Exeter Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters and the Tulare County Farm Bureau present forum for District 1 board supervisor before March 3 primary
By Paul Myers
EXETER – A week after sparring at 210 Café, the candidates for Tulare County District 1 Board Supervisor took questions on water, infrastructure and health care.
Last Tuesday’s forum at the Exeter Memorial Building was sponsored by the Exeter Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters and the Tulare County Farm Bureau.
After opening statements, incumbent Kuyler Crocker and candidates Larry Micari and Robyn Stearns were asked what critical issue faces the local agricultural industry, and what is their plan to protect it. Crocker stated that water is the most important factor in protecting farm land, and added that he is the Tulare County representative on several groundwater sustainability agencies.
Crocker added that he had already implemented an abandoned orchard abatement program to help quell the threat of Huanglongbing (HLB), spread by the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP). Because abandoned orchards are not regularly monitored ACP can infect an all but dead orchard of citrus trees and spread to neighboring farms.
Micari echoed Crocker’s sentiments on water, adding that water is even more of a focus in the post Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) era.
“Water is obviously the most important aspect with SGMA coming down the lines and the regulations it’s going to have. It’s important,” Micari said.
He went on to say that he had farmed cherries for 15 years until he was unable to gather groundwater for irrigation during California’s historic drought.
“I know this is the issue that will affect our community…I saw what the drought did to our groundwater,” Micari said.
Stearns, who’s greatest governmental experience came from her eight years on the Exeter City Council. Four years were spent as a council member and the other four were spent as mayor. She deflected to bargaining with the state.
“Our biggest problem is Sacramento. We really have to be proactive…I think we should go to Sacramento and make our voices heard,” Stearns said.
When asked about how their plans to help landowners adapt to new SGMA requirements, Stearns stated her displeasure.
“Adapting is unfortunate because I don’t think we should have to adapt to this. Farmers know what to do and they’ll make it work,” Stearns said.
She added that she thought communication between the county, property owners, farmers and other affected by SGMA is vital.
Micari had a more pragmatic answer, stating the he would like the county to help ease transitions to meet water saving goals, and keep the state from encroaching on local control.
“I’d make sure the county can help facilitate the change and make sure any road blocks are minimized because otherwise Sacramento will take over and we need to maintain our local control,” Micari said.
Crocker turned to his experience in GSA boundary disputes as an example of negotiating water and land resolutions. He stated that he was directly involved when the East Kaweah GSA and Greater Kaweah GSA were vying for members. These GSAs have since gone on to identify projects that stand to save 30,000 acre feet of groundwater over the next 20 years.
Tulare County has an expansive network of roads because of the size of the county. Drivers have long bemoaned the condition of county roads despite Measure R, the half percent sales tax dedicated to road maintenance.
Stearns said that there is simply not enough money in county coffers to maintain all the roads in the county and lobbying is key to making progress.
“We need to keep lobbying for money from our local elected [officials],” Stearns said.
Crocker said that he is involved in ongoing efforts to activate low interest bonds to improve rural farm to market roads.
“I’m looking into repaving Spruce which is important and I’m a part of that effort,” Crocker said.
He added that much of the county’s road budget has been spent on roads in district one.
Micari’s suggested that the county put reporting in the hands of the drivers. He said that there should be a mobile app that drivers can use to send photos and information on road conditions to the county.
“We need to continue to look for funding but I also think we can do online reporting and get an app on the phone,” Micari said. “If we don’t start maintaining the roads it’s going to get more expensive…and not cost effective for us.”
All candidates were also asked about health care in the district. While Crocker stated that he is in favor of greater health care and access, he noted that it is not the primary role for the county.
“Tulare County shouldn’t be in the health care business. It’s not our role and we need to focus on what our role is, which is infrastructure and public safety,” Crocker said.
He added that he has worked in part to facilitate a Valley Childrens hospital clinic in Tulare County near Highway 99, and appointed two board members to the Exeter District Ambulance board when there were not enough members for a quorum.
Micari said that he is happy with Family Healthcare Network’s expansion in Tulare County that has led to more clinics in rural communities. He added that he would like to see more 24-hour walk in clinics, to help alleviate burdens on emergency rooms.
“I had to go to the ER a while back and it was packed with people with minor injuries and I needed three staples in my head,” Micari said. “I’d like to see more clinics that provide more services, for the county to work with Family Healthcare Network, and more 24-hour walk in clinics. I think that would do a lot to help.”
Stearns said that she would like to see emergency rooms work more like triage, where they separate out those in emergency situations from other situations.