Supervisor Kirk’s Quarterly Update
State Board of Forestry is moving Tuolumne County towards a “No Build” Community
The State Board of Forestry decided to move the March 15, 2021 draft of Revised State Fire Safe Regulations ahead, without revision, into a 45-day public comment period, ultimately intending to adopt them as State law. This will dictate oppressive requirements for development and construction in our county. Within high fire zones (which the majority of our county and rural California fall under), if any type of building permit is taken out, the landowner would be required to bring roads up to modern standards all the way from their property out to the next fully-conforming collector road. This would be unattainable for most folks as the costs would be astronomical. Numerous parcels would instantly be (administratively) undevelopable, and therefore instantly worthless. In March, our Board sent a letter of opposition to the Board of Forestry (https://legistarweb-production.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/attachment/pdf/856121/BOS_Memo_3.16.21.pdf) and our board continues to fight this ridiculous overreach of power, but we need your help. We need you tell the Board of Forestry to stop this tyrannical overreach of your personal property rights. Please send your comments to PublicComments@bof.ca.gov. You have until May 5th to make your voice heard.
Formation of Fire Safe Advisory Committee
On April 6th, our board reconstructed the Fire Safe Advisory Committee. For District 3, I chose Wesley Brinegar who is a young veteran with hands-on experience in the timber industry and firefighting. For more information on him and others selected, visit https://legistarweb-production.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/attachment/pdf/876844/FSAC-Board_Memo_-_Redacted_Applications_4.6.2021.pdf
Highway 108 Fire Safe Council
As a BOS board member, I have the opportunity to sit on some committees and commissions which do amazing things for the residents of Tuolumne County. This council is made up of community partners and stake holder from various agencies all with the goal of reducing wildfires in Tuolumne County along the Highway 108 corridor. They have a new website with great information and awesome pictures of the work they have done and plan to do. tuolumnefiresafe.org.
SERAL Project Update
The Social and Ecological Resilience Across the Landscape Project (SERAL) spans 117,000 acres just north of Twain Harte and runs east up the Highway 108 corridor past Strawberry. The proposed project combines prescribed fire, hand thinning, mastication, mechanical thinning and non-native invasive weed control. https://www.fs.usda.gov/nfs/11558/www/nepa/111937_FSPLT3_5326088.pdf
On March 6, our board sent a letter in support of Stanislaus National Forest Supervisor Jason Kuiken for his request of an Emergency Situation Determination (ESD) within 6,500 acres of the SERIAL project. ESDs are typically only approved during or after a declared emergency. However, due to the severity of the conditions and imminent threat of severe and catastrophic fire in this area, Supervisor Kuiken is preemptively requesting an ESD from the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. If the ESD is approved, it would make implementing fire management features (i.e. fuel breaks) on this portion of the SERAL project exempt from the objection filing and reviewing requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). If the ESD is approved, fuel reduction treatment on the fire management features along roads and ridge tops could start as early as September 2021. Tuolumne County will be implementing much of this work through the Master Stewardship Agreement on behalf of YSS (Yosemite Stanislaus Solutions) using state and federal funding already awarded to the County.
Bids are in for the Tuolumne City and Groveland Resilience Centers. Two grant funded projects. The job was awarded to Boyer Construction who will be ground breaking on the two resilience centers the first week of May 2021. Although the bid process is confidential, our board was glad to see the lowest bidder is a locally owned company who will be subcontracting much of the $16.7M project to local hands.
Prior to being elected as your District Supervisor, I heard from all of you, that fire was your number one concern. In December 2019 (after being elected but not yet seated) I presented the recommendation to the board to prioritize Firesafe Communities and Emergency Planning as the number one State and Federal issue. That recommendation was adopted by the board and since then Firesafe Communities has been our boards number one priority. https://anaiahkirk.com/2019-legislative-platform/
Since entering office, our board has put more funding into fire than years past. But even with enhanced funding, we can’t keep up with the aging fleet of fire engines and apparatus. If we want fire to be our communities’ number one priority, more resources will be required. But it’s not enough to say we need more resources and not be doing everything possible to cut costs.
County staff are moving out of as many rented places as possible and consolidating staff into county-owned buildings, selling off excess properties and there are dozens of vacant positions. We have implemented OpenGov software for budgeting and to improve work process efficiencies. We have added the full-time position of Office of Emergencies Services (OES) in an effort to put full time resources behind fire education, planning and service to our community.
