Supervisor Campbell On Challenges And Opportunities
Supervisor Ryan Campbell reflects on a year of challenges and opportunities
With the close of 2021, and the end of my first term as the Chairman of the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors, I am filled with gratitude; not just for the chance to lead and serve my community during one of the most trying times in our county’s history, but to forge a new path forward. I don’t have to tell you that this was difficult year. We all experienced challenges in one form or another, but with great disruption comes great opportunity. The sun is rising over Tuolumne County, and it would be difficult for me to overstate my optimism about the road ahead.
My guiding principle has been that the Board of Supervisors should be a platform to elevate the voices of our constituents and the community we serve. Our Board has had many discussions about how to define our shared values, but more importantly, we have turned many of those discussions into action.
We’re not just turning the page on 2021, we’re turning a corner. I thought it would be appropriate to take a look back and take stock of the challenges we’ve faced and the triumphs we’ve shared. This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a few of my observations over the past year:
I joked at the start of the last year that my goal was to make our county budget as boring as possible. Now, it may not have been the boring process I envisioned, but I can say that our 2021/2022 fiscal year budget is balanced and our revenues match our expenses. The Board of Supervisors and County budget team worked diligently to repair past bad practices and put our county on a more stable financial footing. The county has become leaner and meaner when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars.
We met more than a dozen times to discuss ways to properly fund vital public resources. We have reopened library branches in Twain Harte, Tuolumne City and Groveland and expanded the operating hours for the main branch to six days a week. County fire has been able to purchase much-needed firefighting equipment and engines. The Sheriff’s Office has been able to stem the loss of experienced deputies to neighboring communities by making wages more competitive.
Additionally, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 will pump more than $10 million into our community over the next three years, enabling our county to engage in special projects like the RAD Card program, Community Grant Program, and repurposing the long-vacant Tuolumne General Hospital building, which closed in 2009.
In February 2019, just two months into my term on the Board of Supervisors, a major storm wreaked havoc on our road system, causing massive flooding which wiped out several sections of roadway and blocked off communities. It was clear to me that repairing our aging infrastructure needed to be a higher priority.
In the past year, we improved our ability to fix longstanding deferred maintenance to our infrastructure. With support from the entire Board of Supervisors, our hard-working Public Works department was able to purchase new equipment like a custom-built pothole patching machine and attenuator.
There is still much work to be done, however. The inactions of yesteryear have lead us to the point where routine maintenance is no longer an option in many cases. With major road improvement projects planned on Standard Road, Willow Springs Drive, Jamestown’s 5th Avenue and many others, we are finally starting to make headway.
I am also proud to say that in 2021, Tuolumne County became a member of the Yosemite Area Regional Transit System, giving our community a voice in the discussion about cheap, reliable public transportation to Yosemite Valley for our citizens and tourists.
The Washington Fire
Throughout our region, the unprecedented has become commonplace. Once in a generation fires are now a regular occurrence, and if you were in Sonora on the afternoon of August 26th you were greeted with a horrifying column of black smoke rising above the beating heart of our community. Our brave first responders were able to stop the blaze before it became truly devastating, but roughly two dozen structures burned and several families lost their homes.
As a result, the Tuolumne County Fire Safety Advisory Committee has done its best to heed the warning of the Washington Fire by developing a county-wide
vegetation ordinance. The hope is that by going beyond basic state Public Resources code guidelines, we can better reduce the fire fuel loading around populated areas.
The problem of homelessness in Tuolumne County is a story that has played out similarly in dozens of other communities: Everybody wants to see the problem fixed, but nobody wants to be inconvenienced by the solution.
The Tuolumne County Commission on Homelessness was formed in early 2021 to break through this roadblock and take meaningful action. They have looked at everything from improving available housing opportunities to finding sites for tiny homes on public property. Our county has also advocated for the expansion of the state Project Homekey to be more inclusive of the needs of rural communities like ours.
The answers to homelessness are as varied as the causes, but with an approach that includes basic needs like shelter, mental health and drug rehabilitation services, and a willingness to be part of the solution, I believe we can get there.
Any conversation about the past two years would be incomplete without discussing COVID-19. It has cast a shadow over everything from how we gather in social situations, to the acceptance of basic principles of medical science. It has polarized our community and our nation, all while claiming 148 lives in Tuolumne County alone.
I saw the community response to COVID-19 change dramatically since the start of 2021. At that time, vaccines were restricted to seniors, medical personnel and people with severe health issues. County Public Health simply did not have enough doses of vaccine for everyone who wanted one. By the spring, however, I was proud that our county had managed to acquire enough doses so that effectively our entire population over the age of 12 could be vaccinated if they wanted to be.
The challenge has since shifted from acquiring vaccine doses and PPE, to combating the onslaught of misinformation about the vaccine, masking and the
virus itself. Public healthcare professionals have endured threats and hostility, while local governments have born the brunt of anger regarding state or federal mandates over which they have little to no control.
It’s not clear when or if the pandemic will end, but it is my hope that future generations will look back at the actions we have taken during trying times and they will say that we did what we could.
It has been an extremely fulfilling experience to know that providence and history have placed us together in this moment where we can choose to rise or fall together. I pledge to you my time, my energy and my dedication to the principal that we have only just begun to rise. Thank you for doing your part to make our wonderful community an even better place to call home.
Happy New Year,