By Duncan A. Kennedy
UNION FLAT – As part of the recent meet-and-greet in Sierra City with California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot, The Mountain Messenger’s intrepid Assistant Editor Duncan Kennedy obtained an interview with Gerald “Sandy” Sanders, the event organizer and moderator. Sanders is also running for District Two Supervisor to replace the retiring Peter Huebner and has earned something of a “new kid on the block” reputation, for better or for worse, as a result. The following is a synopsis of our interview with him.
What’s your life story?
Sanders was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to parents from the Bay Area who first met each other in Sierra County. He grew up in Georgia but would spend two weeks every year in the Yuba River country – one each summer and one each winter. After completing his undergraduate education, he entered the Navy and learned Chinese at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey; once finished, he was stationed in Hawaii and then at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing for a time.
After getting out of the Navy, he worked for the University of California, and then the state government doing workforce development, even running the California Teacher Pathways program. As a result, he ended up in Sacramento, which he hated, so he retired and tried to make a living in commercial real estate. That life was not for him either, and he was recruited to be the number two official at the Silicon Valley Educational Foundation. This put him back in state-level politics, so he eventually quit and moved full-time to Sierra County in late 2020 after years of escaping to the area whenever he had free time. He currently works as property manager of Sierra Streamside Cabins, just west of Union Flat.
Why are you running for Supervisor?
Initially, Sanders had no intention of running for anything and “in fact came to Sierra County to hide,” but was outright homeless for his first five months due to the sheer lack of housing. Eventually, he found a plot of land within his price range and started camping there, but could not build anything on it thanks to the County Building Department’s steep rates for permitting and approval. Eventually, he says former Messenger editor Don Russell and former Tax Collector Cindy Ellsmore convinced him to announce his candidacy for the District Two Supervisor seat vacated with the retirement of Peter Huebner.
What do you think the biggest issue Sierra County faces is?
Sanders believes this area’s most significant issue is a twofold problem – a lack of businesses means fewer people can afford housing in the area, while a lack of housing means fewer people can afford to work in the area.
To solve this, he is willing to leverage all the high-level connections he has made over his career to squeeze benefits for Sierra County, such as improved funding for senior services (critical since 70 percent of the county population is over 60) and rural broadband.
What are your biggest priorities if elected?
Sanders says he has two main goals. First, he hopes to lobby on behalf of the county government to obtain the funding needed for high-speed broadband internet across the county, allowing businesses in-county to market their goods and services to outside consumers. Second, he aims to mitigate the local housing crisis by providing incentives via taxes, grants, and marketing pitches for outsiders who own homes here to convert short-term vacation units into long-term rentals. Sanders will also investigate avenues for opening the availability of “family legacy housing” (his term for inherited property owned out-of-county). Finally, he hopes to build support for developing small, 6-8 unit housing properties on surplus county land, potentially with “in-county” caveats for residency (residents would be required to work in Sierra County as long as they lived in these units).
How would you better represent Long Valley and Verdi at the county level?
Sanders has recently aggressively marketed himself in Verdi and has been surprised by the positive response from residents over a candidate showing up to campaign there. His goal in representing them is to make sure they feel like part of the county community and not “stepchildren” left to the mercy of Reno’s urban growth. One thing he wants to pursue is providing Verdi residents with sources of in-county education instead of requiring them to outsource their children to Washoe County at twice the rate that Washoe residents pay.
Would you be willing to participate in Messenger-organized candidate forums?
“Absolutely,” says Sanders, regarding debates and forums. He suggested holding three forums – one in Sierra City, one in Loyalton, and one in Verdi – and hopes to advertise at local events such as the Art to Ag Trail and Timberfest and meet with organizations such as the Gold Nugget Republican Women.
Supervisor District Two is the “leftovers” district in Sierra County, consisting of the Yuba River canyon from the top of the pass down to Sierra Shangri-La Resort, Verdi, Long Valley, a sliver of Loyalton (principally the Senior Housing Center), and the national forest in between.