We will continue to bring efficiencies to the way we do government. But we also want to give you, the community an opportunity to weigh in and decide if you want a better fire engine fleet and provide monies to be used specifically and only for fire-related projects. You will have that opportunity to decide in the June special election. Please visit the link below for more information about measure V to make an informed decision. https://www.gcsd.org/files/7b943dcad/Measure+V+FAQ.pdf
TUD has sent the community on a roller-coaster. The high: Tuolumne County has the opportunity to acquire water rights that were lost over 100 years ago. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get those rights back. If the deal between TUD and PG&E falls through, you can be sure PG&E will sell the facilities and water to the highest bidder. Whoever wins that bid will jack up water rates to make a handsome profit and return on their investment. Due to confidential non-disclosers, the TUD board is unable to disclose many aspects of the deal, however they appear to be in good hands with knowledgeable staff and water attorneys. The lows: I am confused why the TUD board thinks we don’t have enough water when the data is clear. Their staff presented them black and white information on water availability which will provide enough water for the next 275 years at an average of 50 additional connections per year. Any deviation from this information is political. Their discussions and actions have caused ripple effects in our community. It is already hard enough to plan and build with state codes, regulations, fire insurance and rising costs. The last thing we need is for our water to be used against us by our local elected TUD board members. Constituents reached out to me concerned about their vacant lots would be worthless if they could not connect to TUD. One is filing an assessment appeal with the Tuolumne County assessor’s office claiming if TUD is threatening no water connections, then they do not want to pay taxes on property which TUD just made worthless (or could if they continue to pretend there is not enough water for connections).
I hope TUD reverses course on the connection issue and supports our community with water connections and that as a community we can get behind them and fully support the PG&E water rights acquisition.
In February, I co-authored with Supervisor Haff, a resolution noting “California’s blueprint for a safer economy provides a one size fits all approach to reopening California’s Counties which fail to allow the flexibility to respond in a data driven way to what is actually occurring in each county”. To see the full resolution visit https://anaiahkirk.com/resolution-requesting-state-and-local-covid-19-partnership/
$1.75M Reimbursement for Local Businesses
In 2020, our Board approved $1.75 million in funding in the form of grants to local businesses to offset increased costs due to COVID-19. This funding came from the Federal CARES Act, and specifically from the $5.6 million that was provided to Tuolumne County to offset Public Health Expenses as well as additional expenses due to COVID to the County. The maximum amount that could be received by any applicant was $25,000. Between July and December of 2020, Tuolumne County through Jason Terry, a senior administrative analyst issued 165 grants to Tuolumne County Businesses and Community Groups that applied under the grant program. About 90% of the grants went to local businesses, many of which had to shut down completely or in part for several months. These businesses included lodging, entertainment, and dining industries. A little over 10% went to non-profit and community groups many of which were unable to hold any of their annual fundraisers. The grant program terminated in early December when all available funds were exhausted.
Requiring Business License
For several months, our board has discussed having business’s carry a business license. I support the option for businesses to obtain a business license, but I do not support a requirement for them to obtain one. Some businesses could benefit from the license for insurance reasons. Some feel they need one to show some “proof” or “certificate” of business. The majority of the board, myself included, agrees having economic data would be useful for economic planning. Supervisor Brandon stated at the April 20th BOS meeting that requiring business licenses would give him a “hand on the steering wheel” when dealing with some businesses.
When I ran for office as your District 3 Supervisor, I heard from many businesses that to operate in California, there was too much “red” tape. I have heard from some who own businesses in the City of Sonora, that their business licenses are extremely expensive and feel it is another tax. One of my top ten goals when running for office was to “cut governmental red tape” https://anaiahkirk.com/goals/ not to expand it. The only expansion I would support for business licenses, is if the business owner had the option to get one, not mandate it.
The County of Tuolumne is part of the Central Sierra Connect Consortium and we have collaborated over the years to maximize public and philanthropic funds to decrease broadband network costs, increase access and share scarce resources for maximum benefit. Broadband access has seen some expansion through the “middle mile”, but the vast majority of our county is, as you know, rural and still requires a substantial infrastructure investment to cover the “last mile”. That effort languishes in great part because of the long distances, challenging topography, lingering effects of the 2008 recession and now the Coronavirus Pandemic. To address the inequities of access brought on by the Coronavirus and to prepare for future disruptions in our region, with the leadership of Cole Przybyla, Tuolumne County Director of Innovation and Business Assistance applied for and was awarded a $500,000 no-match grant. Cole will use this grant to create a comprehensive roadmap for a private broadband investment process to be seamless across the five counties of the Central Sierra Connect Consortium and provide a step-by-step playbook for ISP infrastructure expansion through the County, State and Federal development processes.
Preventative Road Maintenance and Hot Patch Machine
We all know many of our local roads are in poor condition and the funds available for repairs are paltry at best. Public Works Director Kim MacFarlane and Road Superintendent Mike Cognetti (both have private-sector backgrounds) and the roads crew have increased drainage work on roads. This type of preventative maintenance improves road longevity as it prevents water damage to the road structure from overflowing drains. Furthermore, they have purchased their first hot patch machine which will soon be hitting our roads for better, longer-lasting pothole repairs. You can view more info on my website at https://anaiahkirk.com/goals/ (see goal 4) and https://anaiahkirk.com/the-fine-print/#Roads (2018 campaign research and solutions).
Dig Once Policy
On February 2nd, our board approved a Dig Once policy. Staff included a reserved section in the policy to address the installation of broadband infrastructure. This section is intended to dovetail with the forthcoming Broadband Roadmap, which could ultimately require that any trench work in the county right-of-ways would trigger the addition of conduits or ductwork suitable for future fiber optic cable installation, hence eliminating the need to cut into the roadway again at a later date to install broadband infrastructure.
