The Tea Party Patriots of El Dorado Hills’ candidate forum last week included El Dorado County Supervisorial Districts 1 and 2. Both races have a standing supervisor running for reelection opposed by a single candidate.
The similarities stop there. In El Dorado Hills-centric District 1, the incumbent, longtime local resident and activist John Knight is opposed by political newcomer Ron Mikulako, who’s political activism goes back just a year and a half.
Challenger Mikulaco estimates he’s knocked on 2,500 doors, and admits that he’s using energy and enthusiasm to counterpunch his politically heavyweight opponent Knight.
District 2, by contrast, is a mix of suburban and rural, including southern portions of El Dorado Hills, a chunk of Cameron Park and vast south county ranch lands.
Incumbent Supervisor Ray Nutting is a rancher and a strong advocate of agriculture and the preservation of county’s rural lifestyle. His opponent, George Turnboo, also lives on a ranch, also hails from a pioneer family and also has a strong connection with the rural portions of the county. He runs an automotive repair shop in Diamond Springs.
District 2 is a rematch. Nutting beat Turnboo handily in the June, 2008 election.
Turnboo spoke first and told the Tea Party audience about his service on the County Solid Waste Advisory Committee, which is responsible in part for a methane gas plant that will convert the buried and rotting garbage at Union Mine Landfill into jobs, electricity and an estimated $300,000 deposit into county coffers each year.
The committee’s plan has become a model in the state, he said.
Turnboo argued that the county, despite severe cuts in recent years, is still fraught with wasteful spending. He called for the formation of a county budget oversight committee to identify opportunities for savings.
He proposed an “eco-park,” with concrete recycling, composting and possibly a sod farm.
The people he met while volunteering at the Mt. Aukum food bank inspired him to “bring new industry, new technology and new ideas to El Dorado County so those people have jobs.”
The county veterans building, which is not currently ADA-compliant, needs to either be retrofitted or moved, he said, suggesting that the current building might be given to the county history museum, which could use more space. “We need to support the veterans in this county,” he said. “We need to either fund the improvements or find a better home for them.”
Turnboo is also involved with the historical Southern Pacific rail right of way. He insisted that rails and trails can coexist, and recounted a story about his aunt, who was a caboose operator.
“My family’s been here a long time,” he said. “I want to preserve the county for my children, their children and their children’s children.”
Ray Nutting is a fourth generation rancher and former teacher who manages the family ranch in Happy Valley, southeast of Placerville.
He told his Tea Party audience he’s witnessed the federal and state government attack his way of life. “I’ve been fighting in the trenches for 40 years,” he said.
“We live in this county because we like what it stands for,” he said. “Natural resources, mighty river systems, great tourism and agriculture, a great place to live and recreate.”
He took partial credit for bringing the California Welcome Center to El Dorado Hills, “the gateway to the county.”
Nutting called his voting record “very conservative,” and said he recently worked with District 1 Supervisor John Knight to bring a solar company to El Dorado Hills, along with 100 jobs.
Nutting said he believes that low-income families should be disbursed throughout the county rather than confined to large, high-density projects. “There’s plenty of role models and work to be done out there,” he said.
County government has gotten lean over the last five years, as evidenced by a budget that is now 34 percent lower. “We have 300 less employees,” he said. “We’ve learned how to get more work out of less people.”
Despite the cuts, “I’m proud that we can continue a high level of service in these horrendous times,” he said. El Dorado County is going to be OK. Some others are going to have a much tougher time.”
“It’s time for ordinary citizens to run our local government,” said Ron Mikulaco, who’s challenging Knight for the District 1 seat.
“I categorically reject cronyism, “he added. “We need representation that reflects the will of the community.”
Mikulaco described himself as a “regular guy; a man of the people, not a career politician.”
Those blue-collar roots reach back three generations. Mikulaco is a third generation plumber, a former estimating engineer, a father and a veteran who’s lived in El Dorado Hills for eight years. He got politically active when he began attending fire board meetings about a year and a half ago, he said.
Mikulaco said he’s “enthusiastic, passionate, and hard-working,” a big supporter of education and high school athletics with a daughter attending school in El Dorado Hills.
His campaign is strictly grass roots, he said. “I’m not being funded by builders or developers, and I’m not beholden to any special interests.”
“I’m not anti growth, anti-developer or anti-business,” he continued. “I’m pro-community, and I think we face some serious issues in El Dorado Hills and also the entire county.”
He worried that the targeted General Plan amendment that recently began the approval process uses El Dorado Hills as a repository for high-density housing, and called proposed high-density housing projects along Green Valley Road “a serious issue that we can’t take lightly.”
He criticized Knight’s vote for Sunset Lane Apartments in Shingle Springs, a low-income high-density housing project.
Mikulaco said he’s also concerned about Knight’s support of the Capital Southeast Connector, the “a six-lane road that starts in Elk Grove and terminates in El Dorado Hills.”
