Supervisor Kirk Highlights County Happenings
District 3 Virtual Town Hall
There will be a District 3 virtual town hall meeting on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 from 5 to 7pm. County government department heads will join me in giving updates on current developments and then we’ll open up the meeting to give you an opportunity to provide input. Information on how to participate will be distributed soon.
After Action Thoughts on Facebook
As a board member, I am constantly sorting through information and making decisions. At the board meetings, those decisions are not always shared through local media outlets in full context. And sometimes, I may not do the best job of explaining my position clearly. Often decisions are made at the board meeting as I gather the rest of the facts or get clarification. In order to be more transparent, I have started posting short videos on Facebook explaining why I voted the way I did or explaining myself on a specific issue. I hope by doing this you can better understand the issue at hand, my reasoning behind my vote. This also gives you a chance to ask questions for clarification. You can view these videos on Facebook under Anaiah Kirk.
People are used to life without risk, however we are in a time of a deadly contagion and there is no life without risk. The world has changed. The virus will be with us. Nothing moving forward will be perfect, so people need to make their own decisions based on the amount of risk they are willing to tolerate. A vaccine is coming therefore this risk may lessen, time will tell.
Our community is going through a second wave of COVID-19, with increased hospitalizations and unfortunately deaths. Please take personal responsibility for protecting yourself and others by wearing a mask in public, maintaining social distancing, washing your hands, etc. It’s also important to take care of yourself by staying healthy and keeping your immune system in good condition. I am taking extra supplements to support my immune system.
There is more to public health than just stopping the spread of COVID-19 which is why I authored a letter to the Governor on August 17, 2020 https://anaiahkirk.com/letter-to-governor-newsom . Of great concern are increases in drug and alcohol use, domestic violence, out of home placement by child protective services, increases in suicidal thoughts and chronic sadness amongst our youth and an increase in divorce, just to mention a few serious public health issues. At a recent meeting with county partners, a common thread of concern was the recent increase in substance use. While big box stores rake in unprecedented profits, local mom and pop shops are being stretched and going out of business.
On October 20, 2020, I presented some research to the board. The main points were shutdowns may do more damage than the virus (the world health organization recommends not doing shutdowns), and
wearing masks reduces the inoculum level if exposed. Reducing the inoculum, or viral load exposure, reduces the severity of the virus if you get it. For example, you may only become asymptomatic.
I do not support another hard shutdown. I am however concerned about ICU capacity. I know three people who were in ICU the last few weeks. All three have passed. Two of them appear to have passed away from the virus including Mike Ayala; one had underlying health conditions. A family member just recovered from it last week and several of my co-workers have had the virus or have it now. We have entered a season where the virus will likely touch us all individually somehow. As we move through this together as a community, my thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been affected by the loss of a loved one or loss of a friend.
Connie Williams, the former Sonora Mayor and Council Member passed away in August with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gherig’s disease. I met Connie while campaigning for District 3 Supervisor. I found her to be very kind, always prepared and engaged in whatever she put her mind to. This holiday season I am reminded of her life and how precious time on earth is. I wish her family and husband John well during this holiday season.
Mike Ayala. Three years ago, I wanted to get more involved as a citizen with County Government. The first person I was told to talk to was Mike Ayala. Not because of his philosophies or political beliefs, but because I was told he was a good man who would be upfront and honest about what I would be getting into. During my campaign, I got to know Mike more. I found him to be sincere and so in love with his wife and his children and grandkids; he always talked about coming or going to see his grandkids. Finally, what I relate to Mike the most about was our belief in Jesus Christ. The day before my election, Mike called to see how I was feeling. When I told him, I have done everything I can, the rest is up the guy upstairs, Mike said “yep, he’s got everything under control, win or lose, he’s got our back.” Today, Mike is with the guy upstairs. For those of us who remain, to his wife Nancy and family, thank you for sharing Mike with this community, we will never forget him.
A family friend recently passed away from COVID. One of my first childhood memories was hanging out at his house playing with his kids; we were jumping of a deck and playing in a tree fort. My love and support goes out to his family.
Board of Supervisors
Congratulations to the three newly elected Supervisors, I look forward to working with all of you. District 1 Supervisor David Goldenberg appears to be a nice sincere man. District 4 Supervisor Kathleen Half won in the March primary and has considerable county government experience. District 5 Supervisor Jaron Brandon has strong communication skills which will benefit our board at the state and local levels.
