Board Notes 010312
This edition of Board Notes is not going to report news from the Board; there isn’t much news. Instead, this edition intends to salute the five people who have stood for office and sit before the people in session. As we’ve long said our relationship with the state is not an advantageous one. That is evident at every board meeting, and this meeting was no exception. To prepare for this article, download and read the 27.7 megabits of board packet (as the supervisors had to do) HERE.
The meeting opened at 9:05, when the loudmouths in the peanut gallery finally sat down (I was politicking). All supervisors were present. The room was led in pledge to the flag, always a religious and nationalistic as opposed to patriotic act, and a particularly empty gesture now that the republic for which it stands has declined into a police state.
There was a brief warm moment when retiring Chair Lee Adams handed candy to Heather Foster, noting the significant contribution Ms. Foster makes to each board meeting, and then handed the gavel to incoming Chair Peter Huebner. Adams and Huebner hugged and danced for a moment, and Huebner gave Adams a gavel and plaque, with the understanding he couldn’t use it during the meeting. The two changed seats, with Adams returning to his edge of the raised bench, and Huebner taking center stage. The change was not complete; Huebner kept waiting for someone to do something, and Adams continued to take the floor like Mr. Microphone, but the room always enjoys Lee Adams’ insightful and often wryly humorous observations, and he has skill at summarizing an issue. He was a good chair, understood his duties, and always leaned toward allowing the public to have its say, and he did the job with wit.
The board swiftly concluded its secretarial business, received the most recent installment of the drama over Sierra Brooks water, as some residents there continue to hope for cheap water, clearly ignorant to the harsh realities of water in California, and moved on to Forest Service Report.
Forest Service Report is an opportunity for the Tahoe National Forest to pretend it gives a dog’s fart about Sierra County. Each board meeting entertains a district ranger, Sierraville and Yuba. District Ranger Genice Froelich addressed the board, encouraging everyone to “think snow”. There was a certain amount of blah blah, but interestingly she mentioned the renewal of the dams, including the Yuba County Water Agency dam at New Bullard’s Bar, and the work the Forest Service is doing in preparation for renewing the 50 year permit on the dams. The water from the Western brow of the county sweeps into NBBD, and anything that happens there is news to us. She told the board and press to be ready for an announcement from headquarters stating that the seasonal closures of roads will be delayed since the season never materialized. If the weather changes, they’ll close the roads. She also tried to gently tell Supervisor Adams that, no, there wouldn’t be any more meetings about the travel management plan. She told him that, though there had been different results in different districts, they all followed the same process, as though there should be some comfort there. What is there is a legal point: they can challenge the process, but not the result. Adams took the moment to point out that Modoc County has over 300 miles of dual use roads, and in our forests we essentially have none. Clearly disgusted, he threw caution to the wind and spat venom on the freakin’ California Highway Patrol for failing to support counties against the feds and failing even to provide coherent policy for the issue.
We’ll pause here to appreciate the issue from the perspective of the supervisors. If there is any body with breath in the county which might prevent the absolute theft of our forests by the Forest Service, it would have to be the Board. Steadily along, the supervisors have struggled with the issue, complaining as best they can, meeting with people and getting more and more frustrated, particularly when other counties have done much better. To be fair, the county has won a few miles back, largely thanks to District Ranger Quentin Youngblood, who has tried to sincerely respond to county concerns, and who will probably suffer for it one day. In this matter, and in all things Forest Service, the people of the county are really more of a bother than anything.
Auditor Treasurer Tax Collector (ATTC) Van Maddox explained to the board how the county, along with other rural counties, had been screwed by CalPers. Sierra County was tossed along with other small counties into an odd pot on the retirement fund. As a result, a debt has been created which the county needs to refinance. ATTC Maddox and Supervisor Nunes discussed how, had the legislature not allowed Pers to restructure the county’s debt, we wouldn’t be in debt. As it is, we have a variable rate over 7% which might go up. Thank you, California.
