By Carl Butz and Duncan A. Kennedy
This past Tuesday evening, an example of how representative democracy should work occurred at the Sierra City Community Hall. The Sierra County Democrats held an Election Forum for the District Two Supervisor race – Sierra County’s only contested election this year. Both candidates participated in the event – Lila Heuer, former proprietor of My Sister’s Cottage in Sierra City, and Gerald “Sandy” Sanders, property manager of Sierra Streamside Cabins in Union Flat.
This event adopted the format maintained by the League of Women Voters in Nevada County, where a moderator – in this case, former Assessor Bill Copren – asked the candidates questions submitted by the audience. Alternately, members of the press (in this case, The Mountain Messenger’s Carl Butz and Duncan Kennedy) posed there own queries to the candidates. Candidate responses to each question were limited to three minutes, and no applause was allowed until the end of the forum.
The forum started with each candidate giving a brief opening statement.
Sanders spoke first, explaining his backstory with Sierra County as someone who has visited all his life but only recently had the opportunity to come here for good. He was initially skeptical of running for Supervisor but eventually came around at the urging of several community members.
Next, Heuer detailed her 35 years of living in Sierra City, the roots she has put down here, and her past participation in community organizations; she is running because she feels that Sierra County needs to both survive and thrive going forward.
Following this, Copren began his line of questioning, reading questions from the audience and trading off occasionally with the representatives from this august journal.
What are your qualifications and experience for this position?
Heuer answered first, explaining how she has been an active participant in board-style meetings over her 35 years in the county, including her service as president of the old Chamber of Commerce. She also brought up her experience locating and writing grants to secure funding for the Fire Safe Council and previous attendance at many Board of Supervisor meetings.
Sanders cited his background in business and workforce development across the state and his experience working with state and local decision-makers to produce results in those places. Sanders also brought up the various connections he has made statewide, including Sacramento big-wigs like Wade Crowfoot, expressing willingness to knock on doors and call his friends at the state level to bring valuable resources to Sierra County.
What can be done to prevent Reno’s urban growth from adversely impacting Verdi and Long Valley?
“It’s a different state, so as a county or as communities, there isn’t much we can do about Reno’s growth,” said Heuer, answering this question first. She noted, the only groups having enough sway to do anything are state and federal land management agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and California Dept. of Fish and Game. As such, our best course of action would be to work with them to develop mitigation strategies regarding the Reno’s expansion.
Sanders agreed with Heuer on the need for state and federal resources but he said he an aspect of local growth is also needed. He cited several cases in Verdi where he met people preparing to move just across the state line because Washoe County has better opportunities and services available than Sierra County. Sanders said he would try to leverage state and federal influence while also promoting a healthy local economy on our side of Verdi and Long Valley to buffer against Reno’s growth.
What is your experience with wildfires and community preparedness?
Like most community members, Sanders admitted he is terrified of a potential fire on the North Yuba. He touted his connections to people like Secretary Crowfoot as a way he could bring fire safety and mitigation resources to the county so that we are ready in the event of such a fire.
Heuer cited her background as a member of the Fire Safe Council, including securing grant funding for some of their mitigation projects and her and her late husband’s involvement with the Sierra City VFD. She also mentioned her role in starting the Sierra City FireWise group and her work with the organizers of the Verdi FireWise effort to help launch their group as well.
How would you promote building more housing locally?
Sanders has made the local housing shortage a focal point of his campaign and has put a lot of thought into the issue. He said there are novel models of housing policy and construction methods that can be experimented with locally, including novel septic systems (the primary constraint of building here). Sanders said he would do his best to secure public and private funds to make some proposals a reality.
Heuer noted how much of Sierra County’s geography prevents large apartment developments. Currently, economics and tax policy incentivize short-term vacation rentals, so she would support researching some form of subsidy or tax incentive to encourage long-term rentals to locals while surveying local demand for developing additional dwelling units (ADUs).
How much time do you have to devote to being Supervisor?
According to Heuer, she has no spouse, her children and grandchildren are all grown up (and one now runs My Sister’s Cottage in her stead), no pets, and her only job is running the senior bus, so she said she can devote the next four years almost entirely to being a county supervisor if elected.