Yes, the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors just flipped. Our board was more “conservative” until this election. But what does that mean? Will I be nothing but a NO vote moving forward? I think not. For anyone who closely watches the board meetings, I have been the lone vote or minority on some issues.
Whether it was seeking to do a warm closure of the Juvenile Hall, not supporting raising taxes, or not wanting government to infringe on people’s liberties during the COVID-19 crisis. If a majority of the board agrees with me then great, if not, then so be it. What is important is we have honest discussions and debates. For me, it is not about doing the Republican thing or the Democrat thing, but doing best thing for Tuolumne County under the umbrella of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, and listening to you, the people.
Sonora City Council Approves Recreational Pot Shops
Over 50 members of the community who included the Superintendent of Schools, teachers, counselors, a doctor, real estate agents, business owners, mothers and fathers voiced their concerns on flooding our community with more substance abuse. Still the City Council passed an ordinance allowing three recreational pot shops in the small 3.1 square mile city. Immediately following the vote, the City Council accepted a donation from the very business owner who would benefit from their previous decision to allow recreational sales.
There were five public meetings on the matter but no public outreach. In September, Mayor Hawkins reiterated that when they originally started out they knew it was going to be a long process, and he still wishes there was some cultivation. Council Member Garaventa suggested they might get there in a couple years. In October, the Planning Commission rejected the plan but the City Council ignored their recommendation. Over the five meetings, public comment was almost 3:1 against allowing recreational marijuana stores. It all came down to quick money for the city coffers while ignoring our youth. A bid for youth education was proposed but not actually included in the ordinance.
Childcare for Public Employees
On August 18, 2020, I adamantly opposed using CARES act funding to support private childcare funding for parents of children who provide essential government services. I did not oppose this because those parents are not essential, I opposed this because all parents are essential. “We all say that we are all in this together, with COVID, but if we move forward with this, we are separating the constituents we are supposed to represent, with government officials and employees. We say we’re essential, BS. Maybe we need to shut down and feel what our constituents are feeling.” https://www.mymotherlode.com/news/local/1200067/supervisors-debate-childcare-for-public-employees.html
Mt Provo Rd Fire Evacuation Route
As your County Supervisor, I have not given up pursuing what I believe to be the most important long-term issue for our county: fire preparedness. While running for Supervisor, I encountered the impassable Mt. Provo Rd fire escape route from Ponderosa Hills and made fixing it my top priority. The road passes through multiple jurisdictions making it virtually impossible to get anything done through government channels. This is why I partnered with friends who are experts in law, business, technology and fire safety to create Tuolumne Safe, a nonprofit which is not bound by bureaucratic red tape.
Improving Mt. Provo Road was our first project and was completed in October 2020 with tremendous help and support from the community. This will save lives in the event of a wildfire blocking the one paved road out of Ponderosa Hills. https://anaiahkirk.com/tuolumne-safe-mt-provo-road/
Another significant fire preparedness initiative is the Social and Ecological Resilience Across the Landscape Project (SERAL) which our board signed onto July 17, 2020. SERAL has been developed in extraordinary collaboration and partnership with Yosemite Stanislaus Solutions (YSS), Tuolumne County and the Stanislaus National Forest. The proposal spans 117,000 acres just north of Twain Harte and runs east up the Highway 108 corridor past Strawberry. The proposal combines prescribed fire, hand thinning, mastication, mechanical thinning, non-native invasive weed control, and limited salvage operations. https://www.fs.usda.gov/nfs/11558/www/nepa/111937_FSPLT3_5326088.pdf
Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act
On September 15, 2020, our board sent a letter supporting the “Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act” (Senate bill 4431) which would provide federal agencies with critical new tools to reduce hazardous fuels, protect communities, and support forestry jobs, biomass development, and smarter energy practices. This bill is the result of extensive stakeholder engagement, outreach across party lines, and months of deliberations to ensure a truly bipartisan, pragmatic approach to reduce the risk of wildfire.
President Trump Signs Great Outdoors Act into Law
The new law passed with bi-partisan support and will provide up to $9.5B over five years to fix deferred maintenance at national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, and other federal lands, with $6.5B earmarked specifically to the 419 national park units, including Yosemite National Park. The Act is expected to create more than 108,000 new jobs to repair park infrastructure, including access roads and bridges in adjacent communities. https://www.counties.org/csac-bulletin-article/president-trump-signs-great-outdoors-act-law
Wood Pellet Facility Coming to Tuolumne County
Golden State Natural Resources has chosen Tuolumne County as one of two locations in California to build a wood pellet facility. This facility will convert low-to-no value biomass into commercially viable products while restoring forest health. The sources of biomass material include utility company vegetation management programs, clean green woody biomass normally sent to landfills; agricultural waste; private forests; lumber mill wood processing operations and private landowners. The facility will be located at the former Sierra Pacific Industries Keystone site. The project is in the design phase and is expected to start operation in 2023.
