Two heated issues, fire ‘fee’ and TOT, not even on ballot

A ballot sagging under the weight of 11 state propositions, three local measures and a palette of presidential, congressional, state and local hopefuls, has left Calaveras County voters with plenty of homework before they hit the polls next month.

Most, if not all, will be looking to boil down the issues. For those voters in county supervisorial Districts 1, 2 and 4, that means deciding on a Board of Supervisors representative mostly on the basis of three major topics: Taxes, fees and economic development.

Valley Springs dentist Jim Green is far from a single-issue voter, but he likes District 1 incumbent Gary Tofanelli’s approach to the latter topic. Green, a Tofanelli campaign donor, said he will be supporting the board chairman’s re-election bid in large part because of Tofanelli’s business background.

“You should run a county like a business,” Green said. “Gary’s a hardworking guy with good business sense. I think that’s been lacking in this county the last 50 years.”

He also praised Tofanelli’s road improvement efforts. “I think we wouldn’t have seen Cosgrove Creek (Road) fixed up without Gary.”

“Roads could always use a little help, but on the whole they’re not that bad,” countered San Andreas retiree Julia Blackwell, “For me the main thing is the economy.”

Blackwell, a registered Republican, will be supporting first-time District 1 challenger and fellow San Andreas resident Cliff Edson on Nov. 6.

The choice, she stressed, wasn’t all that easy.

“There’s nothing (Tofanelli) has done that I don’t like,” Blackwell said last week. “I just happen to like Cliff Edson; he seems to be very personable; he seems to care about the community.”

“The only thing that really has me ticked right now is that fire fee,” she added. “I don’t know what either (candidate) can do about it and, I mean, I’m not going to have to pay it, but my son is, and that really ticks me off.”

Blackwell is far from aloneon that point, as Angels Camp cosmetologist Veronica Metildi can attest.

“I couldn’t believe it when I heard about it,” Metildi said of the proposed fire fee. “When I read there’s an extra tax for people in what the state considers a high risk area I thought now wait a minute: What isn’t a high risk area?”

“In the Bay Area it’s earthquakes and here it’s fires,” she added. “But I live in a cul-de-sac on the top of a hill. I highly doubt that a fire is going to break out in my backyard in Angel Oaks.”

Metildi, who is leaning toward incumbent Tom Tryon this fall, counts development disputes like the Highway 4 Wagon Trail realignment project and Copperopolis’ proposed Sawmill Lakes development near the top of a list of topics likely to decide District 4 this fall.

But for her, it all comes down to experience.

“I think the difference between (Tryon) and Debbie (Ponte) is she’s saying what she feels and what she thinks should be, which is natural, but Tom (Tryon) has had many years of experience. … He has all this information so he can come from a personal stance and know from experience how to fight some fights and not others.”

Rancher and Ponte backer Rusty Rolleri said she likes the fact the former Angels Camp mayor doesn’t seem to pick many fights in the first place. Rolleri, an “unfashionably moderate Republican,” said she would like to see more civility in her state and local politics.

“I like Debbie’s style,” Rolleri said. “Debbie can bring a new air, a new manner to things, because we’ve gotten to be very rude in this county. … But she’s very polite, knowledgeable and she’s been here a long time.”

“I trust her more,” she added. “In the last few weeks Tom (Tryon) has seemed to be very helpful but he was getting complacent there for a while.”

Trust also poses something of a hurdle in District 2, where, faced with a choice between two relatively unknown first-time candidates, West Point walnut farmer Gary Smith is going with his gut and voting for soft spoken conservative Bryce Randall.

Smith said he liked what he saw of the West Point business owner in a recent YouTube campaign spot, though he admits he “(doesn’t) know much” about Randall’s opponent, former Foothill Conservancy executive Chris Wright.

“I think (Randall) is a down-to-earth, well-meaning kind of guy,” he explained. “He owns his own business; he’s sharp as a tack. I don’t know Chris Wright that well, but from what I’ve seen, he’s a little more liberal and I’m more on the conservative side. … From what I’ve seen of Bryce, he’s the best man for the community.”

Mokelumne Hill resident Maggi Blood sees it a little differently. Likability, she said, is important, but not nearly as central to her vote as policy specifics.

Blood, a Mokelumne Hill Library volunteer, expects land use and conservation topics – like the contested Wild and Scenic designation on the Mokelumne River – will continue to weigh heavily on District 2 voters’ minds this fall, though she has settled on a candidate for entirely different reasons.

“I’m looking for somebody to carry on the legacy of (incumbent Supervisor) Steve Wilensky,” said Blood, a registered Democrat. “So that puts me with Wright.”

Wright, she said, looks likely to expand infrastructure projects meant to provide residents greater access to high-speed Internet, an effort she hopes can help to boost tourism and revitalize the area economy.

“I think the business environment is a major concern, especially here in Moke Hill, where the Hotel Leger is such a big part of the community,” Blood explained, adding, “I don’t totally agree with the (transient occupancy tax) because really, if it is passed, it should go toward the people who are affected. People like the (Hotel) Leger.”

Blood also worries budget cuts at the state and local level will continue to threaten county schools, a concern shared by Valley Springs electrician Jerry Gaspers.

“More educational opportunities would be huge,” Gaspers, a registered independent, said. “They’re trying to bring growth here but we have a small amount of jobs and only one place for kids to go to college and get some of their prerequisites out of the way.”

“But even then they need some place to go to work,” he continued. “I understand keeping our small town atmosphere, but you’ve got to bring in a certain amount of growth.”

“Not everybody can work at Treat’s or Mar-Val and a lot of these kids are moving out of county. I mean, what’s going to keep them here?”

Thousands of voters will tote that question, and plenty others, to polling places set to open at 7 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Contact James DeHaven at