Earth, wind, fire and water
Districts 1 and 5 county supervisorial candidates share elemental concerns
If extraterrestrial visitors made a study of how democracy is practiced at the grass-roots level in the United States in the first decade of the 21st century, they might conclude that the only people paying much attention to issues and candidates—especially in local races—are the elderly.
Two candidates’ forums held in the past couple of weeks up on the Paradise ridge—one in Magalia and one in Paradise—both drew audiences in which the median age was about 70. Of course, the Ridge is generally regarded as “God’s Waiting Room,” so perhaps it was no surprise that those gatherings would skew toward the aged, but should you attend just about any meeting devoted to civic issues just about anywhere, you’ll find older people—"Q-tips,” as they’re sometimes called—dominating the get-togethers.
Appearing on May 2 before the Upper Ridge Coordinating Council in Magalia, District 5 incumbent Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi, who is seeking his third term, and challengers Robin Huffman, a first-term town councilwoman, and Dwight “D.H.” Grumbles, a businessman, spoke to an audience of about 50 residents.
On May 9, the District 5 candidates appeared again before The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association luncheon at the Paradise Senior Center, where they were joined by the two candidates for the District 1 seat: incumbent Bill Connelly and real-estate broker Gordon Andoe.
Both gatherings featured much the same rhetoric. If the purpose of such forums is to highlight differences among candidates, then neither event served that purpose. Campaign platitudes blurred the differences, as the three candidates largely presented themselves as favoring much the same things—responsible growth, improved evacuation routes in the event of fire, more coordination and cooperation among other governing bodies within the county, and a commitment to creating a new and forward-looking county general plan.
Though the differences among the candidates were understated at the meetings, Huffman’s campaign flyer paints Yamaguchi as a supervisor who is “pro-development at any cost” and accuses him of not attending Butte County general plan update meetings. She also says that the incumbent is entirely too complacent about the “grossly inadequate … fire and police protection” in Paradise and Magalia.
Huffman had a cold during the face-off at the NARFE luncheon, which drew about 50 people. Her voice was hoarse, and she struggled to make herself heard. Her efforts were made more difficult by a microphone that kept malfunctioning. And Grumbles admitted to a reporter before the event began that he had to work harder at speaking with greater force.
Yamaguchi, however, had little problem finding his voice or his confidence. He pointed with pride to the acquisition and barricading of Lookout Point as a signal accomplishment of his time in office.
Lookout Point—that sheer drop into Butte Creek Canyon—had long been a magnet for those who sought to end it all by plunging off the cliff in their automobiles as they drove down the Skyway from Paradise to Chico. After several delay-filled years, the county bought the property from two private owners and constructed barricades.
Inasmuch as making suicide more difficult is generally seen as a worthy endeavor, there was no disagreement among the contenders that this was a good thing, though Huffman did suggest that the process took too long and was surrounded by too much secrecy.
Huffman, along with the others, touted the value of the general plan. “It’s great that the general plan is under way,” she said, “but we’re going to have to scream a lot louder if we want to make sure we create the kind of future we want.”
Grumbles was most concerned about water. “Water,” he said, “should be part of the general plan, and right now it’s not. If you don’t have water, you’ve got a serious problem, and our water supply is threatened.”
On the subject of air quality, Huffman warned that the district faces lawsuits because of failures to comply with air-quality standards. “Replacement of old woodstoves and fireplaces with new and more efficient ones is a good idea,” she said, “though I would never vote to restrict someone’s right to use his or her woodstove.” For his part, Yamaguchi prefers voluntary reductions in wood burning rather than mandatory restrictions.
Grumbles re-emphasized his concerns about water supplies. “The relicensing of Oroville Dam gives us an opportunity to assert more influence over our water,” he said.
The District 1 candidates drove up to the Ridge to attend the NARFE gathering, even though they are seeking a seat representing the Oroville area. The differences between them was much more stark—and real contentiousness was on display as Andoe, who served 10 years on the Oroville City Council, expressed unhappiness with the way Connelly has worked with the council and other entities.
“I’m running for supervisor in my district,” he said, “because I think we need better coordination between agencies if were going to have growth we can be proud of.”
For his part, Connelly expressed interest in participating in the county general plan update, “so our district doesn’t get dumped on.” Connelly, completing his first term, also wants more advantageous relicensing of Oroville Dam, and more viable public transportation in his district and throughout the county.
Andoe reiterated his concerns about supervisors working more closely with local agencies, getting on the same page and getting things done. He also wants to ensure that the county general plan includes the annexation and cleanup of south Oroville, something that should have been done years ago.
The issues the county faces are truly elemental, with air, fire, and water heading the short list of concerns. A few hundred words of newsprint and a few 30-second sound bites on local TV news shows cannot convey the complexity of those issues to an electorate that includes a majority of voters who will never attend a public forum. Decisions made by the current crop of supervisors will have their greatest impact on quality-of-life issues that hit home after most of those who turned out to hear these candidates speak are long gone.
Visiting extraterrestrials would surely find irony in the disparity between those who are showing the greatest interest in the future, as opposed to those who will mostly be living in it.