Vander Poel, Corona respond to Sun-Gazette questionnaire

Photo by Rigo Moran

Incumbent Pete Vander Poeli, challenger Benny Corona respond to questions over homelessness, poverty, infrastructure, health care, wildfires, sheriff replacements, housing, etc.

TULARE COUNTY – Voters in the south west part of Tulare County will have to decide whether they want to keep incumbent Pete Vander Poel as their District 2 board supervisor or give his challenger a chance.

First elected in 2008, Vander Poel is a Tulare native, and has spent his time on board serving on a bevy of committees including First 5, Tulare County Association of Governments and the county water commission.

Vander Poel’s challenger, Benny Corona, currently works for the public utilities commission. He earned his masters degree in public policy with a concentration in Agroecology from UC Berkely, according to his campaign website and LinkedIn profile.

Below is a series of questions that Vander Poel and Corona 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 2 are in the south west district of this map colored in yellow. District 2 largely comprises Tulare, Tipton, Pixley and Earlimart.

PETE VANDER POEL | INCUMBENT

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 Pete Vander Poel speaks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Tulare’s Santa Fe Commons. (Kenny Goodman)

VANDER POEL: When it comes to the difficult issue of homelessness, there is no silver bullet that will solve the problem.  A comprehensive approach is what I have advocated throughout my career. Tulare County collaborates with our cities as the primary source of social services, mental health, and alcohol and other drug-related services for the unhoused members of our community.  Tulare County is a financial partner as well in providing funding and even the location for various housing projects in Tulare County.  While not solved, we are making great strides toward improving the homeless crisis in this County.

CORONA: The Tulare County Board of Supervisors (TCBS) are the leading local government entity besides major cities like Tulare and Visalia who are responsible for helping quell the homeless crisis.

Lindsay-native Benny Corona is a candidate for the Tulare County Board of Supervisors District 2 seat. He is running against incumbent Supervisor Peter Vander Poel III. (Rigo Moran)

TCBS should allocate sufficient funding and resources to support homeless services, including affordable housing, outreach programs, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and job training programs. This includes being a supportive arm for incredible organizations like Salt & Light and Self-Help Enterprises that are already working & succeeding in getting people off the streets and that are actively increasing the supply of affordable housing throughout Tulare County. The TCBS should directly volunteer and be present in engaging with the homeless community and those that are a paycheck away from being homeless. I believe these actions will enhance the TCBS capacity to quell the homeless crisis and will enhance quality of life in our county for those that are struggling to find sustainable housing and stable living.

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?

VANDER POEL: Tulare County’s primary economic engine has been and will hopefully continue to be in agriculture.  The Tulare County Board of Supervisors cannot force the blossoming of new industries in our County, however, we can lay the infrastructure needed to attract new industries.  For example, Tulare County was the lead agency in the Betty Drive interchange project that has facilitated the immense growth of the Visalia Industrial Park.  Tulare County has also streamlined the planning and permitting process at the Resource Management Agency in order to attract development throughout our County.  As a result of these efforts, there are more jobs for residents and in a variety of industries.

CORONA: There are a plethora of creative pathways the TCBS can take to bring greater economic vitality to the area. Two pathways to economic development in Tulare County I want to focus on are 1) investing in rural infrastructure development and 2) supporting & promoting existing small businesses in historically disinvested and disadvantaged communities (like West Tulare). By investing in rural infrastructure development (building sidewalks, installing street lights, fixing and repairing county roads, modernizing water pipelines and sewer pipelines) in rural unincorporated communities like Earlimart, Pixley, Tipton, Alpaugh, and Allensworth, the county can promote the population & economic growth of these communities which in turns attracts investment into the local communities. Also by working with trades organizations like UA Local 246 & the district council of laborers, TCBS can negotiate that people hired for these infrastructure jobs & getting apprenticeships are coming from the local community and that the county is developing a local highly-skilled workforce.

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?