Resilience Centers and Better Business Practices
On October 6, 2020, our board approved a vetting process for bidders starting with construction of the Resilience Centers. Past practice awarded the contract to the lowest bidder, but in some cases the bidder was unqualified or unable to assume the contract. Under the new process, bidders must be vetted or pre-qualified prior to being allowed to bid.
Affordable Housing; Accessory Dwelling Units
Tuolumne County, like many other counties suffers from a lack of rentals. Accessory dwelling units will help with long-term rentals. An accessory dwelling unit ordinance has been in the review process and should be coming before the board in early 2021.
Grand Jury Investigates Public Defender Hiring
In June 2019, our board hired Scott Gross as the Public Defender. The grand jury decided it was worth investigating. Our appointee, Scott, is married to another county employee, Sarah Carrillo who works as County Council. The Grand Jury investigated the hire and in August 2020 concluded, “Despite public perception, conflict of interest rules were not violated during recruitment and appointment of the Public Defender, and despite public perception, adequate precautions were in place in the form of an ethical wall to remove County Counsel from all involvement in the appointment of the Public Defender.”
A common complaint during the winter, is the service, or lack thereof, of Waste Management in picking up trash. Recently there has been a lack of service caused by staff shortages due to COVID-19 quarantines. I hear your concerns and understand your frustrations, but under the circumstances, I would ask our community to show some grace as WM continues to work this specific problem. For future reference, WM contracts are up for renewal in 2022.
When I ran for office, I believed the Juvenile Hall was not the best use of tax dollars. I have continued to argue my point and pushed for a warm closure in order to force better business practices for the operation of the hall. Although the majority of the board did not agree with a warm closure, we collectively agreed and pushed for better financial management relative to how other counties pay for their use of our Juvenile Hall. Progress has been made. Previously, the going rate was $100 per day per child. We now have contracts with Mariposa, Amador, Calaveras and Inyo county to increase the charges to $150 per day and a non-guaranteed rate of $175 per day. Although this falls far below the actual operating costs per child per day, it is more in-line with the state average.
Budget Transparency and Better Business Practices
On December 1, 2020 our board entered a five year agreement with OpenGov to continue using their software to develop and manage our budget and to start using new modules to help operate other county functions. Not only does this significantly improve budget transparency, it also helps create processes for each of our departments which will enhance community service and efficiencies. What were once paper processes done in person will soon be digital. From the comfort of your home or business you will be able to apply for permits, licenses, code enforcement, dog licenses, file air pollution control complaints, road maintenance requests, building permits, and eventually business licenses, all while streamlining the workflow process for staff and reducing the need to produce paper documents for dissemination and in person contact. https://stories.opengov.com/tuolumnecountyca/published/57_1_h36-
With kids doing school from home and many folks being forced to telecommute, broadband is not an option, it is a necessity. County staff have worked hard to approve two towers in 2019 and four are currently in the works with approval coming in 2021.
Tuolumne County has applied for a $500K grant to implement a broadband plan with a regional approach on implementing more broadband. More information to come.
A new broadband measure by State Senator Lena A. Gonzalez was just introduced for the 2020-2021 Legislative Session. The “Broadband for All” legislation proposes changes to the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF)
State Senator Andreas Borgeas is proposing the Rural Internet Connectivity Act. “COVID-19 has emphasized existing disparities in rural communities regarding Internet accessibility. While schools transition in and out of remote learning, students without internet access are falling behind at alarming rates. This piece of legislation would initiate efforts to expand broadband service in isolated rural areas of California.”
Do You Need Assistance to Pay for Bills During COVID-19?
Motherlode Job Training has grant money available to help pay up to $800 per participant on expenses impacted my COVID, such as past due or current rent, car insurance, utilities, garbage, propane, natural gas, electricity and telephone. Documents needed to participate are rental agreement and/or current and past due utility bills and/or car insurance documents. Drivers License or ID and Social Security Card or Passport are also needed. More info on eligibility for this grant can be found at: https://www.mljt.org/covid-eligibility . You can also call or visit Mother Lode Job Training at 197 Mono Way, Suite B, Sonora, CA 95370 (209) 536-4507.