Election 2016: Placer supe candidates sound off on Tahoe-area issues | SierraSun.com

Election 2016: Placer supe candidates sound off on Tahoe-area issues

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Local registered voters will cast votes in the June 7 primary for the two-person race for Placer County District 5 supervisor.

Incumbent Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, a Democrat, is seeking a third consecutive term. She is challenged by Auburn resident Michael Babich, a Republican. The winner in the primary will take the seat; there will be no general election for this race.

Seat No. 5 on the Placer County Board of Supervisors covers the city of Auburn, as well as the Donner Summit-Lake Tahoe area of the county, including communities in between.

To better inform readers heading to the polls, the Sierra Sun conducted an email Q-and-A with both candidates. Each candidate was given space for brief bio information, as well as a word limit of 250 for each question. Their answers below are published verbatim.

———-

Jennifer Montgomery

Recommended Stories For You

Age: 55

Full-time residence in Placer County: Donner Summit

How long you have been a resident in Placer County: 29 years

Current occupation: Placer County Supervisor

Formal education: AA Sierra College, Ornamental Horticulture; BA Mills College, Communications

Current and previous political/governmental experience: 7+ years representing the 5th District of Placer County

What is your view on the proposed development at the Village at Squaw Valley?

The proposed Squaw Valley Village project would substantively change what we see today in the Olympic Valley. While some of those changes are potentially beneficial — such as the Squaw Creek restoration and new jobs — others bring potential negative impacts on quality of life–like increased traffic, impacts on viewsheds, construction noise, air quality challenges and increased GHG's. The current Village is surrounded by a sea of crumbling asphalt that adds nothing scenically, environmentally or socially to Olympic Valley — I think we all agree that something needs to change.

The question is — in view of the 20 or so identified Significant Unavoidable Impacts (SUI's) in the EIR, do the benefits outweigh the identified impacts of the project? The Squaw Valley MAC recently advocated for the 50% reduced density alternative which would reduce the SUI's to less than a handful. Most people I have spoken with do not oppose development, but believe there is a "sweet spot" that includes redevelopment of the parking lot, brings much needed employment, makes the developer a profit and addresses most if not all of the SUI's. That is the sweet spot I'll be looking for.

Do you feel Eastern Placer County (the Tahoe region) gets a fair shake in terms of county-provided services, in relation to the amount of tax dollars and TOT funds it produces for the county? Why or why not?

This is a terrific question that I have heard many times, and as an Eastern County resident have asked myself. In 2014 I directed Placer County to do an analysis of all the revenues collected in the area and a similar analysis of our county expenditures. The great news is that 100% of the TOT collected in the area, stays in the area. TOT in the area is 10% broken into an 8% charge and a 2% charge. Its a complicated formula, but 100% of the 2% of the TOT goes back to the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association and 50% of the 8% also goes to the NLTRA. The balance (50% of the 8%) the County puts back into paying for services specific to Eastern Placer County.

The good news is that property tax and sales tax (as it does in all areas of the County) goes into the General Fund and is allocated to countywide services including many in our area. Bottom line? The analysis showed that for 2014, the East end of the County generated about $61 million and the expenditures by the county were about $58 million — about a 5% difference. This is similar to other areas of the county — some of which generate more revenue than expenses and some areas generate less revenue than expenses. So yes, with a few exceptions that I'm working on remedying, Eastern Placer County does get is fair share of services.

While they are separate projects, the Martis Valley West and Brockway Campground proposals are related in terms of potential impact on Lake Tahoe. What's your view on these development proposals?

Similar to the first question relating to the proposed Squaw Valley project — these projects bring both positive and negative potential impacts. I was first introduced to the Martis Valley West proposal when I was asked by Sierra Watch, the Truckee Donner Land Trust and Mountain Area Preservation to participate in discussions with SPI and (now) Mountainside Partners relating to a land swap that would protect hundreds of acres of the east side of 267 in exchange for development rights on the west side of 267. This is still the project that is in front of us for the Martis Valley West proposal, but some members of that original group have now changed their position on the proposal.

The Campground was not envisioned in the original discussions, but now is under review by Placer County and the TRPA. The Martis project would seemingly have fewer impacts on the Lake than the Campground as the Martis project is entirely outside the Tahoe basin. However impacts to traffic and night skies have been identified in the Martis EIR and I will closely follow the progress of the Campground as it moves through the EIR process too. If I were to publicly support or oppose a project before hearing all public testimony and reading the EIR documents, I'd be required to recuse myself from the final vote on the project. I don't believe anyone wants that outcome.

If it was up to you, how would you craft laws regarding the governance (or not) of both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana in Placer County?

I firmly believe that the voters of the state spoke clearly when they legalized the personal use of marijuana for medical purposes. Just as firmly I believe that this November the voters will vote to allow recreational use to become legal. The issue regarding marijuana in Placer County revolves, not around use, but around cultivation, processing, transportation and sale. We estimate that there are between 3500 and 4000 grows (legal and illegal) in Placer County. Many of those growers are doing the right thing and are farming responsibly.

