Micari, Soria respond to Sun-Gazette questionnaire

Photo by Rigo Moran

Incumbent Larry Micari, challenger Joe Soria respond to questions over homelessness, poverty, infrastructure, health care, wildfires, sheriff replacements, housing, etc.

TULARE COUNTY – One of the local races facing voters for the March 5 primary is who to select as their District 1 board supervisor.

Incumbent and current board chairman Larry Micari is a retired captain from the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department with 33 years of service. He was first elected to represent District 1 in 2020.

Challenger Joe Soria was born and raised in Lindsay. In a forum in January Soria emphasized improving infrastructure and public services in unincorporated areas such as sidewalks, streetlights and public transportation.

Below is a series of questions that Micari and Soria answered ahead of the March 5 primary where whichever candidate garners 50% plus one of votes will win the upcoming 2024-2028 term.

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Voters in District 1 are in the center of this map and includes north-east Visalia, Exeter, Lindsay in addition to Strathmore, Plainview, Woodville and Lindcove.

DISTRICT 1 QUESTIONNAIRE

The latest data indicates roughly 180,000 Californians are either homeless or unhoused. There are approximately 1,100 homeless individuals in Tulare County. What should be the responsibility of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors to help quell the homeless crisis?

Tulare County District Supervisor Larry Micari speaks at the Exeter Chamber Summit. (Kenny Goodman)

MICARI: The County’s responsibility is to provide services, such as mental health and social services under the umbrella of the Health and Human Services Agency and our community non-profit partners. The County has been working closely with our city leaders in addressing shelter needs so individuals and families have a place to go. One of the greatest challenges is that the market rate housing has experienced explosive growth and outstrips the ability of our hard-working community members to afford a place to live.  We simply do not have enough low-income housing options.  Tulare County has invested several million dollars in support of housing support programs, and we have worked in partnership to obtain grants and allocations that support homeless efforts. We will continue to advocate for federal / state investments in homeless programs/infrastructure by way of ongoing funds as opposed to one-time funds. On January 31, 2024, Governor Newsom named Tulare County as Prohousing.

Joe Soria, a resident of Lindsay, is a candidate for the Tulare County Board of Supervisors District 1 seat. He is running against incumbent Chairman Larry Micari. (Rigo Moran)

SORIA:  It is at the County level that the social service dollars reside to address the issue, and homelessness is  very much a county responsibility. Presently the County has failed in this task. Housing must come first,  whether in a home or a shelter, then we need these people connected with a social service worker that  can ensure they are signed up for all the programs they are entitled to. Mental health is also a huge i ssue with many of the homeless, and we need more capacity to house mentally ill individuals, who do  not belong in jail or on the streets.

According to the US Census Bureau, as many as 18.2% of people live below the poverty line in Tulare County. What should the Tulare County Board of Supervisors do to help bring greater economic vitality to the area?

MICARI: To build an equitable and sustainable economy across Tulare County, the Board of Supervisors (BOS) should continue its approach to economic development in support of the creation of quality jobs and equal access to those jobs. As a result of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), the region is transitioning away from solely agriculture to a more diversified economy. Through the Workforce Investment Board (WIB), the County is supporting workforce development with the job/skills training necessary for a high road economy. The BOS has positioned the County as an attractive location for economic development by streamlining the permitting process, maintaining no development impact fees, and other incentives. The BOS established its own Economic Development Office (EDO) to retain, expand, and attract businesses. It’s shown that over 80% of job creation comes from existing business expansion.  Our EDO works closely with companies to locate their businesses in Tulare County.

SORIA:  The most important thing is water, it is the lifeblood of our communities both for drinking and for  farming. Our present Board has failed to secure our water supplies. Sometimes we have flooding while  other times we have drought. I support an all of the above plan for water storage. We must do more to i ncrease capacity for storage in the wet years to tide us over into the dry years.  We must do more to  bring in more tax dollars to create more storage from both the state and federal level, but we must also  work with local farmers. Allowing local fields to flood with the farmer’s permission in wet years could  help restore our water table as opposed to that water heading out to the ocean. We must also ensure  there is minimum red tape at the county level for businesses in Tulare County. The number one thing  the government can do for our farmers and our small businesses is get out of their way.