Many complaints regarding Waste Management mixing trash and recycling in the same truck were received and investigated. Tuolumne County Solid Waste Director addressed these complaints with Waste Management. As of April 15th, they have corrected this practice. As I have stated before, I am looking forward to reviewing their contract which is due for renewal in 2022. I am also hopeful others will bid on the contract to provide better service.
Formation of Homeless Advisory Committee
On April 6th, our board formed the Homeless Advisory Committee. To represent District 3, Tom Crosby was chosen. Tom is a successful businessman who understands the homeless issue is a many-layered, complex problem. He understands we will not be able to fix all homeless issues but we can collectively, effect change where it realistically can occur. Tom is also data-driven. This is critical in dealing with what can be a very emotional issue. Some people will be upset we are not doing enough, while others will be upset that we are doing anything. That is why data is so important. If you don’t look at the data, if you ignore the data, then we will collectively waste each other’s time and resources. We must evaluate the research and data and apply time and resources where they will give results. More discussion to come. For more information on the committee you can visit https://legistarweb-production.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/attachment/pdf/876865/TCHAC_BOS_Memo-Redacted_Applicants.pdf
Affordable Housing Solution, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU)
Saying you can buy affordable housing in California is an oxymoron. The best way to afford a home is to continue your education, obtain better employment, promote, work hard, save, budget, etc. That said, since running for supervisor, I have been a supporter of ADU’s https://anaiahkirk.com/the-fine-print/#Affordable-Housing. On March 16, 2021, our board passed an ordinance which allows any homeowner to build an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) on their property. In essence, you can build another house on your property up to 1200 square feet in size and rent it out long-term (no short-term rentals such as Airbnbs). The more ADU’s, the more rentals will be available; more people can rent affordably and the more they can save for a down payment for their first home.
Future plans are to have an over-the-counter set of ADU plans you can obtain in exchange for a permit fee waiver.
Everybody knows I did not agree with spending money on building the Juvenile Hall. My opposition was not because it does not provide a safe place close to home, or good programs for our kids, but because the costs to house Juveniles were not covered in contracts. As reported in past quarterly updates, Tuolumne County now has contracts in place with other counties who utilize our Juvenile Hall. As I prepare for the next budget, it appears the Juvenile Hall is operating financially better than any year since opening. This is a direct result of past board direction and Chief Hawks dedication to finding solutions. Recently, our CAO, Tracie Riggs was placed on a working group for the Juvenile Justice Group representing rural counties, to identify mechanisms to encourage cross-county collaboration and/or regional solutions for managing new responsibilities with troubled youth.
District Attorney Appointment
As a result of DA Krieg being elected to Judge, the DA position was vacant. Several qualified attorneys were publicly interviewed by the BOS. I recommended current Assistant DA Hovatter as he has a wealth of experience and knowledge of the department and has helped train past District Attorneys. Furthermore, I felt there was much discussion from the board about moving the role of the DA closer to the role of the Public defender. One Supervisor even suggested the DA and Public defender work in the same office; this creates safety issues for victims. I personally believe the DA’s role is to fervently fight for victims in prosecuting alleged criminals. I also believe the Public defender’s office is to fervently fight to defend the accused. At the end of the day, the board voted to appoint Cassandra Jenecke (my second pick). I believe she will be a great interim District Attorney until you, the constituents, get to vote in the next election. As I stated during the public meeting, Cassandra has a “bright future”.
More Substance use is coming to Tuolumne County.
80% of California Municipalities have opted out of cannabis sales. Meanwhile the Sonora City Council voted 5-0 multiple times to allow Hazy Bulldog Farms to sell recreational marijuana starting April 15th and are allowing a total of 3 storefronts. All this after hearing opposition from (at least) the following over the course of a series of meetings:
– Yosemite Community College District Board Member – Superintendent of Schools – School Principle – High School Teachers
– Pastors – Suicide Prevention and Social Workers – A Doctor – Past and present County Supervisors – Local Business Owners – Realtors – Parents – Grandparents – Former Drug Addicts
To deal with the collateral damage, Mel Kirk donated $10,000 to the YES Partnership launch the “Be Smart, Stay Smart, Just Say No To Marijuana” campaign for our youth. The YES partnership added a cannabis awareness page to their website. https://www.yespartnership.net/cannabis-edu
Town Hall meeting
In January, I held a virtual town hall meeting. Although I am thankful for the ability to connect with you on Zoom, I am looking forward to future live audience town hall meetings.
One of my top ten priorities when running for Supervisor was to “drive transparency” within Government and the community we serve, (https://anaiahkirk.com/goals/). Every few weeks I post short video’s on Facebook with some of the local happenings in Government. It’s also a great opportunity for you to ask questions and give me feedback on your perspective regarding the issues. Please friend me on Facebook under Anaiah Kirk or Anaiah Kirk, Tuolumne County District 3 Supervisor to view the video’s and I look forward to hearing from you.