Others unfortunately are not, so Placer County is considering regulations for cultivation of Medical Marijuana. We want to balance the competing rights of patients who have a legal right to grow marijuana with the rights of their neighbors. We also want to protect the environment from the degradation brought on by unscrupulous growers — water diverted from streams, local wells run dry, soil runoff and erosion, pollution of waterways with herbicides, pesticides and rodenticides, wildlife killed by those same "cides." Any new laws must allow a balanced approach to allow cultivation — and possibly production, transport and sale– under defined parameters like any other agricultural product.

At Lake Tahoe, high-end luxury home sales are booming and second homes are increasing, but studies show that home and rent prices for the middle class are becoming a major challenge. How would you propose to address (if at all) this issue?

The County has embarked on a study with the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation and a number of other parters to analyze our existing housing stock and the unmet needs. Part of that analysis will certainly point to the impact of VRBO and Air b'n'b style rentals. As an almost 30 year resident of Donner Summit I remember rentals that were packed with lift ops in the ski season and climbers in the summer. Those days are gone and we must move quickly to build new housing stock (both for sale and rental) that our shrinking middle class can afford.

One idea I'm proposing is a discussion among all the local jurisdictions (Placer County, Nevada County, the Town of Truckee and all the special Districts in the area) that identifies which of us has land zoned for housing, who has money designated for housing, who has the necessary skills to build housing, who has the necessary skills to manage workforce housing?

By pooling our resources we can identify opportunities and coordinate efforts to actually construct housing. Additionally, some community members and conservation groups must stop saying "no" to new development when it benefits our working and middle class. Last we must begin to rethink housing — we need to embrace micro housing, tiny houses, co-housing, group housing and other alternatives to the standard lot and block development. We can and must do better.

Lastly, why are you running for office, and why should residents vote for you?

We all know that Placer County is a great place to live, work and play — I want to continue my efforts to make it better. Although a lot of good work has been done, there is still work to be done on housing and homelessness, re-building or repairing key infrastructure like our failing roads and bridges, creating opportunities for Placer County's kids to complete their higher education in the County, working to make our forests and watersheds more resilient — so many opportunities exist that might not be grasped by my fellow Supervisors with more urban perspectives.

As a native Californian who has lived half my life in the Sierra Nevada, I have a perspective that uniquely suits the residents of the 5th District. My dedication is to serving communities, not "the Government". I respectfully ask for your vote on, or before, June 7th

———-

Michael Babich

Age: 60

Full-time residence in Placer County: North Auburn

How long you have been a resident in Placer County: 15 years

Current occupation: Co-Founder and VP of a start-up biotech company (Mission Therapeutics); Adjunct Professor, UC Davis and Sierra College.

Formal education: Postdoctoral Scholar, University of California, San Francisco, Department of Medicine; Ph.D. Biomedical Sciences, University of Kentucky; B.S. Biology and B.A. Chemistry, Eastern Kentucky University; Patent Bar Review, Marshal Law School (Chicago, IL)

Current and previous political/governmental experience: Colonel, US Army Reserves (Ret.); over 16 years in command and key staff positions; Candidate for U.S. House of Representatives; School Board, Strategic Planning Committee (Winnebago (IL); National Institutes of Health: Grant awardee, reviewer, and collaborator; NASA Fellow in Aeronautics and Space Biology Research

What is your view on the proposed development at the Village at Squaw Valley?

Property rights are sacred, but because we exist as community there is a process in place. Growth must be balanced by the Village capacity to handle the increased population. My view is that the data are still pending on this issue, so we first need to defer to the EIR, then trust the process and the people who live here in terms of appeals and public input (e.g., the recent MAC suggestion for research to support the conclusions previously reached in the draft EIR).

A Placer County Supervisor cannot pick and choose winners and losers. They must remain fair and weigh the data and legal rights associated with owners.

Do you feel Eastern Placer County (the Tahoe region) gets a fair shake in terms of county-provided services, in relation to the amount of tax dollars and TOT funds it produces for the county? Why or why not?

No; at least not last year. That said, the question should not read 'feel". With an unsteady, fluctuating economy connected with the North Lake Tahoe area, one's perspectives can easily be skewed. I would rather have the data speak for itself and then be interpreted (which I recognize where disagreements often come into play). The answer likely varies from year-to-year. Below I provide an example from last year.

April 2015, the county performed and reported a "Tahoe Budget Analysis". Conclusion: $3.3 Million was shorted to the Tahoe taxpayers and residents. That deficit was determined by the difference between Total Costs of Services ($58.2 million) vs. county revenue stream ($61.5 million) from Tahoe such as taxes from property, sales, transient occupancy, etc.

