No one in District 2 felt politically strong enough to challenge Jack Garamendi once he declared his intention to run for supervisor, so the son of a political icon and member of a family that has called the area home for five generations will be sworn in come January after an unopposed election.
But the election was easy; now comes the hard part. Garamendi must lead District 2 through a series of challenges that will begin the day he is sworn into the office.
The Butte Fire was severe in his district and his constituents face years of recovery efforts. The infrastructure of the district – everything from roads and bridges to septic systems and internet access – was upended by the fire.
District 2 is also a hotbed of commercial cannabis operations and Garamendi and his fellow supervisors – four of whom are new to the board – will have to decide quickly the future of marijuana farming in the county with a February deadline to extend an urgency ordinance that allowed hundreds of cannabis farms to apply for permits to operate legally.
“This is a very difficult time to be a supervisor in Calaveras County,” he said. ”But my experience has given me a set of skills that I can use to help my community.”
Jack Garamendi’s resume is substantial. He manages the family’s cattle ranch and farm, which gives him credentials with many District 2 constituents involved in agriculture. The 46-year-old supervisor-elect is a Fullbright scholar who also earned an MBA from California State University, Hayward, and a bachelor of arts degree from the University of California, Berkeley.
He has a 19-year career with the University of California system, including service as founding vice chancellor for university relations at University of California, Merced.
His long list of volunteer work ranges from serving as a board member for the Calaveras Chamber of Commerce to working with the Calaveras County community college working group.
Garamendi is also an Eagle Scout, Troop 185, the highest and most-exclusive rank offered by the Boy Scouts.
Jack’s father is John Garamendi, who is a serving member of the House of Representatives from the Third Congressional District. The elder Garamendi also served as Insurance Commissioner for California and as Deputy Secretary of the Interior under President Bill Clinton.
“I think my dad is proud of me,” Garamendi said. “Public service has always been an important part of my family.”
District 2 took the brunt of the Butte Fire like a body blow from an elephant, and he remembers standing on the porch of his downtown Mokelumne Hill office, watching fire creep up the canyon toward town.
District 2 continues to recover from the Butte Fire and Garamendi wants to use his term to bring rebuilding and renovation to his district. “It will take every bit of four years and more to fix and rebuild. We need to rebuild better and take into account where we are building houses,” he said.
Garamendi said catastrophic wildfires are a looming threat, and that the overstocked state of the forest is a product of 30 years and more of improper forest management.
“Now we look at our forests as a problem, but they should be an asset,” he said. “We need to do as good a job managing forests as we do fighting fires in them.”
He has heard family stories and has studied the history of a vibrant logging industry that was responsible for keeping the forest cleared and for promoting sustainable forest practices.
“I’ve seen stacks of logs at the Port of Oakland waiting to be taken off shore to be milled. We should be doing that here in Calaveras County,” he said. Garamendi thinks building a modern forest products segment is an important part of his plans for economic development in District 2 and countywide.
Key elements of that include providing increased access to high-speed internet, concentrating on support for local manufacturing and small businesses, and making sure Butte Fire rebuilding efforts provide opportunities for local labor.
“We need good internet here,” he said. “If we want to be part of the global economy we need good internet access.”
He added support for schools to his list of community and economic development. He said the small schools scattered throughout his district are important parts of the community and need to be protected. “And libraries are vitally important,” he said. “Just like our small fire departments.”
“All these things come together to create an environment to make the community thrive,” he added. “If we have a healthy and happy community is will cost us less to manage the county.”
Garamendi said nearly half of the county budget goes toward funding Health and Human Service Department, and economic and community development will keep those costs down.
“But no matter what I may want, it will take at least two other supervisors to agree with me and in some cases three others,” he said.
At 46, Garamendi will be the youngest member of the Calaveras County board of supervisors when the new board is installed in January. The four other supervisors range in age from 62 to 68.
“I do not think my age will be an issue. I have over 25 years of experience working in the public and private sector and I believe my fellow supervisors will value the experience I bring to the board,” he said.
Another issue hanging fire in District 2 will come due for a decision on Feb. 14, when the board will have an opportunity to extend the urgency ordinance that regulates cannabis cultivation. They could vote to extend, vote to deny an extension or they could do nothing. Any decision to continue or change the status of the ordinance requires, by state law, a minimum of four votes.
“I support the continuation of the UO and hope that we can work together as a board to address any shortcomings the UO may have,” he said.
Garamendi was adamant in calling for increased funding to support the ordinance and said that Measure C, a board-mounted tax measure that was passed in November, could provide needed funding, not only for cannabis management but also for long-needed county projects.
“The funding from measure C can be very important to our community in meeting budget shortfalls as well as helping fund public safety, libraries, roads as well as health and community wellness programs,” he said.
Also pending for board review early next year is a potential ballot measure to ban all commercial cannabis operations in the county. The board could enact a certified initiative on the spot, schedule an election as early as May, or do nothing.
“Doing nothing is not an option. If the ban qualified for the ballot, then the people must make their decision at the polls. But the ban votes has to be accompanied by a tax measure for enforcement,” he said.
Garamendi and Colleen, his wife of 21 years, run a business that promotes public-private partnerships. Professional Evaluation Group, Inc. will be managed solely by Colleen while Jack takes over duties as a supervisor.