The two candidates in the runoff for Calaveras County Board of Supervisors District 1 fielded questions on economic development, the general plan document for land use and infrastructure in a forum hosted Wednesday night by the Calaveras County Chamber of Commerce.
Supervisor Gary Tofanelli and challenger Cliff Edson squared off at the Jenny Lind Veterans Hall in Valley Springs. Each touted his success after hard work and facing adversity in starting businesses. Edson owns a restaurant in San Andreas and Tofanelli has a steel fabrication company in Stockton.
Edson had criticisms for some county policies and the board’s working relationship with other entities. Tofanelli, meanwhile, defended his efforts in his first four-year term to minimize the local impacts of a nationwide recession and begin to have a recovery.
“We need to find work ... because (now) people need to leave the county to find work. I can supply them a job at minimum wage. What’s that going to do for them?” Edson said. “There’s no real affordable housing for them. We need to find a way to create jobs.”
Later in the evening, Edson said his restaurant “had a problem with finding good help.” He and Tofanelli agreed a community college campus in Calaveras County will help, in Edson’s words, to “keep our talent here.”
The challenger garnered his greatest applause of the night when he described the benchmark his restaurant had reached after initially scratching out gross revenues of just $275 a night.
“Last year, we actually paid taxes,” Edson said, of the improved income.
Tofanelli got a similar round of cheers when he promised to commit 5 to 10 percent of his fundraising for the remainder of the campaign to the Valley Springs Youth Center.
The incumbent gave a more-upbeat assessment of the district’s economic pulse, saying he has helped business owners who have asked for it and said a “Dollar Market” could soon be coming to San Andreas.
“Those people were very, very, very happy when they found out what our permit fees were compared to other places they’re expanding,” Tofanelli said.
He also said he supports putting a livestock processing facility in the works just north of San Andreas that would employ 40 to 50 people.
When moderator and Chamber President Jeff Davidson, a Calaveras County Water District director, asked about protecting the county’s water rights, each candidate took a different tone.
Tofanelli said he has spearheaded written complaints to keep San Joaquin County from grabbing for point-of-origin water rights held in Calaveras.
Edson said he has heard from water and sewer district officials that the county has not done enough.
“I’ve talked to a few people with the water district, they don’t feel like they have a good relationship with the county … sewer districts, there’s not real happy vibes going on there either,” he said. “The Board of Supervisors should be working with them to make our county more secure on water rights.”
Tofanelli seemed to have higher suspicions of the draft general plan land use map revealed earlier this year.
“The initial one, I did not agree with it because they had all of the properties down here (near Valley Springs) under resource production. To me, that is going to be a problem for the people who have 5-acre lots, 10-acre lots, 20-acre lots, 40-acre lots, when they go to sell their homes,” Tofanelli said. “A lot of people have their life’s investments here. They want to sell 5-acre parcels on their 40-acre parcels. That’s what their nest egg is based on … I support the (subsequent) changes that were made.”
Edson praised the expertise of Planning Director Rebecca Willis, who has made significant strides in resuscitating a languishing update effort.
“Rebecca Willis is probably the best planner we’ve had in a very, very long time. She’s got a really good feel on Calaveras, what direction it needs to go,” he said. “She’ll finish the general plan if she gets the chance, if everybody will leave her alone and just let her do her job.”
Tofanelli said he thinks the long-awaited general plan update can be done in nine months, half of current estimates. Edson said Valley Springs’ own specific community plan got bound up in “personal agendas.”
“I think it’s going to be quite miserable around here for a while if people don’t learn to work together,” he said.
On Highways 12 and 26, Tofanelli said he stopped an unworkable solution to traffic congestion.
Both highways have been improved, curves corrected and upcoming improvements at the roads’ intersection will improve its functionality and appearance, he said.
A Caltrans plan for a stoplight “would have been bad for downtown … a roundabout was proposed that would tear out half the town,” Tofanelli said.
Edson said the intersection study showed the improvements would be good only until about 2021.
“We’re gonna spend $2 million to bring it up to a ‘C’ level (of service) for nine years,” he said. “You do the math.”
Tofanelli said math is on his side when it comes to his service on a committee overseeing requests for cost add-ons for contractors on the new justice center project in San Andreas.
“I have saved you taxpayers in this county hundreds of thousands of dollars on change orders on that jail in the last nine months,” he said. “I know what the lingo is. I’ve played that game.”
Edson said a commission could be created to focus on economic development and utilize the business expertise of retirees from “high-powered businesses” now living in the area.
“You can sit up there and say we’re open for business all you want, but until you prove it and roll out the red carpet ... we’re just going to sit here like this,” he said.
Edson said he wants to see more small businesses succeed but knows it’s difficult.
He said amongst larger retailers, he is more friendly to Target or Ross and has disdain for Walmart.
“I am not a Walmart fan. Walmart comes in and they take away the lifeblood of the community,” he said. “They put people to work for $8 to $10 an hour.”
Tofanelli was more generous.
“I’m in favor of property rights. I’m in favor of free enterprise,” he said. “If you have a piece of property and it’s 60 acres and that’s what it’s zoned for ... you have every right to put it there. If it’s a permitted use and they asked me for guidance to get through the process, I certainly would.”