Five-year plan meeting packs people in (Cooper Kessel talks after seeing Chris Martenson’s talk in Sonora)
From local libraries and starving artists to worldwide resource depletion and international finance, the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors got both a micro and macro perspective on the state of county government and the economy, as perceived by the public, Tuesday night.
The input came during the second in a series of five meetings on the county’s proposed strategic plan. The plan, set to be developed this year, will guide county government over the next five years.
The primary question supervisors are posing to the public is this: In the face of a weak economy and likely further budget cuts, what should be the county’s primary focus?
Over the past year, supervisors have already cut $8.5 million out of the budget, with more cuts expected.
he public meetings, so far, have proven unexpectedly popular. A standing-room-only crowd of around 100 people attended the meeting Tuesday night, held in the Board of Supervisors chambers in Sonora. In addition, more than 550 surveys have been completed via the county’s Web site at http://www.tuolumnecounty.ca.gov.
Supporters of the county library system — hit with big cuts this year — and the arts made up a big portion of Tuesday night’s crowd.
Members of the Central Sierra Arts Council expressed concern the county has left them out in the cold and without funding.
“We’re a resource and you’re not using us,” a frustrated Georgia Jones, vice president of the council, told supervisors.
Audience member Kathy Fascilla, who stressed she is a supporter of the arts, responded that the arts should take a back seat during tough economic times.
“We have a very sore need for jobs so the county isn’t overwhelmed for services we can’t afford,” Fascilla said.
Currently, the county’s unemployment rate is 14.2 percent, which, naturally, made jobs a big part of the discussion.
“We’ve got to save those jobs and create new ones,” Mark Banks, of the Tuolumne County Building Industry, told supervisors. “Any new or old regulation or policy that we look at needs to be looked at through this jobs lens.”
Jim Todd, of the California Gold Development Corp., wanted to cut through red tape to get building projects moving again.
“We spend an inordinate amount of time talking about plans,” Todd said. “Let’s just pick something that’s going to drive the economic engine of this county and work toward getting that done.”
Forester Chris Conrad, unemployed due to the recent shutdown of the Standard Mill, lashed out at policies that make it hard “to manage our forests.”
“We’re going to lose our young people,” he told supervisors. “Something bad is going to happen. We need our sawmills.”
Jim Willey said for a template on how the local economy should be run, supervisors need to look no farther than Murphys.
“They’re growing in a positive way,” he said.
Frank Walter, a Sonora engineer, meanwhile, said the board should look to the county government of 100 years ago as a model for governing.
Former county supervisor Laurie Sylwester summed up the tough task supervisors have before them, saying, “I’m sorry you guys are where you are. But I’m glad it’s you and not me.”
It took some arm-twisting, but audience members and supervisors persuaded board Chairwoman Liz Bass to expand the meeting beyond the 90-minute cap she had placed on the session.
This enabled a roughly 20-minute presentation by local architect Cooper Kessel near the meeting’s end.
Kessel told supervisors the issues affecting government and the local economy “are larger than what we’re dealing with internally.”
For one, he said, “the fact of the matter is our state and federal government have been spending more than they’re making for years.”
Secondly, Kessel said, oil production is declining, which could affect the economy and the way county government operates.
He noted that the late renowned geologist M. King Hubbert predicted in 1956 that “peak oil” — the point at which oil production declines and results in increasing energy costs — would occur in the United States between 1965 and 1970. Furthermore, Hubbert placed worldwide peak oil around 2009.
Kessel’s message echoed that of nationally known social critic Chris Martenson, whom Kessel had a hand in inviting to speak before a packed Sonora Opera Hall last week.
“As a local community, we need to be aware of that and develop a strategy, which I think we can,” he said.
Specifically, he said concerns about peak oil should be noted in the upcoming blueprint for growth being funded by the Tuolumne County Transportation Council.
The next meeting on the five-year plan is set for 6:30 p.m. at the Telele Lodge (formerly Black Oak School), 18995 Twain Harte Drive in Twain Harte.
Hot dog, Coop! Lauds!!!
Viva — Sager
Way to go Coop! You are a most impressive force of nature!!
But…”social critic”?? Me? I never thought of it that way….