Smiles, handshakes and a positive community spirit seemed omnipresent at the Calaveras County Chamber of Commerce fourth annual State of the County Breakfast on Sept. 6 in San Andreas.
Citizens and representatives from county government, law enforcement, agencies and organizations packed The Metropolitan on Main Street to enjoy the most important meal of the day and listen to community leaders speak about the state of Calaveras County.
Though the county has its challenges, a positive outlook was present in every speech.
“I’ve coined my own term – some of you may have heard it – it’s ‘Calatopia,’” said Al Alt, Ed.D., county administrative officer in his opening remarks. His vision for the county is one that focuses on continuous progress and serving the public, he said.
Alt was among the main speakers at the breakfast, which also had talks given by Angels Camp Mayor Amanda Folendorf, District 2 County Supervisor Jack Garamendi and Chamber of Commerce President Mark Luster.
Folendorf highlighted the challenges that Angels Camp has come through, mainly financial, but a recently passed sales tax measure has helped.
“There have been positive changes in and around the city,” Folendorf said. “It’s been a very busy year at city hall.”
Angels Camp is working on improving its infrastructure, has seen the addition of new retail shops and medical facilities, and has recently implemented an online utility payment option for its customers.
The overall consensus for the county was one of strength through hard work.
“The state of your county is strong,” Garamendi said in his address. “The ninth of September marks the four-year anniversary since the Butte Fire, the largest natural disaster in our county’s history. And I think it’s difficult for any of us to quantify the impact this fire has had on Calaveras County. Not only the initial fire, which destroyed so much here, caused do much havoc, but how it impacted our people and impacted your government.”
Garamendi said looking back on the fire the county wasn’t adequately prepared. Systems weren’t in place and mistakes were made, he said.
“But I’d like to think that we all learned from the last four years,” Garamendi said. “We have a lot of heroes among us in this room. People who did, despite our not being prepared, did what needed to be done. And they did it over and over and over.”
It was the community spirit and people helping each other that strengthened the county which has made it better prepared today, Garamendi said. He also cited planning and better coordination between county agencies to aid in disaster preparedness. “Today, I feel confident in saying that your county is stronger than it was on Sept. 8, 2015,” he said.
Garamendi said the budget still reflects the challenges the county endured during the Butte Fire.
“I consider our budget healthy and balanced, but you have to understand we were forced into recovery and front the money for the repairs, and then we (sought) reimbursement from the federal and state government,” Garamendi said. He is confident the state and federal monies will be paid, but if not, Garamendi said the county will be OK because the board of supervisors has been responsible, calling it a “working board.”
In regard to public safety, Garamendi said staffing for deputies at the sheriff’s office were almost back to “full.” He said salaries have been increased more than 17% over the past two years and morale appears good.
“Our county is a safe county,” Garamendi said. “The Department of Justice … says we’re among the top five safest counties in the State of California for property and violence … that’s huge.”
Garamendi also said that the General Plan, which hasn’t been updated in 20 years, is about to be wrapped up and was passed with a vote of 5-0 by the supervisors. He joked that there were unhappy people on both sides of the General Plan Update, which meant they came to a compromise.
Though the county is strong, Garamendi did cite some challenges faced by the county, such as population decline, business and job creation, and keeping young people interested and involved in the community.
“There are no quick and easy solutions to some of our challenges,” Garamendi said. “It’s a team effort and it takes time. It also takes hard work and community mindedness. … What solves our problems and moves our community forward is shopping at your local store, hiring your local contractor, volunteering at your local food bank or at the library, cleaning up your parks, mentoring or tutoring your student, and providing food and clothing for the hungry. That’s what moves a community forward. That’s what solves the problems.”
Those steps come from a change of attitude, Garamendi said.
“Our people are unique. We have our characters. And, frankly, that makes us an authentic community,” he said.