Drizzle
43.5 ° F
Full Weather
Sponsored By:

Supervisor Kirk March Newsletter

Promise Kept

Since I was elected, I have not taken a pay raise. I have passed up 8.2% in raises plus some back pay. I feel it’s not right for a sitting supervisor to raise their own salary. I am ok with the board raising the salary of future new supervisors.

2024 Annual Board Retreat

In January, our board held its annual retreat to review our priorities, objectives, and action items. During the retreat, we updated our goals, removing those that were no longer relevant. We voted down a proposal to introduce pot dispensaries in our community, as pot just drives more societal problems including being a significant factor in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), mental illness and homelessness. At the retreat, the board realized we were missing a clear and timely process for tracking progress on action items. I paused the meeting until we decided, moving forward, to receive action items updates every four months through our Clear Point tracking system.

Sales Tax Increase

For the fiscal year 2023-24, the county fire fund faces a deficit of approximately $750K which will be back-filled from the general fund. By 2027-28, the fire fund is projected to have a $6.5M deficit. To be clear, the board used one-time grant funds to boost fire services. My rationale is simple, have we burned down like Paradise?

When it comes to law enforcement, our board approved significant salary and benefits increases to retain and fill the many vacant positions, with an increase of $2.4M in just one year. These were tied to increases in projected TOT revenue.

Our board is considering putting a one cent tax increase on the November ballot to sustain the higher level of fire services. If the measure doesn’t pass, the board will make the tough decisions you elected us to make. We will achieve a balanced budget as we are mandated to do every year.

Fire Response Time and Consolidation

As noted, the current fire and EMS service model in Tuolumne County is unsustainable. Currently we are protected by Tuolumne County Fire, Tuolumne County (Manteca) Ambulance, CalFire, and a number of independent fire departments, all with excellent mutual-aid agreements. Historically there has been significant resistance to consolidation, even though there are potential cost savings. In light of rising costs and tight budgets, there seems to be some shift.

In 2022, our board hired a consultant to evaluate emergency service standards while taking into account financial sustainability. Their report identifies optimal station locations to meet a desired response time. On March 11th, the Board formally adopted a 12-minute response time standard (this means 12-minute response to 90% of the calls – response time for 911 calls from more distant locations will fall in the 10% bracket). Currently the response time is just under 15-minutes. Adopting this standard lays the groundwork for discussions on station placement and additional dialog on consolidation for financial sustainability.

AT&T’s Application to Remove its Carrier of Last Resort Designation

On February 13th our board discussed AT&T’s request to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to end its Carrier of Last Resort (COLR) obligation in Tuolumne County. AT&T argues VoIP will replace copper land-lines, but strong concerns remain around risks to public safety, economic stability, and infrastructure quality, given our lack of VoIP infrastructure, difficult topography and large population of senior citizens who completely rely on land-line telephone service. Our board sent a letter to CPUC requesting AT&T’s petition be halted until the infrastructure is upgraded.

Outdoor Audible Alert (Siren) Testing

Just in time for AT&T to be threatening our communication during emergencies, outdoor audible alert sirens will be live this fire season thanks to the generous donations from the community to the non-profit Tuolumne Safe and board action to adopt the sirens as part of overall safety planning in Tuolumne County.

On April 30th at 11am, the Tuolumne County Office of Emergency Services, alongside the Tuolumne County Sheriff and Tuolumne County Fire, will test the audible alert systems. The sirens are located in Groveland, Twain Harte, Tuolumne, Cold Springs, and Strawberry. Press announcements and educational information will be released in advance to local media and on social media.

The county GIS department is working to develop a survey dashboard so the public can report if they heard the alert and what their location was. The Tuolumne County Public Information line will be operational during the test to address any concerns from the public. The contact details will be included in the educational materials.

On May 14th at 1 pm, the Everbridge Emergency Alert Notification system will undergo testing, with prior press releases to notify the public.

Natural Asset Companies Dropped

On December 19th, a letter of opposition was sent to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) regarding their proposal to allow Natural Asset Companies (NACs) on the New York Stock Exchange. The board argued this move would compromise the Public Trust Doctrine, transfer public land management decisions to international corporations, hurt local economies, and undermine the authority of the local, state, and federal governments. After strong opposition to the proposal, the SEC dropped it.

SERAL Project Funding Continues to Grow

Have you driven up Highway 108 and seen all the work done in the forest along the road? Looks awesome, doesn’t it! The SERAL project work continues up 108 and in several canyons such as near Beardsley Lake. We can thank our awesome partners at Yosemite Stanislaus Solutions (YSS) and US Forest Service under forest Supervisor Jason Kuiken and many others for their work and dedication over the years. Tuolumne County truly is leading the nation in getting work done in our forests.