How can the Tulare County Board of Supervisors collaborate with the state legislature to consistently fund main thoroughfares such as Highway 99 and hopefully shorten the amount of them they are under construction?

MICARI: The Tulare County Board of Supervisors is part of the Tulare County Association of Governments (TCAG). The BOS and TCAG are working with State Legislators, Caltrans, Madera and Merced counties to receive funding and working to complete the widening of the remaining segments of Highway 99. Through our efforts, many of the Valley state legislators, California Transportation Commission and numerous businesses in the state have supported the effort to finish widening Highway 99. During the last round of funding, three segments of Highway 99 were funded. As a result of the efforts of the BOS, the section from Delano to Pixley will start construction in the fall of 2024. Shortening the amount of time to complete the project is dependent on the efforts of those opposing the road widening and construction efforts. Through hard work, persistence and outreach, the BOS and TCAG have been successful in completing these projects.

SORIA: We must do more to collaborate with the state legislature to ensure we get the tax dollars we deserve. I  have a good relationship with several state legislators, and I will be able to work with them and make  that ask.

What should be the Tulare County Board of Supervisors’ role in lobbying MediCal to raise reimbursement rates that local hospitals rely on for funding?

MICARI: Medi-Cal reimbursement rates have not kept up with the increased cost of healthcare. Nearly 60% of Tulare County residents qualify for Medi-Cal benefits, and many of our local healthcare providers including hospitals and clinics serve Medi-Cal patients. We advocate to and lobby with our state representatives to increase Medi-Cal reimbursement rates to ensure all providers are adequately compensated for their costs of providing quality services to our residents. Tulare County has a deep interest in the financial stability and adequacy of the entire system of care that serves as a safety net for our population. The lack of reimbursement increases not keeping up with the increased costs of medical care and the increase in Medi-Cal patients is financially burdening our County medical system and hospitals. I have been personally involved in working with Senator Grove to advocate for increases in Medi-Cal reimbursements to our local hospitals/clinics.

SORIA:  Medi-Cal funding is critical, many of our local medical facilities are on the verge of bankruptcy because  they do not get adequately reimbursed for the healthcare services they provide our poor residents. The  Board of Supervisors should be champions and lobbyists for these funds and to ensure Tulare County  gets every dime it is entitled to. It is your tax dollars after all.

Wildfires continue to plague rural and mountainous areas in Tulare County. Despite last winter’s storms, California continues to be subject to drought conditions. What kind of preventative measures should the county impose to protect life and property in the Sierra Nevadas?

MICARI: Most of the forested areas of Tulare County are owned by the US Forest Service and the National Parks Service.  Within the State Responsibility Area, CalFire has jurisdiction to enforce defensible space regulations.  The County has a strong relationship with our federal and State partners for active forest management, especially where the Federal land abuts communities.  The County executed a Master Stewardship Agreement with the US Forest Service in 2022.  This agreement allows the County to carry out forest management activities on Federal land to improve wildfire resilience, forest health, and watershed protection.  The County currently has a $4.5 million Supplemental Project Agreement for hazard tree removal in the wildland urban interface.  These projects improve routes for communities and emergency personnel.  Additionally, the County collaborates with communities to improve wildfire protection and resilience.  The County is actively engaged with nine communities to explore Fire Safe Councils and Firewise communities.

SORIA: We must cooperate and coordinate with the property owners in the area to reduce wildfires and the  damage they do. First thing is we need less dry brush. Whether we reduce this through more controlled  burns in areas we can do this, and crews in areas close to property, this must be a top priority and that  we get the funding to do it. We must also work on education and helping property owners to fire proof their property so when a fire does come through the main property does not burn. Properties that have  been fire proofed to modern standards, very often are spared from major wildfires.

Sheriff Mike Boudreaux is running for Congress this year, if he moves on to Washington D.C., what should the board of supervisors look for in a new sheriff?

