have infrastructure in place to grow and attract new business. We need to stop hoping for the carrot at the end of the rainbow.
Pinkham: We need to be more efficient in working with cities and we need to pass Propositions 1A and 65. If all else fails we need impact fees or a countywide sales tax measure.