SERAL 2.0 is approximately 162,000 acres primarily south of Highway 108. Treatments include prescribed fire, hand thinning, mastication, mechanical thinning, non-native invasive weed control and limited salvage operations. The objective is to restore forest resilience and the landscape’s ability to cope with fire as a natural process. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for SERAL 2.0 was released in February by the Forest Service and comments are due April 1st. The Final EIS will be developed in response to those comments and the Record of Decision will hopefully be issued in June. The Stanislaus National Forest received $57M in federal funding from the Inflation Reduction Act to be spent to complete SERAL and SERAL 2.0 treatments.

Office of Emergency Services Review 2023

In 2023, the Tuolumne County Office of Emergency Services (OES) responded to two Presidential Declared Disasters resulting from severe winter storms. OES submitted $47.3M in reimbursement requests to FEMA for damage to public facilities. They also secured over $4M in relief for affected private individuals and businesses through the Individual Assistance program.

The county’s Emergency Operations Plan was updated and recognized as one of the best by Cal OES. The coordination of the County’s Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan and the acquisition of approximately $31.2M in grants further enhanced disaster preparedness. The office actively contributed to the development of a fuels reduction storyboard, a Community Wildfire Protection Plan, and initiated a county-sponsored Community Emergency Response Team. Notably, they improved the alert and warning systems, incorporating five sirens,

increasing Everbridge Emergency Alert system registrants to over 90,000 phone numbers. They are also working with the National Weather Service to install NOAA weather sensors.

Community Facilities Districts

A Community Facilities District (CFD), also called Mello-Roos, is a special tax district established when property owners within a specific geographic area agree by a 2/3 majority vote to levy a tax on their properties to finance infrastructure and/or service improvements. These improvements can include public safety services, road maintenance, utilities, parks, and other community amenities. CFDs are typically created to address the needs of new developments or to fund essential services in existing communities. The tax revenue collected within the district is used exclusively for the specified improvements and services outlined in the CFD plan.

Several new tourist-related developments along the Highway 120 corridor will come on-line in the next several years, adding approximately 500 beds. This will place significant demands on fire, EMS and law enforcement services. Currently our board is working towards creating a CFD specifically for these developments.

But we are also setting up the CFD in a way to make it easier for other areas to annex into it. I can honestly say I don’t like the idea. We are trying to solve issues related to housing affordability and this undermines it by potentially making home purchases less attractive. On the other hand, we are funding fire services in a manner which is unsustainable and needs additional revenue. More to come on this topic.

Inclusionary Ordinance Dropped

On January 23rd, our board decided to make the inclusionary ordinance optional. The Inclusionary Ordinance was intended to increase affordable housing by requiring or incentivizing home builders to include affordable housing units in development projects. However, in Tuolumne County, it backfired with only 6 units built in over a decade.

Short Term Rentals

Short term rentals (STRs), such as through Airbnb and VRBO, have raised concerns about workforce housing availability and neighborhood quality of life. However, they also contribute to the local economy. Over the next 6 months, the county will study the effects of STRs. The study will take input from stakeholders and the community, including community listening sessions, especially in heavily impacted areas like Twain Harte and Groveland. The resulting report will offer a range of strategies for the Board’s consideration. Stay tuned for community meetings.

Tuolumne Road and Damage Claims

Everyone knows about the horrible chip seal problems on Tuolumne Road. Normally such a treatment is a cost-effective way to extend a road’s useful life for 7-10 years. The project ostensibly followed Caltrans standards, Nichols Consulting Engineers architected the project and American Pavement Systems (APS) was hired being the low bidder. Obviously, there was a breakdown somewhere in the planning, engineering or execution. At this time, an investigation is underway and county council (lawyers) are involved. Hopefully we’ll get to corrective action soon.

If your vehicle was damaged make sure to file a claim with APS. If denied, file a claim with the county. If denied by both, hold onto your claim until the legal issues have been resolved.

Thoughts on Supervisor Election

Many complain, few do something, so thank you to those who stepped up and ran for local office. For District 5, congratulations to Supervisor Brandon on his re-election. Although we have had some contentions over the years and are likely to have more, I look forward to working together on projects and policy areas where we do find common ground. For District 4, congratulations to Steve Griefer, I look forward to working with you. In District 1, I’m looking forward to working with the winner of the November runoff between Sonora City Mayor Mark Plummer and business owner and long-time school board member Mike Holland.

Thoughts on Proposition 1

Proposition 1 passed, which means more socialized homeless housing mandates. You get what you vote for.

Economic Development Forum in Twain Harte

Thank you to all who attended the packed house in Twain Harte on January 18th. The Action Plan for Economic Development in the Twain Harte Community will need to address the diverse population mix, preserve the town’s character as a four-season mountain resort community, tackle stagnant population growth, aging infrastructure, and the pros and cons of short-term rentals. Concerns over neglected properties and safety issues were highlighted, along with a call for support for local entrepreneurs and efforts to enhance communication among residents. On-going projects include development of new community spaces, renovations, and beautification initiatives. The community envisions a future that maintains its unique charm while revitalizing as a vibrant center of activity, prioritizing family safety and youth opportunities year-round.

