Board picks Garamendi as chair, Callaway as vice chair

Dead and dying trees line West Murray Creek Road near Mountain Ranch. Supervisors are discussing how to remove hazardous trees on Bureau of Land Management parcels posing a threat to county roads, since the agency is too underfunded to maintain the land.

District 2 Supervisor Jack Garamendi is now the chairman of the the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors, and newly elected District 3 Supervisor Merita Callaway is the vice chair.

After a motion to elect Garamendi as the chairman by District 1 Supervisor Gary Tofanelli, the board voted 5 to 0.

“To the board I want to confirm to you that I will do the best I can to manage these meetings,” Garamendi said. “I believe that working together this year we are going to accomplish a lot. As we take on our hard issues, I want to make sure that we celebrate the good stuff that’s happening in this county, too. With that, we’ve got a lot of work to do and I look forward to going at it.”

Addressing members of the public, Garamendi requested that attendees conduct themselves in a civil manner to maintain a respectful environment at board meetings.

“I will continue to defend your right to petition your government,” Garamendi said. “In general, hate-fueled tirades maybe make for really good YouTube clips or Facebook posts, but they are rarely an effective method for influencing your board or the public.”

Garamendi also insisted that members of the public address the board directly, and that he will “not tolerate anybody attacking our staff.”

Ben Stopper, the new District 5 supervisor, made the motion to elect Callaway as vice chair. The motion passed 4 to 0, with an abstention from District 4 Supervisor Dennis Mills.

In other business, supervisors heard a presentation from Public Works Director Josh Pack on the removal of dead and dying trees on Bureau of Land Management land that pose an immediate threat to county roads.

Although there have been considerable efforts by members of the board to clean up county and private property, county roads running through BLM land have not been managed due to the agency’s severe lack of staffing and funding, Pack said. A county study conducted in June of 2017 identified four BLM parcels in District 2 in need of hazardous tree removal, including two on Jesus Maria Road, one parcel on West Murray Creek Road and another on Cave City Road.

In a Dec. 21 meeting with BLM, representatives of the agency said that they will not be removing any of the trees on the aforementioned parcels, asserted that the county is responsible, but does not recognize the county’s rights to perform the work, according to Pack.

Garamendi clarified that BLM gave the county the go-ahead to remove the trees.

“I believe this is BLM’s responsibility, but BLM is a long way from the property and it’s a risk,” Garamendi said. “It’s going to hurt to pay for something someone else should be doing, but it’s work that has to happen.”

Mills suggested BLM return land to the local jurisdiction of the county.

“If they’re willing to give us the blanket authority to take care of the issue, we should take advantage,” Mills said. But in the long-term, “Ultimately I would like to see BLM give back that land. They’ve got pockets all over this county in thousands of different parcel sizes. Where they’re not functionally usable for them anymore really makes no sense at all. Give them back to a local jurisdiction.”

Supervisors discussed using Teeter funds in the amount of $250,000 to $300,000 to fund tree removals on BLM land, but Auditor-Controller Rebecca Callen was quick to point out that General Fund revenues have been set aside specifically to handle emergency and fire safety-related issues and may be a more appropriate funding source.

The board directed Pack to bring back an updated item on the issue for the Jan. 22 meeting.

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Reporter

Davis recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Environmental Studies. He spends his free time playing guitar and hiking with his dog, Penny.

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