Candidates for local supervisorial races and the congressional race recently took the time to answer questions posed by Calaveras Enterprise reporter Davis Harper. The line of questioning is meant to help voters understand candidates’ stances regarding the issues facing their respective districts. The answers are left mostly unedited, except in the cases of clarity and space. Each candidate responded to the questions.
1. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the county, and how do you suggest solving it?
Gary Tofanelli: There are several challenges that the county faces in the current year and in the next five years. Public safety is always a challenge, and as I have in the past, I will continue to work with the sheriff to make sure he has the necessary means to do his job. There are also a number of road projects that need to be completed that are a high priority and are on schedule to be completed in the next three to five years. As a board-appointed member to the Council of Governments, I will continue working to get funds to meet these project’s needs.
Sharon Romano: The safety of all residents of Calaveras County is of paramount importance. Safety not only includes the ability to effectively enforce laws, but also to protect the area from another devastating wildfire. It also means the county must adequately support services provided by the Public Health Department, Health and Human Services, Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse, First 5 Calaveras and Public Authority. Support of these efforts means having the best possible people leading these departments and providing adequate funding for competitive salaries, training and tools to those doing the work.
Jack Garamendi: There are many challenges facing our county, and one of the biggest is how we position our county economically for the future. We have a declining population that is getting older. So your government must find ways to serve this population and find innovative ways to draw new business and new people to our communities. We need small businesses to serve residents and create value-added products. We need families to add children to our schools, create businesses and fully participate in our communities. I believe Calaveras is up to the challenge and will solve it.
Laree Lynn Garza: I do not see any single challenge. There are many issues, such as outrageous increases in property taxes, ability to retain homeowners insurance, removal of downed trees, road maintenance and repairs, for starters.
Dennis Mills: There are multiple challenges: the safety of communities, preserving our environment, protecting our children and growing a vibrant economy. The greatest challenge is the influx of crime into our county. The board has recently provided our law enforcement with the tools and manpower needed to keep our communities safe. Our local economy is now growing with the lowest unemployment in decades. It is essential we focus on creating affordable housing, living-wage jobs and needed support services to handle that growth. Our county’s greatest assets are its history, beauty and environment. Future growth must preserve all three.
Amanda Folendorf: Our growing structural deficit must be restored by public trust in our county’s government. To do this, we must be honest and accountable to our taxpayers. I will bring my skills to the position of supervisor that I demonstrated as mayor of Angels Camp when we brought the city back from the brink of bankruptcy. As your supervisor, I will work to find ways to reduce unnecessary spending and increase revenue to balance our budget. We must have a Unity of Purpose by resolving disputes through dialog and compromise. With that, there is no limit to what we can achieve.
2. What is your position on allowing large retail stores to build in Calaveras County?
Gary Tofanelli: If a large retail business is looking to locate in county and the location it is looking to build on is zoned properly, meets planning and building requirements and is within the General Plan requirements, then it should move forward.
Sharon Romano: I would love to be able to do more shopping in Calaveras and keep sales tax money from going to surrounding counties. However, there has to be a careful balance between considering what large retail store we might want to approve, while protecting our existing local businesses.
Jack Garamendi: Most economic studies agree that “Big Box” retailers are not the economic engines that promoters want you to believe. The economy thrives when communities shop at locally owned and operated stores. Our neighboring counties chased large retail stores and it took decades for their small businesses and downtowns to recover. Calaveras must be cautious in the pursuit of any such development.
Laree Lynn Garza: Large retail stores in rural areas are not practical, as there is insufficient infrastructure to support them.
Dennis Mills: It is not the size of the store that should be the question; it is more about whether the business fits the needs of the community. I think we need to be careful considering what has happened in Sonora and other foothill communities with large stores such as the Sonora Plaza (OSH and Carpet Mart), where should they not be successful, we end up with derelict shopping space that becomes a drag on the local economy.
Amanda Folendorf: We can no longer turn away every opportunity for development. Recent new businesses have upgraded our infrastructure and contributed to local employment and taxes. However, we don’t want to allow large retail at the expense of displacing our local businesses or disrupting the character of our communities. We need to incentivize, support and sustain our local businesses because these are the foundation of our community. All retail must comply with our community and general plans.
3. How will you bring new business to your district and the county?
Gary Tofanelli: I support the Economic Development Department and believe it is vital to bringing business and opportunity to our county. I have helped and will continue to help businesses locate and open in my district and the county.
Sharon Romano: If Calaveras County is going to have a strong, growing economy, we need to make it easier to attract new businesses and for our residents to have additional job opportunities. District 1 is a diverse area. San Andreas is the county seat with a small business footprint. Valley Springs has most of the commercial activity, with Wallace, Burson and other outlying areas designated rural residential with farm and ranch land. The Toyon Industrial/Business Park and the (former) San Andreas airport are potential locations for light industry. However, before any new business is to be considered, it must conform to the General Plan, as well as the Community Plan for the area in which it is proposed. It must be a business that will support a growing economy. And it must not adversely affect the environment or the health, safety and quality of life of Calaveras residents.