He questioned how the connector would improve traffic or crime in El Dorado Hills, and later posed a similar question about the Silva Valley interchange, where “We have an existing interchange less than a mile away.”
More attention should be paid to the increasingly congested Green Valley corridor, where several new housing projects are currently proposed, he said.
“I don’t believe we can continue to do the same things with the same people who’ve been around forever,” he said. “It’s not working and it’s not in the best interest of the community.”
John Knight asked voters to examine each candidate and “ask us what we bring to the table. His own background is in banking and commercial real estate, he said.
“Ask us what we’ve been doing over the last 30 years. What we’ve done to make this county better, to give you the services you need.”
He touched on is early public service in Southern California, then jumped to 1993, when he and his wife Giorgie moved to El Dorado Hills and immediately engaged in the community. He dashed through a partial list of his mid-life public service, including EDH Chamber and Rotary past presidents, 19-year volunteer firefighter, EDH Fire Board, Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity past president, Marshal Medical Foundation trustee, county planning commissioner and finally, four budget-constrained years as the District 1 supervisor.
Knight then began laying out his conservative credentials, starting with a strong beliefs in “fiscal restraint, free market capitalism and property rights,” he said. “Government should be at the local level. The federal government can’t do it. The state can’t do it.”
He boasted that the county’s budgets have been balanced every year, and unlike many other agencies, “We have no debt,” he said.
The current board instituted a second benefit tier for new county employees and eliminated lifetime benefits, he said, saving the county “millions in the long-term.”
Budgets were cut without reducing critical county services to the vast majority of those use them, he said.
At the same time, many fees, including the growth-stifling Traffic Impact Mitigation fees, were cut by 15 percent. “We’re doing more with less,” he said.
His board turned down some “Obama money” because it had too many strings attached, but accepted other stimulus funds because, “It’s your money too.”
A strong believer in public-private partnerships, Knight suggested that local governments should look for private industry partners rather than federal or state sponsors.
In a follow-up call Knight confirmed that Mercy Housing, a private not for profit, is guaranteeing the entire Sunset Apartments project in Shingle Springs, and that all funding is through grants, with the county merely acting as a conduit.
Knight said he takes no health or medical benefits from the county, and has never filed an expense report. “I also voluntarily cut my salary,” he said. “I ask staff to make sacrifices, I should too.”
During followup questions, the supervisor candidates took a couple audience-submitted questions, the first about the Sacramento Area Council of Government’s mandate that the county plan for 5,600 units of low-income housing.
Nutting led off with a clear description of a complex state affordable housing policy that only requires the county to demonstrate enough land zoned for high density residential, the type of zoning that meets state low-income housing guidelines.
He called the policy “very strange,” but reiterated, “It doesn’t say we have to build anything.”
Nutting said he voted against the county’s participation in the “blueprint,” SACOG’s regional growth plan. “We don’t need their guidance.”
Turnboo agrees, and said he doesn’t want to see the county “held hostage by SACOG’s unrealistic plans,” which include “moving everyone out of the rural areas … back to the cities,” to be “stacked and packed on top of one another.”
He said that SACOG’s agenda was influenced by “Agenda 21,” a United Nations sustainable development plan, which the Republican National Committee has called a “comprehensive plan of extreme environmentalism, social engineering, and global political control.”
Mikulaco weighed in with the observation that El Dorado Hills bears the brunt of the county’s housing plans. He said he’d oppose using taxpayer money on high-density low-income housing to meet SACOG’s numbers.
Knight, who sits on SACOG’s Government Relations and Public Affairs Committee, defended his agency to a degree, reminding his fellow candidates that regional planning is complex matter with “a lot of moving parts.”
“Whether you like it or not, if we aren’t a member of a metropolitan planning organization, we won’t get our federal gas tax money,” he said, eliciting a round of groans from the faithful.
“Do I agree with it? No, but Ray’s right. No one is forcing us to build it. All we have to do is demonstrate we have the land available.”
He reminded the largely El Dorado Hills audience that any future city of El Dorado Hills would face a similar state housing mandate.
Bass Lake Park
In response to a question about the future of the park site east of Bass Lake, Knight announced that he’d recently learned that El Dorado Irrigation District would like to divest itself of the 97-acre Bass Lake and most of an estimated 157 acres surrounding the lake.
The location could serve both El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park recreation needs, he said. “There’s no money to do anything right now, but it’s a great opportunity for a joint effort in the future.”
The big issue, he warned, will be lights, recalling former Supervisor Rusty Dupray’s failed attempt to get a county park approved on the site in 2003.
Turnboo said he supports both Bass Lake Park and a similar park location in Pollock Pines.
Nutting said he helped broker the mid-1990s land swap that gave up 17 acres in an industrial area of Cameron Park for the current county-owned 40 acres adjacent to the lake. “You’re also looking at the guy who got the 27-acre Pollock Pines park site purchased,” he said.
The election is June 5.