VANDER POEL: In the State of California, there has been significant efforts by the State and partnering advocacy organizations to stop all road widening in the State.  This is what we have to fight against each and every day at the Local level.  Fortunately, through the track record and advocacy efforts of Tulare County through the Tulare County Board of Supervisors and Tulare County Association of Governments that I am a part of, we are well on our way towards widening Highway 99 from 4 to 6 lanes throughout our County.  We have convinced CalTrans to convert temporary lane projects to allow for major road rehabilitation on the 99 permanent, potentially saving taxpayers nearly $90 million dollars, and advancing the construction timeline potentially 20 years.

CORONA: In order to ensure the state legislature funds main thoroughfares such as Highway 99 & to shorten how long they are under construction, the TCBS has to build strong working relationships with the state legislature across political party lines. This is critical to being able to pass legislation that prioritizes transportation funding in Tulare County and that streamlines approval processes and shortens project timelines. The TCBS also needs to effectively communicate the importance of Highway 99 to the rest of CA by building a broad coalition of support from businesses, local governments, community based organizations within Tulare County and those outside of the county. The TCBS should also be able to highlight the thoroughfares in need of improvement and the benefits of reducing construction timelines. Additionally, the TCBS can maintain active communication and collaborate with State agencies like Caltrans to ensure planning & construction activities on Highway 99 align with local priorities and timelines.

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

VANDER POEL: The Tulare County Board of Supervisors has lobbied the State in collaboration with our local hospitals in order to secure one-time funding to help them keep their doors open. The low MediCal rates are definitely affecting local hospitals throughout our State and this is an effort we continue to work on.

CORONA: The TCBS are the face of local communities and have the responsibility to lobby MediCal to raise reimbursement rates for local hospitals to ensure reliable funding sources. If these efforts are not made by the TCBS our communities will be in danger of losing essential health care services locally. Similarly to question 3, the TCBS has to build strong working relationships with the state legislature across political party lines to effectively represent the interests of our local hospitals and health care providers. The TCBS also needs to support our local hospitals by working with them to provide the data and evidence demonstrating their financial challenges, impact on patient care, and staffing turnover to the state legislature and representatives responsible for MediCal reimbursement rates. The TCBS can also work to build coalitions with other counties that face similar challenges to demonstrate additional support for raising reimbursement rates & keeping local hospitals financially stable.

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?

VANDER POEL: Residents in the mountain community deserve to live in a safe environment. That’s why I’ve worked to allocate additional resources to our Fire Department to engage in land management, fire prevention efforts, and expedite response times.

CORONA: There are a plethora of preventative measures the county can take to protect life and property in the Sierra Nevadas. Two preventative measures I want to focus on are 1) investing in our local infrastructure such as county roads, bridges, and water supply systems (especially in our rural unincorporated communities like Earlimart, Pixley, Tipton, Allensworth, and Alpaugh) to improve access for firefighting & emergency personnel and equipment and ensure adequate water supply for firefighting efforts. 2) Invest in forest management and promote community-led restoration projects to improve the health, resilience, and sustainability of forest ecosystems. This would include collaborating with our local communities, promoting volunteerism, and student-led initiatives that can work to thin dense vegetation and promote the growth & planting of fire-resistant tree species. Additionally, wildfire risks impact communities outside of Tulare County, so it would be prudent to mobilize and coordinate with neighboring counties, tribal governments, and others that want to work on wildfire prevention.

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?

VANDER POEL: If Sheriff Mike Boudreaux were to represent us in Congress, the board would seek a Sheriff candidate who uphold the same values of Sheriff Boudreaux; integrity, leadership, and a record of selfless service. The Tulare County Sheriff’s Department is a leader in the State of California in keeping our unincorporated communities safe.