Jack Garamendi: The first act was to complete the General Plan, which is a detailed plan describing how we will grow and how we will use our land and build our infrastructure. The board accomplished this with a unanimous vote while I was chairman of the board in 2019. The county must create the infrastructure, roads, internet, public safety to support small businesses and the entrepreneurs will create the businesses of the future.
Laree Lynn Garza: Large retail stores in rural areas would not be practical, but I believe a Trader Joes or Target would be an asset in the more populated areas. I believe reopening our lumber mills would also be a great opportunity to create jobs locally.
Dennis Mills: Our county should help, not impede small business, reducing regulations and associated costs with sound planning. We do need adequate shopping to keep our local taxes from being collected in other counties. Having the infrastructure and zoning already in place will speed up the process for those businesses looking to locate here. The General Plan update and the work on a community plan for Copperopolis will help provide that direction. People move here not to duplicate the Bay Area but to enjoy our rural life and scenery. Retaining that in our vision is critical to keeping Calaveras what it is.
Amanda Folendorf: I have a proven track record of supporting businesses in District 4 and creating incentives to bring smart development to Angels Camp. Under my leadership as mayor, we created policies, incentivized development, supported current local business and, with our partners, attracted more businesses to make Angels Camp their home. This track record, which was recently reported by the Enterprise, is exactly what I will bring to the rest of D4 as county supervisor. My priority will be to ensure our community plan in Copperopolis is adopted into the General Plan to ensure our community’s vision is reflected.
4. What is your stance on the county’s regulated commercial cannabis program?
Gary Tofanelli: The county has an ordinance for cannabis in place currently. I did not vote for it nor did I vote for a previous ordinance. I do not agree with allowing grows of an acre in size on lots as small as 10 acres. I believe this activity should be on lots that are at least 100 acres or more and located far outside of residential areas. These grows should be limited in numbers and have regular site visits by code enforcement as well as strict regulations.
Sharon Romano: I am glad the county has finally passed an ordinance regulating the cultivation of cannabis that clearly includes provisions to keep our neighborhoods safe. If implemented correctly, the industry has the potential to provide good-paying jobs, encourage the creation of other businesses such as testing and distribution of products, and will generate much-needed tax dollars to help balance the county’s budget. To me, the biggest roadblock to this agricultural industry being successful is by some supervisors’ attempt to sabotage the ordinance. We need to support adequate staffing and equipment requests by the departments that are responsible for carrying out the ordinance.
Jack Garamendi: I support a highly regulated and enforced commercial cannabis program.
Laree Lynn Garza: I am against commercial marijuana in rural residential areas. There are only three dispensaries in Calaveras County and they cannot support huge quantities of marijuana produced by commercial marijuana grows. It would make better sense to ban commercial marijuana and support our small, local growers who have been here forever.
Dennis Mills: We must keep communities safe and environmentally clean. Legalization brought in large numbers of legal/illegal operations that did not comply with environmental regulations and compromised public safety. The neighbor-on-neighbor conflicts are well documented. The (district attorney) stated the most heinous crimes occurred on legal grow sites. An environmental mess created by the (Urgency Ordinance) has yet to be cleaned up in many parts of the county. Legalized commercial grows don’t contribute financially to enforcement or cleanup costs. I do not believe the county should interfere with private citizens growing personal cannabis, but I am absolutely opposed to commercial production here.
Amanda Folendorf: I believe local control provides the best way forward to protect our environment and public safety. The politics of division, which leaves hundreds of thousands of dollars collected but unspent, is not helping anyone. We need to faithfully execute the laws of our county. The current regulations keep cultivation out of neighborhoods and only allow it in agricultural lands. I support this decision and will do all I can to ensure our county staff’s ability to implement and run this program. I will not obstruct an ordinance passed by a majority of the board of supervisors.
5. How would you help Butte Fire victims rebuild their homes?
Gary Tofanelli: The board has, in the past, waived construction fees for a number of nonprofit agencies that had to do with construction, such as Habitat for Humanity. Although the Butte Fire victims are not a nonprofit agency, I would be willing to vote for a measure like that for qualifying individuals.
Sharon Romano: I would ensure that Calaveras County is getting all available grants, funding and any other revenue sources related to the fire recovery. I would make sure that victims of the fire who are rebuilding have their plans, building permits and all other requirements expedited. These people have had to endure enough hardship. They shouldn’t have to deal with delays and roadblocks while trying to get their lives back to some semblance of normal. Keeping them in Calaveras County is primary!