Sanders admitted that between campaigning and getting Sierra Streamside Cabins fully operational, he is on something of a time crunch at the moment. However, his schedule should be much clearer by January, and his years in the Navy caused him to adapt to getting very little sleep, so he would also be able to devote significant time to the task if elected.
Wolves and other charismatic wildlife are becoming more of an issue locally; what is your view, and what could you do?
Heuer’s stance is that, while this has become a significant issue across the West, it has not particularly affected District Two compared to the Sierra Valley districts. She says that ultimately, it’ll be up to humans to learn to live with wildlife species like gray wolves, Rocky Mountain elk, bald eagles, and river otters.
Sanders believes this is a complex issue to deal with, especially for cattle ranchers when it comes to conflicts with wolves and elk, but that some form of balance has to exist that can be struck to help resolve the dispute. He suggested that maybe the Dept. of Natural Resources can help formulate mutually beneficial regulations with Sierra County’s input.
Sanders said he became more knowledgeable on the issue while caring for his ailing mother during the pandemic. He thinks the need for emergency communications by senior citizens could be useful in acquiring funding for install full broadband service in Yuba River Canyon.
Heuer noted the county currently has several forms of senior services, but they need better funding and promotion if the local aging population is to use them. She said that grassroots promotion and grant funding could improve and maintain these services, including potentially bringing hospice care back to the area for our aging populace.
What are your qualifications for working on the North Yuba Project?
Sanders noted that there are substantial bureaucratic barriers in front of this time-sensitive project preventing it from going as fast as it needs to. He once again touted his connections statewide as something he could call upon to speed up the process and make our communities safe more expediently.
Heuer said being involved with FireWise and the Fire Safe Council taught her much about this issue. She also noted the county needs to focus on being proactive (something she said they’ve excelled in) and self-sufficient at a community level in being fire-aware and fire-prepared. Heuer said she would continue to work with county agencies and attempt public outreach to improve this preparedness in the face of a potential disaster.
What is your vision for Sierra County, and how would you make it happen?
Sanders’s vision is that we can begin to rebuild our economy by exporting niche cottage industries and pursuing small-scale mining and lumber production through opportunities such as the state government’s new micro-loan program for small-log sawmills. He said this would be possible with more housing built and people attracted here by opportunities and support such as good broadband internet and access to the outdoors. Sanders also noted that if we do this, we can hedge against the risk of commercialization, like what has happened to Truckee in recent decades.
Heuer wants to both keep Sierra County’s rural heritage and character alive and invite new people into the area to bring their lives and livelihoods in to restart our economy. She wondered aloud how we could protect what we have into the future while bringing back commerce, saying she would work with (not pressure) county departments to find a solution.
When the scheduled length of the meeting arrived, no one left the hall, and all of the 40-plus people attending the gathering were willing to hear a couple more unasked questions. Still, it was time to end, so the two candidates were invited to give closing statements.
Heuer acknowledged she had several perspectives and priorities in common with Sanders and highlighted the county’s resilience and self-sufficiency in her closing speech. She emphasized her 35-year history in Sierra City once more and her understanding of how board politics operate as qualifying credentials for office and humbly asked for the votes of those in attendance.
Sanders also said he has more in common with his opponent than most may think and said that each would support the other no matter who won. He feels the county’s slow and steady decline will require novel solutions to the area’s problems, and he believes he can help to provide those. Sanders highlighted his belief we need to both protect and promote our county and says he can use his connections and career experience to do just that for the residents of Sierra County. While he is willing to keep fighting for county interests even if he loses, he says being Supervisor would give him an official platform to advocate for Sierra County. For that reason, he also humbly asked for the votes of those in attendance.
This event was videotaped by Patrick Wilson and should be up on YouTube by Friday, so District Two’s voters might want to watch the proceedings before casting their ballots. The direct statewide blanket primary will take place on Tuesday, June 7th; Sierra County is an exclusively mail-in county, so be sure to have your ballots in the mail and postmarked by then.