Unfortunately, the report was a classic example of being transparent, but not forthright. The "Total costs of providing services/programs" was straightforwardly listed at $58.2 million, but the revenue stream was split into

"Total non-discretionary revenues generated" ($20.6 M) and "Total discretionary county-wide revenues generated" ($40.9). Of course, one had to read all the details and understand them in order to formulate a thoughtful question.

Worse yet, the $3.3 million deficit reported in a table with the above numbers was called "Analysis outcome" instead. That does not sound like being forthright to the concerned Tahoe residents. Once we get a plain and clear explanation of the budget can we then address where, how, and if the funds are spent wisely.

While they are separate projects, the Martis Valley West and Brockway Campground proposals are related in terms of potential impact on Lake Tahoe. What's your view on these development proposals?

This is answered, in part, under the first question in which the development approval process must be given its space. However, the cumulative impact of people on the 760 luxury units and 550 campsites needs not only strong evaluation, but in my discussions with local residents, they feel left out of the conversation or that their input is disregarded as evidenced by these projects. For instance, consider that there was an original approval on an east parcel defined by the Martis Valley community plan, but it seems as though the locals feel that they have been subject to a bait-and-switch with the current plan.

We do need to consider the types of businesses that provide a steadier economy in the Tahoe area; this is more of the same for Tahoe.

Lastly, public safety is a primary responsibility of government. I also question the Village capacity to handle the increased population and evacuation routes.

If it was up to you, how would you craft laws regarding the governance (or not) of both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana in Placer County?

The recreational aspect is irrelevant because it is illegal. The problem is that there is little guidance that stems from our current legal framework for medicinal use in the state.

Growth restrictions sound logical, but it can be a nightmare for law enforcement. e.g., It would be time consuming and costly to go around and check citizen if they are certified growers, users with a legal script, or just plain illegal.

At this time in our culture, marijuana dispensaries can provide a measure of control, and a tax base. From my perspective as a pharmacology doctorate and medical school faculty, taxes must support education for any program in this regard — especially in case California goes totally legal (how many are aware that marijuana causes lung cancer? When will we have a reliable, legal test for DUI?). At this time, I prefer to not grow in Placer County. Dispensaries can acquire it elsewhere.

This is my current opinion given the lack of guidance from the state. There are so many details that cannot begin to be addressed herein, such as landlord rights vs. tenants' rights to grow, and even use pot. And what if there is a fire due to electrical complications from heat lamp and indoor marijuana growth? Who bears the insurance premium increases? It also places another strain on our fire districts and ecology due to groundwater contamination from growth. Surely any proposal will change as our laws, and public opinion, evolve.

At Lake Tahoe, high-end luxury home sales are booming and second homes are increasing, but studies show that home and rent prices for the middle class are becoming a major challenge. How would you propose to address (if at all) this issue?

A business climate that allows more families to live here must be a part of the solution. Yes, the luxury home market is hot right now (especially $1-4 M) which is excellent for only a small sector of our economy. People moving into those homes are generally not part of the blue collar workforce.

The land is sacred and must be respected. Yet job opportunities suffer from economic swings that are notoriously associated with North Lake Tahoe. This makes it difficult to retain families and their income in this area. Most workers live outside of the Tahoe region because they cannot afford housing. Placer County can help invigorate commercial activity by providing existing Placer County owned land and tax breaks to develop workforce housing. Deed restictions can be enacted for those within the low-middle income group of employees, with phased in property taxes as the wage-earners become established locally. Additionally, providing a "facelift" to those business locales that are either empty or in shambles will not destroy a single inch of the wild beauty.

When families are raised here, they will spend money here. Added benefits include less traffic due to no commutes from places such as Reno, and less road-related pollution that affect Lake Tahoe.

Lastly, why are you running for office, and why should residents vote for you?

As a veteran, I took an oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States". So it's natural for me to extend a similar promise to the people of Placer County. Our region is complex: Tahoe vs. western county concerns are often unrelated. So a "renaissance person" makes a great match to serve as Supervisor. As the candidate with proven leadership from private, governmental, and academic sectors, I have a unique perspective to work with the Board, solve problems, and move beyond the status quo.

It takes certain credentials and savvy to address today's problems and the unpredictable future. Unfortunately, some of the questions today have been around for several years.

Affordable housing is an issue for the local workforce. Land use and traffic are other problems. There must be equal representation on Municipal Advisory Councils to provide alternative viewpoints, and not just reflect one person's ideology. Finally, we need a visionary to deal with "west" problems, such as the ongoing homeless dilemma which affects Tahoe citizens because your tax dollars contribute to the $ millions spent with no business plan-type solution in sight.

Finally, it is not only in the successes that I present as unique to the voters but — and perhaps more importantly — the knowledge gained from struggles that have helped me to understand firsthand how to go about problem solving. Most business leaders understand that book knowledge is important, but it is taking risks and jumping into the arena where the greatest rewards are gained.

More online

Visit placerelections.com to learn more about the June 7 primary in Placer County.