Jack Garamendi: To rebuild our community, I have worked closely with fire survivors and state and federal officials, held town halls with the Department of Insurance and pushed PG&E to settle with survivors. I have worked to streamline county processes for reconstruction and fought to have PG&E settlement funds spent on fire recovery and preparation for future disasters. This included $13.4 million to rebuild roads, $1.3 million for equipment to Central Calaveras Fire, Mokelumne Hill Fire and West Point Fire, and $300,000 for rebuilding community centers in Mountain Ranch, Rail Road Flat, Sheep Ranch, Glencoe, Moke Hill, West Point and Sheep Ranch.
Laree Lynn Garza: It’s been four years. Many of my friends have still been unable to rebuild due to tons of red tape. It’s extremely sad that these victims have to endure resilience in any way. I believe the county should have made each and every fire victim a priority, instead of marijuana.
Dennis Mills: As a former firefighter, I am acutely aware of the devastation fires cause to property and lives. The county has streamlined the permitting process for victims in the burn scar. We have undertaken dead tree removal and cleaned up all hazardous material around private homes at no direct cost to property owners. $13.2 million has been set aside to repair roads impacted by the Butte Fire. We are in the process of completing many fuel-break projects to reduce the threat of future devastation. Many victims have received insurance money with some choosing to rebuild and others choosing not to.
Amanda Folendorf: Butte Fire Victims have suffered enough. The current laborious process for them to have the ability to rebuild is costing our county revenue. I would prefer incentives and support for victims, such as fee waivers or reduced impact fees, and policies to deal with better disaster recovery. There is no pie in the sky answer, but the county should not be adding to the fire victims’ hardships by throwing up bureaucratic roadblocks. We need to let them rebuild without increasing the costs with endless trips to and revisions at the Building Department.
Below are responses from candidates in the race for California’s 4th Congressional District.
How would you bring rural health care opportunities to District 4?
Tom McClintock: Obamacare was enacted with the promise it would lower premiums, increase patient choices and improve care. It has done exactly the opposite. Except for those who get government subsidies, the premium increases are eating families alive. Instead of the one-size-fits-all mandate of Obamacare, I have co-sponsored reforms that replace it with a competitive, patient-centered system, where families will have the widest range of choices and the freedom to choose the plan that best meets their own needs – along with a supportive tax system to assure that access to health care is within the financial reach of every American.
Brynne Kennedy: Growing up in a rural area with parents who battled cancer, this issue is personal to me. We need a comprehensive approach to expand and protect access to care. That’s why I support legislation to enable more full-service hospitals to transition into outpatient clinics, and will work to expand rural broadband so that more communities can access telemedicine. Additionally, I’ll work to create value-based metrics to increase reimbursement rates in communities with lower patient loads, while offering tax and loan forgiveness options to incentivize more medical professionals to work in underserved areas. Finally, unlike our incumbent, I will never vote to take health coverage away from people with prior conditions, and will work to lower the cost of prescription drugs.
Julianne Benzel: Health care is my No. 1 legislative priority. It affects all constituents and is nonpartisan. I flatly reject “Medicare for All.” Why would we trust (or want) a government who has mismanaged our money (they have accumulated a $23 trillion debt!) to take over the most important aspect of someone’s life? I will introduce legislation to move to a market-based approach: health insurance should be provided just as any other (home, life, fire). I will also include price transparency and price ceilings for all procedures, medical equipment and prescriptions.
Robert Lawton: I’m the only candidate on the ballot who will fight for Medicare for All. My opponent, Tom McClintock, voted to cut Medicare, and Brynne Kennedy doesn’t support Medicare for All.
How would you leverage your seat in Congress to protect District 4 residents from mega-wildfires?
Tom McClintock: For four years, I chaired the Federal Lands Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee and focused that committee’s work on addressing the forest crisis. We produced landmark legislation to restore scientific management to our forests and restore a proper balance between tree density and the ability of the land to support it. My legislation, signed into law as part of the WIIN (Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation) Act, expedited the removal of dead and dying timber and increased federal funding for forest management in the Tahoe Basin by $150 million. The Forest Service credits it as a model of future forest management. I am currently working to expand its provisions to all of our forests.
Brynne Kennedy: Many of our largest fires have sparked on federal lands, and the starting point must be to modernize federal forest and land management practices. This will not only help reduce deadly wildfires, it will create middle-class jobs in rural areas. But more forest management is not a silver bullet. Our power infrastructure is outdated and has been poorly maintained. Our incumbent congressman has been complicit by turning a blind eye while accepting campaign contributions from PG&E. I won’t. Instead, I’ll work across the aisle on targeted tax incentives and regulatory reforms to promote smart growth practices, help homeowners harden their homes, increase defensible spaces, modernize our power grid and improve access to renewable energy technologies.
