Note: As this article displays, our elections coverage favors using the candidates’ own words. But doing that for a session that lasted for hours runs into the strict space limits of a newspaper. Therefore, this report on the important sheriff’s race will be split into two installments. The second installment (covering morale in the Sheriff’s Office, community policing, personal views on marijuana and closing statements) will appear in next week’s issue.
Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio and Amador County District Attorney’s Investigator Gary Stevens made an appearance at the county Republican Party’s general meeting on Feb. 14 in their bid for the top county law enforcement seat in this year’s election.
Both candidates used brief opening statements to describe their law enforcement backgrounds and other qualifications. In the course of their statements, each shared their general views on the state of law enforcement in Calaveras.
“I’m very impressed with what’s going on in the department and within the community,” DiBasilio said.
“I have a few concerns and that’s why I’m running,” Stevens said in his opening statement. “One is because we do not have a voice in the Sheriff’s Office that is telling the public what’s going on, and it’s affecting the public safety issues that we’re being faced with. We need a sheriff that keeps the county apprised of what is going on, the new laws that are coming down, and how they’re going to affect or impact the community and the residents, including myself.”
For nearly two hours, both candidates responded to questions from the audience on a wide range of topics. What follows are some of the questions that occupied the most time, along with representative statements from the candidates (and others in the audience) in response to those questions.
Sanctuary state and immigration
“I’d like to know what you think of the sanctuary state and how it impacts law enforcement in Calaveras County?” a woman asked. “What you would do about it, if anything?”
“The sanctuary state is an issue in California that is part of their resistance to the federal government,” Stevens answered. “The issue is not over with the passage of (California Senate Bill) 54. I see a showdown coming between the federal government and the state of California. We are not immigration officers. Our job is not to go out and seek out illegal aliens. Our job is to protect the public and the citizens of Calaveras County. It’s not so much going to impact my job, but it’s going to impact the community. It’s going to impact the citizens. It’s an issue that’s not settled yet.”
“The sanctuary state is an issue,” said DiBasilio. “It has caused a lot of problems. There are ways around that. Right now, there are only certain crimes that people have committed and been convicted of that give us the opportunity to talk to ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement). When we had some of our big marijuana busts this year, we arrested 23 illegal aliens. We fingerprint them and we do what we need to do within our jail system. We contacted ICE at the time, and this was prior to SB 54, and ICE didn’t even bother to call us back. The issue there is that we’re small potatoes to them. We have talked to them and they say exactly that, ‘You guys are small potatoes.’ They’ll go down to Los Angeles and they will pull 400 or 500. The federal government and the state of California, as we know, are butting heads and it puts the Sheriff’s Office in a bad position. What we can do as a Sheriff’s Office is to be sure that we have done everything that we can with this person to find out if he has been convicted. If he has been convicted of those crimes, then we can contact ICE.”
Cannabis eradication, funding and environmental issues
“How are you planning on funding the eradication of the now-banned pot farms?” another woman asked.
“How do we fund investigations for burglaries?” Stevens asked in return. “Child molestations? Everything else that we do? The county Board of Supervisors gives the sheriff his budget and there’s where enforcement comes from. You don’t need specific money to enforce a specific crime.”
“Well, the funding that’s being used right now actually has been coming from Measure C funds to go after the eradications,” DiBasilio responded. “As you well know, we had our big operation last year with Operation Terminus and we eradicated a lot of growers and we will be doing that again this year.”
“My information that I’m getting from the tax collector is that the taxes and monies collected from Measure C in 2016 was just over $7 million,” said Stevens. “Last year’s taxes were little more than half. That money is still sitting. That has not been used for eradication efforts. My information from the auditor’s office is that $980,000 was used last year for eradication. It was not Measure C money. And that money is still sitting. I’m getting this from the tax collector’s office and the auditor’s office.”
Rebecca Callen, the county auditor-controller, moved to the front of the room and provided clarification.
“Regulatory funds come in and they go to a separate fund,” Callen explained. “They stay in a separate fund until it’s proven that the activities are regulatory in nature and then we’ll pull that money in to offset those expenditures. Measure C never had its own separate fund. We would collect the money, it would come into the general fund and at that point, it’s just general fund money, just like sales tax, TOT (transient occupancy tax), property taxes or any discretionary money that is fully underneath the Board of Supervisors to do whatever they want with it. It just comes into the general fund and it gets used as discretionary. There is no pot of money that’s put to the side and then we can draw down on Measure C funds. It just goes into the pool, and that’s where it is. At the point it comes in, it can be used for libraries; it can be used for the sheriff’s department; it can be used for the agricultural department. There is no earmarking of Measure C.”
“How many illegal farms did you guys identify last year?” a man asked. “You were quoted in the paper last year saying 1,000 at the beginning of year and around 1,200 at the end of year.”
“We have a program similar to Google Earth that does overflights,” DiBasilio responded. “We identified 600 that we know for sure are illegal. However, we believed there were probably another 600.”
“Then you eradicated 19 of them. Now that you’re going to lose Measure C funding, how are you going to enforce with less funding?” the man asked.
“The county is not as broke as a lot of people like to think,” Stevens said. “There is money, and I think they’re sitting on $7 million in reserves. There is also outside source funding, and we also get assistance from other agencies and the federal government. But it’s not always in money. Sometimes it’s in manpower. We’ll never get them all, but as soon as we start taking heavier enforcement action, they’ll start leaving.”
“Who is going to be the agency monitoring eradications of both registered and unregistered grows? The approved and unapproved?” a man asked.
“That’s more of a policy question,” said Stevens. “Once the ban is in effect, unless it’s six plants, they’re all illegal. As far as a pecking order or priority order, I would say start with probably the largest commercial farms first and start weeding them out, no pun intended. Start getting rid of them first because it’s a higher volume. The smaller ones are not worth the expense and time to go eradicate when we have a big monster one.”
“They’re all going to be illegal,” said DiBasilio. “Right now we’re actively pursuing people that we know. You’ve seen all the grows we’ve been hitting down in Valley Springs. We have a trail. We’re following that trail and it leads us from one grow site to another. Everybody is supposed to be in compliance by June 10, so after that, everything is illegal except for the six plants they can grow under Prop. 64.”