In preparation for adopting the news building codes, the board heard from three residents with concerns about some of the restrictions. Bill Bate worried that local code would prevent ranchers from keeping boats and motorhomes inside agricultural storage buildings. Robert Eschelman spoke for treating Timber Production Zone land the same as General Forest, and Ms. Hudson spoke encouraging the county to make it as easy as possible to build in the county. The response from Planning Director Tim Beals was essentially, that, yep, the building codes are pretty damn restrictive, and the local codes represented the county’s best efforts to exempt where they could. Without the local codes, even agricultural storage barns would have to be engineered and there would be no exemptions. In short, sorry it doesn’t seem like enough, but it’s all the power the county has to do anything. He agreed with Mrs. Hudson that if you wanted to have workers over to milk cows, it was a milking barn and needed to be up to code. Beals pointed out that the county already took more chances than many counties, including the fact that the county allows extensions of building permits. He didn’t explain, but there are several reasons it isn’t an advantage for the county to extend permits; for one thing, it loses permit application money, and for another, the longer a project takes the less likely it is to be complete. Still, the department realizes we have a short building season here, and that times are hard and people need more time to finish projects. Lee Adams and Tim Beals both sawed on the old rationalization for obstructive building codes, safety, but Director Beals put an even finer edge on it: if you don’t follow state building codes, banks and insurance companies won’t touch your property. The problem is much, much bigger than the Sierra County Board of Supervisors.
The Board addressed the issue of lead agency for the Stampede Dam raising project. There are several agencies involved with the project, including the feds and Nevada County, but the Bureau of Reclamation is trying to bully Sierra County into taking the lead agency role on California Environmental Quality Act documents for the project, because no one else wants to.
The preferred structural alternative to address the potential overtopping condition was identified in 2010 at the completion of Corrective Action Studies. This alternative involves raising the dam and dike 11.5 feet using mechanically stabilized earth construction techniques to temporarily store floodwaters. The spillway will be modified to accommodate the raised embankment and limit peak flows through the spillway to maintain current flood operations in the Little Truckee River. From HERE.
Stampede Dam, completed in 1970, is 239-feet high and has a crest length of 1,511 feet. The reservoir provides water primarily for fishery enhancement along the Truckee River and Pyramid Lake Fishway facilities operation. The dam is owned and operated by Reclamation and is part of the Washoe Project. From HERE.
The supervisors took turns saying things along the lines of “how stupid do they think we are” and “why do they think we’ll do this, can they hurt us in some way” but it was County Council Jim Curtis who, in language fluid and concise, explained that he looked at the law, and there is no way Sierra County should accept lead agency status. The federal government is the sovereign, they can simply decide to disallow any penalties, and Sierra County would be responsible for any legal actions arising from construction of the dam. Supervisor Schlefstein pointed out that the dam was being raised for a 75,000 year flood event, but this reporter noticed that raising the dam would seem to increase the over 225,000 acre feet of water in the reservoir, water which enhances fisheries by court decree, and which releases other water for Truckee Meadows users. The supervisors determined to refuse to take lead agency status, to the degree they could.
The Board passed measures giving the Sierra County Fire Safe and Watershed Council money to do hazard fuel work, and money which presumably will go toward hazard fuel. Supervisor Goicoechea spoke about the fact that the Board, once it gives money to the SCFSWC, has no control over it. He expressed concern over watershed issues, implying but not specifically referring to recent changes in the FSWC mission statement incorporating the state IRWMP project into the bones of the organization*. His concern is rooted in the fact that the council originally began as a part of Sierra County, but freed itself from the county (except to receive funds) by becoming a non-profit agency. Word on the street says that SCFSWC staff recently reminded SCFSWC board members that as a non-profit they represent the council and not the residents of the county. Goicoechea suggested that perhaps council requests for money should go through some kind of public process, for example, the planning commission. Director Tim Beals cautioned “you might get more than you bargained for” by turning the process public, but he didn’t expand on the issue. Goicoechea reminded the room of the Sierra County policy requiring anyone doing major watershed work in the county to notify the board, and cautioned that the Board of Supervisors didn’t want to contribute to projects which might become controversial. Supervisor Nunes stated that the Board of Supervisors had a member on the Fire Safe and Watershed Council board, which begged the question how Peter Huebner, a voting member of the SCFSWC board could vote to give the council BOS money, and should he abstain. In the end, the BOS gave the money to the SCFSWC, because, after all, who else in the county can do the work the FSWC does?
The Board went into closed session to discuss a personnel matter, and somewhat later came out to announce they’d hired a lawyer for the issue, but nothing else.
It’s clear to this reporter that the people on the Board of Supervisors constantly struggle with the limitations of their authority. They are forced to approve things they don’t like, to collect money they don’t want to, and impede the lives of the people they serve in ways they can scarcely justify. The Boards of Supervisors of other counties tend to be more bureaucratic, less democratic, and hope to distance themselves from the people they serve; our county is too small, the actions taken by the board are reflected in the faces of neighbors. Other than some obvious form of mental illness which caused them to run for office in the first place, our supervisors are good people doing their best under hard circumstance. I encourage anyone who is critical of a Sierra County supervisor to pony up, run for office, see how life is from the other side of the bench.
*This reporter was a member of the SCFSWC board at that time, and voted to approve the new mission statement, though later that support was reversed.