Economic Development Forum for Tuolumne City.

Similar to the Twain Harte forum, stay tuned as one will be planned for Tuolumne City.

Opening Highway 108 for a Healthy Economy

In an effort to open Highway 108 Sonora Pass in a timely manner each spring, I have taken the initiative to organize a collaborative working group including Caltrans District 9 and 10, the US Marines, Visit Tuolumne County, CHP, a Mono County Supervisor, and other partners. The primary focus of our discussions is to stress the crucial economic contributions of the Highway 108 corridor to local businesses. Our goals are to open Highway 108 to Kennedy Meadows well in time for trout season and full opening of Sonora Pass before Memorial Day weekend. Plowing has already started and we are optimistic these goals can be achieved.

Appointment of Sheriff David Vasquez

With Sheriff Bill Pooley’s retirement, our board appointed Captain David Vasquez as Tuolumne County Sheriff. His service in the US Marine Corps and years of service with Tuolumne County law enforcement, combined with his active involvement in various community organizations speaks volumes about his dedication, leadership, and capabilities. We are confident his appointment will not only maintain the high standards set by his predecessor but also lead to additional progress and innovation within the department.

SB-952

SB-952 introduced by Senators Dahle and Grove would provide a tax credit for home hardening against wildfires. I worked with all the authors to change the effective date from 2025 back to 2018. This would account for the substantial investments made by many people following the 2018 Paradise Fire. I also recommended the maximum adjusted gross income (AGI) threshold be raised, as it currently excludes a significant number of people who actually have the means to do the work. At this time, it is unknown if the changes will be incorporated, however, I am not holding my breath due to the status of the State Budget this year. https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202320240SB952

Homeless Blog (November, 2023)

https://www.mymotherlode.com/community/blogs/addressing-homelessness-in-tuolumne-county

I have actively advocated for the Homeless Services Dashboard to help ensure that our board, staff, and programs remain accountable for the taxpayer funded homeless services. You can view the dashboard here: https://www.tuolumnecounty.ca.gov/1505/Homeless-Services-Virtual-Bulletin-Board

Clean and Clear, Critical Infrastructure Ordinances

In dealing with the homeless problem, I believe we need a two-pronged approach with accountability for those receiving services and empowering law enforcement to effectively deal with those who refuse assistance. Recognizing the crucial role of law enforcement, our board adopted the Clean and Clear Ordinance and a separate Critical Infrastructure Ordinance. These ordinances equip law enforcement with some badly needed tools.

The Critical Infrastructure ordinance prohibits camping, sleeping, or any other actions that pose a threat near vital infrastructure, be it public or privately owned. For example, you can’t sleep in front of the doors of a fire station. The Clean and Clear ordinance focuses on county-owned property, ensuring that encampments causing disturbances or simply needing to be cleaned up can be addressed quickly. Enforcement of these ordinances will be conducted through a task force approach, ensuring that services are offered while addressing issues at each site, with oversight from the relevant county departments.

Public Works Director Salary Increase

Over time, I’ve heard many comments about county employee salaries, especially department heads. Unless there’s a collective agreement among all county governments statewide to halt wage increases for employees, competition for skilled workers will continue. While I strive to maintain relevance with smaller counties, it is difficult to compete with larger, wealthier counties. To put it in perspective, if the new $175K base salary for the public works director was spent on roads it could fully reconstruct about 800 feet of road or support an overlay on about half a mile. The county has over 600 miles of road to maintain.

Mountain Lion Attack

We have all heard of the horrible news of the recent mountain lion attack. My prayers are with the family. Last year, three of my children were playing on our property when they encountered a lion within 30 feet crouched down in brush (it was probably watching our sheep and chickens). Thankfully they were not harmed, but it had us re-evaluate our property and enforce strict rules for our kid’s safety. I think the incident last week was a good reminder to us all. Mountain lion populations have gone unchecked for years which is resulting in more encounters.

About Easter

Growing up in a Christian household, I drifted after my parents’ divorce and harbored resentment towards religion and God. However, a series of life events led me back to the realization that Jesus is indeed the Son of God.

During college I studied other faiths and lived with a Muslim roommate. Surprisingly, our upbringings were pretty similar. I wondered how could one faith be right while another was wrong? Were our beliefs merely products of our upbringing? Yet amid the similarities across religions, Jesus stood apart. Unlike other religious figures, he didn’t just claim to be a messiah; he actually died for sinners and rose from the dead, proving his divinity.

The Bible holds profound wisdom and narratives, available to everyone regardless of faith. Yet, without Jesus’ resurrection, he would just be another historical figure, with no life-changing power. My search for spiritual truth ended when I truly understood the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. Easter became more than a celebration. It is a testament to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In him, I found the fulfillment that other religions hint at, but ultimately miss. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” — John 11:25-26 ESV

Happy Easter

~Anaiah

Feedback