Election 2020: Audience questions candidates about homelessness, poverty

Candidates from Tulare County Districts 1 and 3 answer questions regarding their plans on homelessness, poverty and business

By Paul Myers

VISALIA – Visalia’s 210 Café played host to two tightly contested supervisor forums last week.

Held in partnership by the Visalia Chamber of Commerce and The Sun-Gazette, candidates for Tulare County District 1 and District 3 board supervisor were asked a bevy of questions. The most notable revolved around homelessness and poverty in the county.

District 3

Where there were several questions from the crowd, the race for Tulare County District 3 board supervisor is predominantly about homelessness. 

Incumbent Supervisor Amy Shuklian, who serves on the Tulare County Homeless Task Force, said that she is proud of the efforts she has made to solve the problem. And that she is encouraged by the solutions suggested by the county commissioned report that published late last year. Most notably, helping landlords get on board to take in homeless tenants.

“There is no silver bullet,” Shuklian said. “There are some good strategies in [the Homebase report]. What I like is the landlord mitigation program.”

Candidate for district three, Brad Maaske, said that he has been in real estate for his entire professional career, and pointed out how homelessness has grown.

“I’ve been in housing all my life. In my neighborhood I know about 100 homeless people by name,” Maaske said. 

Last week, Maaske published his plan to solve homelessness if he were to be elected. Centered around fallowed land north of Visalia, Maaskey proposes constructing a tent and trailer city to house the homeless.

“We’ll provide food, shelter, medical and social services and provide a safe, temporary facility to house the homeless. We don’t need anymore costly studies,” Maaske wrote in a campaign press release. 

At the forum last Tuesday, Maaske estimated that his tent and trailer city would help between 400 and 600 homeless currently camping in parks. Beyond his press release and estimate Maaske did not reveal how much the plan would cost, or any further specifics. 

His plan did come under fire when Shuklian said that an estranged tent and trailer city is not the answer. Instead she opted for a low-barrier shelter that the homeless would have access to in town. 

“Hands down we need low-barrier shelters…not a fabricated village or whatever you want to call it,” Shuklian said. “To me it’s a low-barrier shelter, not 10 miles out of town…with access to services.”

Audience questions refocused on mental health care later in the forum. Maaske continued to stand behind his plan to create a city for the homeless that presumably has healthcare, mental health services and other types of medical services. Shuklian noted that requiring people take advantage of mental health services is a high bar if they do not want them.

She then pointed to the task force’s solution to pair a social worker with the Visalia, Homeless Outreach & Proactive Enforcement (HOPE) team. The plan was devised by the task force to help the homeless where they are, instead of simply encouraging them to seek out services on their own.

During their closing statements, Maaske drew the starkest contract between him and Shuklian. He noted that his background has been in business, and therefore brings a fresh perspective to government.

“I’ve been self employed and I think that people, when they’re self employed, and conservative, think differently,” Maaske said.

Shuklian pointed to her dedication to service over the past four years, and then recounted a story from KMJ talk show host Ray Appleton, where he noted that local government is the best form of government.

“This is a nonpartisan office…local government is the best form of government to work in. There is no ‘R’ or ‘D’,” Shuklian said. 

District 1

Tulare County District 1 is unique in that it is the largest geographic district in the county and has the most incorporated cities. It also has some of the county’s most vulnerable unincorporated districts. Incumbent Kuyler Crocker and candidates Robyn Stearns and Larry Micari were asked questions from the audience on how to serve smaller communities. 

Micari, who is a retired captain with the sheriff’s department that served in Pixley, said there is a lot to learn by just communicating with the residents in unincorporated communities. 

“We need to be out there mingling with them in their communities,” Micari said. “All you have to do is sit down with them and over a cup of coffee you can solve a lot.” 

Stearns, who serves on the Republican Central Committee for Tulare County, and served eight years on the Exeter City Council, recounted her experience with Tooleville. Notorious for their undrinkable water quality, Tooleville has requested to hookup to Exeter’s water system for almost two decades. 

Stearns said that Tooleville’s plight has not been heard by the county, and that she would address the problem if elected. 

Crocker said that he has worked to try and solve the issues around the county, including Tooleville. He also underscored the importance of being plugged-in to unincorporated communities. 

“It’ a commitment…and outreach is important as well as  speaking with people,” Crocker said. 

Audience members also posed a question over poverty in the county. Stearns pointed to the need for vocational education, recounting the experience of her son-in-law who became an electrical technician. 

“There are so many talented kids in our area that don’t want to leave the area and we need to provide training for them,” Stearns said. 

Micari agreed that education is important as well, but pointed to a lack of jobs and drug use to be a culprit in part. His solution is making students busy and excited about learning.

“We need to bring shop back in schools…we need to start getting the youth more interested,” Micari said. “We need to start getting kids motivated younger. 

Crocker made the more nuanced point by noting that the county does not run education in Tulare County. He added that the county plays a more supportive role for the Tulare County Office of Education by facilitating programs. Instead, Crocker noted that he is working with Fresno State president, Juan Castro to invest in south valley counties.

“Myself and Visalia city officials are talking with [Castro] about expanding eduation opportunities in Tulare County,” Crocker said. 

Fresno State opened their satellite campus at College of the Sequoias a few years ago as a show of support for university students in Tulare County. Fresno State started by offering just a few courses, but were encouraged that they would expand their course offerings.

Closing the forum Micari made his case to the crowd that he is capable of more than just law enforcement.

“I want to assure you that there is more to me than ‘do you know why I stopped you,’” Micari joked. “I’ve solved problems in my community and served 33 years in my community.” 

Taking a similar stance as Maaske from District 3, Stearns said that her experience as a business owner and time as Exeter mayor, has prepared her for supervisor.

Crocker stated there is work left to be done since he was elected supervisor in 2016. And added that there are large problems left to tackle.

“Water is no easy task, homelessness is no easy task, all of this while making sure we have a vibrant economy,” Crocker said.

Start typing and press Enter to search