MICARI: In looking for a new Sheriff, the Board of Supervisors needs to consider an experienced law enforcement professional that can maintain the continuity of business for the department, is fiscally responsible, and works effectively with all members of the community. Negatively impacting the day-to-day operations for the department would be a detriment to the safety of the residents of Tulare County.  The new Sheriff needs to work closely with the community to maintain and build the trust of the public.

SORIA: We need someone with law enforcement experience, who has both a good relationship with our  Sheriffs and our community members. Trust in law enforcement is critical for our Sheriffs to be able to  do the job they need to keep us safe. And this requires a leader at the helm who can communicate with  a diverse range of communities that make up Tulare County.

Prop. 1 on the March ballot proposes shifting a significant portion of Mental Health funding from counties to the state. Do you think the state is better equipped to handle mental health services or should counties retain this funding and the responsibility for the programs?

MICARI: The Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) provides local jurisdictions control over funding based on local needs.  Every County is different regarding infrastructure, resources, and population needing mental health and substance use disorder services.  The MHSA planning process in place today as a requirement under the MHSA act, provides local communities an opportunity to come together to determine what is needed locally as top priorities in serving our severely mentally ill and substance use disorder individuals and families.  Prop 1 will most likely impact current programs that emphasize intentional outreach and intervention components such as school-based programs, and community partnerships that work directly with our communities and have built solid foundations within those communities as a trusted partner.  Spending roughly 30% of the funds solely on housing supports with no specific milestones for self-sufficiency will exhaust funds that support mental health and substance use disorder treatment, crisis response, suicide prevention efforts and other programs that currently use this funding.

SORIA: I think local people usually know best how to address local problems. The State of California has not  solved many problems in recent years and I do not think they are going to solve this one. By allowing  the counties to tackle the problems we have more flexibility and different counties can try different  approaches to see what works best. I will be voting no on Prop 1.

With the cost of housing continuing to climb, what steps should Tulare County take to stabilize water and sewer rates for unincorporated communities?

MICARI: The majority of sewer and drinking water services in the County are provided by special districts operating public water and sanitary sewer systems.  These systems are regulated by the State Water Board Division of Drinking Water and Regional Water Quality Control Board, respectively.  These special districts are governed by Boards elected by the residents they serve.  The County has no jurisdiction over costs or service delivery, but the County is a strong proponent of regionalization.  The County has formed several new special districts to consolidate two or more small districts and bring in private domestic well households. Regionalization improves economies of scale, provides redundancy in services, and results in more sustainable systems.  The County also advocates for small systems serving disadvantaged communities to be eligible to receive operation and maintenance funding when their rates cannot support such functions and the rates are a significant portion of the median household income.

SORIA: We must ensure our unincorporated communities have access to the water supplies they deserve. We  have the Friant-Kern Canal running down the eastside of our Valley, and we must work harder to  ensure our unincorporated  communities have access to these water supplies and that we get the funds  needed to hook them up to a sustainable water supply.

Do you support a repeal or replacement of Prop. 47, the 2014 voter-approved initiative reducing some non-violent property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors? Yes or No. In your opinion, how would this affect jail overcrowding and public safety at the local level?

MICARI: Yes, I support the repeal of Prop 47. Since the passage of Prop 47, reported retail and cargo theft has risen dramatically, homelessness has increased 51% in California, and drug addiction has become a humanitarian crisis. Inventory loss has more than doubled and businesses are closing before dark to avoid being victimized or have closed completely. Businesses are locking up common everyday items to prevent theft, resulting in additional costs to have staff unlock individual items for customers. Drug rehabilitation programs have diminished resulting in no help for those in need. The consequences are impacting public safety and the quality of life for all Californians. Repealing Prop 47 would have little impact on jail overcrowding if drug rehabilitation programs were implemented properly and these crimes were deterred. The effect on public safety would be positive as they would have a means to curb these reoccurring crimes. 

SORIA:  Prop 47 was implemented to prevent people from spending life in prison for stealing a pizza. And yes  cases like this did exist. However we must also have consequences for repeat offenders. So yes, I  support taking a closer look at Prop 47, and repealing parts of it. We need a middle ground as opposed  to either extreme. We also need to work harder to ensure greater mental health services to drug addicts  and the mentally ill, as some of the people committing these crimes fall into these categories.

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