CORONA: Number 1) The TCBS should consider candidates with extensive law enforcement experience and leadership roles within the Tulare County sheriff’s department or a police department in Tulare County (such as a chief of police). Besides having strong law enforcement experience, I believe the candidate needs to be a well-rounded public servant. Number 2) Having additional skills such as data analysis, teaching, sports coaching, mentoring, and/or history of volunteerism I believe will bring tremendous value to this highly visible & essential public service position. A strong record of understanding the diverse challenges & communities in Tulare County is also of high importance. It would be especially important for the candidate to have a proactive plan in promoting public safety in rural unincorporated communities where there have been recent shootings in communities like Pixley, CA. Ultimately, a strong track record of community engagement & trust, law enforcement innovation, and law enforcement experience would be ideal.

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?

VANDER POEL: Proposition 1, all though well titled, take control away from our community and redirects it to Sacramento – a very troubling concern. The staff and community partners here in Tulare County, the super majority of whom are local residents and have a far better expertise of needs in Tulare County then the State bureaucracy. Resources should always be controlled locally for efforts of transparency and accountability.

CORONA: Tulare County’s estimated homeless population of 1,100 is relatively small compared to urban areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco who will benefit the most from this Proposition. For a homeless population of our size in Tulare County, I believe the proposition will diminish our local capacity to proactively address homelessness. Organizations such as Salt & Light in Tulare County are doing groundbreaking work when it comes to addressing homelessness and getting people off the streets, and the county should work to retain as much funding as possible to support and empower the incredible work our local communities are already doing to mitigate homelessness. I believe our local communities are building a model for the rest of California to follow, and for Tulare County, I think we are better positioned to use the funding effectively that we could lose in the prop than the State.

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

VANDER POEL: I have a clear record on the Board of Supervisors of planning economic fluctuations, especially when it comes to utility rates. In fact, I’ve led the successful advancement of projects like Matheny Tract Water and Sewer Projects, and Earlimart Front Street Well. Additionally, I’ve worked on community water initiatives in regions like Oakieville and Allensworth, funded approximately $3 million in well, water line, and sewer improvements in Tipton. In Pixley, my colleagues and I successfully funded approximately $2 million in water line extension projects in Pixley and approximately $3.2 million in well and sewer line projects in Earlimart.

CORONA: There are a plethora of pathways the county can take to stabilize water and sewer rates for unincorporated communities. Two pathways I want to focus on & already have experience in are 1) improve efficiency of water systems by investing in upgrading and modernizing aging water & sewer infrastructure in unincorporated communities and 2) collaborate with our local utility districts, water board representatives, and community members at large of unincorporated communities to effectively lobby for grant funding and no-interest loans from federal, state, and regional agencies to offset the costs of water & sewer infrastructure development. By making investments now in upgrading, fixing, and modernizing aging water infrastructure, Tulare County can help ratepayers in rural unincorporated communities save in the long-run by preventing water loss, leakage, and contamination issues that are costly overtime. Additionally, grants from entities like the CA Water Resources Control Board & USDA can provide critical financial support to reduce the burden on ratepayers.

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?

VANDER POEL: Proposition 47 has only increased crime and enabled criminals to repeatedly affect our neighborhoods negatively. It’s proven that policies like this destroy the element of public safety. Yes, this should be repealed and the subject of jail space is a problem we must prioritize because I strongly believe we should always work to protect law-abiding citizens.

CORONA: Yes. I believe our priority should always be the public safety of our communities and the victims of such types of property crimes that can include small business owners and homeowners. However, I am also concerned with the mixing of property crime actors and violent crime actors in our county jails & overcrowding that can come from the repeal of Prop 47 in communities like ours with already high populations of disadvantaged community members. I am also concerned about our fiscal capacity to maintain larger jailed populations. Ultimately, whether there is a repeal of prop 47 or not, I believe we need to proactively address the underlying factors contributing to property crime, such as poverty, substance abuse, access to mental health services & positive role models. Investing in crime prevention, rehabilitation programs, and high quality job training programs can potentially reduce property crime rates and improve public safety outcomes over the long run.

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