Julianne Benzel: Sixty percent of (District 4) is federal land and so this is well within my jurisdiction. I love your word “leverage,” because that is exactly how I will use this office for CA04. Advocating, being present and gaining grants is over half of the “job duties.” I will ensure we have a logical and sensible approach to forest and land management. Scaling back the overburdened environmental regulations, coupled with ensuring PG&E’s infrastructure remains up-to-date. Routine and random “blackouts” will not be accepted as the “new norm” in CA04.
Robert Lawton: The last decade was the hottest in recorded history and January alone, we’re supposed to receive nearly seven inches of rainfall, but we’ll end the month with less than one. Climate change is very real and directly correlates to increased wildfires. I’m the only candidate running who will fight for the Green New Deal. Separately, I’m the only candidate who supports public ownership of PG&E. Tom McClintock is a climate science denier who takes money from PG&E and Brynne Kennedy does not support the Green New Deal, or public ownership of PG&E.
How would you put a stop to gun violence?
Tom McClintock: In 50 years of experience with gun control laws, we have found them extremely effective at disarming law-abiding citizens. We have found them extremely ineffective at disarming criminals, madmen and terrorists. Fortunately, we know what works: executing murderers, locking up gun predators until they are old and feeble, confining the dangerously mentally ill so they can be treated, and protecting the right of responsible armed citizens who can return fire. These laws protected us well for many decades. But beginning in the 1960s, under relentless attack by leftist politicians, our governments abandoned them. Today, we are reaping the whirlwind.
Brynne Kennedy: Our goal must be to protect individual rights while reducing public safety risks. That’s why I support universal background checks, red flag laws and the Trump administration’s ban on certain accessories like bump stocks. I also support enabling the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to study and make reasoned policy recommendations on this issue as a public health matter. With the largest number of gun deaths attributed to suicides, we have a national imperative to destigmatize mental health and make care more accessible for more people. The idea that you are either for subverting the Second Amendment or doing nothing is a false choice we must reject.
Julianne Benzel: We have more depressed and suicidal young people than we ever have before. Why is that? Guns are always the “default blame,” but gun ownership has barely changed in the past 40 years. As an originalist to the U.S. Constitution, I’m a firm advocate of the Second Amendment. I will advocate and introduce legislation to safeguard and protect our schools, who have now become “soft targets.” Congress has not done ONE thing since Columbine.
Robert Lawton: I’m a gun owner, and I also support sensible gun control. Tom McClintock is against all gun control, and Brynne Kennedy has tweeted in the past that “the right to bear arms is ridiculous.” I don’t agree with that at all, and I think voters should consider she’s going to have a tough time beating Tom McClintock in a district like this with views like those.
How would you work with other members in Congress to address illegal immigration at the southern border?
Tom McClintock: History warns us that nations that cannot or will not defend their borders aren’t around very long. If our immigration laws are not enforced, our borders are meaningless. I co-sponsored the Goodlatte Immigration Reform bill that grants legal residency to those brought here illegally by their parents – once our borders are fully secured and the integrity of our immigration laws is restored. There is no “right” to enter our country illegally, and I support the prosecution and deportation of those who break our laws. I also strongly oppose “sanctuary” laws that directly threaten the public safety of our communities.
Brynne Kennedy: First, I won’t use this issue to divide Americans and score partisan points. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle know the most cost-effective way to secure our border is by fixing a broken immigration system that only invites more chaos. This should include investing in more border agents, technology, immigration judges and physical barriers where they make sense, as well as accessible legal pathways for children, military families and legitimate asylum seekers. We must reform our visa system and labor laws to meet the needs of our economy without inviting more unlawful immigration or shortchanging American workers. The bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act is an important step forward.
Julianne Benzel: Safe, secure borders and sovereign territorial lines have always ensured legal entrance into the United States. I fully support additional funding and measures to protect our borders. I would also like to address, support and fund “lift up” measures globally so that people who desire to stay in their homelands have better opportunities and there is less of a reason to immigrate into the United States. I also love how you said “work with other members in Congress.” You must make difficult decisions and work with others that you may not agree with for the sole betterment of all Americans who are relying on objective and sincere legislators.
Robert Lawton: I’m the only candidate in the race who’s committed to fighting for immigration reform, and also against “building the wall,” whereas Tom McClintock is strongly in favor of it. Brynne Kennedy has no position on immigration whatsoever, which I find troubling. I think it’s strange that a candidate for Congress doesn’t have the political courage to take a position on issues like immigration, foreign policy, Social Security, veterans, fracking or many other important policies, and still expect voters to support her without knowing where she stands.
District 5 State Assemblyman Frank Bigelow is running unopposed in his re-election bid. He did not respond to a request for comment.