With the announcement that District 5 Sup. John Fenley will not seek a third term, three candidates came forward seeking to take up that seat on the board. As the largest supervisorial area, District 5 includes Ruth, Kettenpom, Mad River, Zenia and southern Hayfork.
Candidates Diane Richards, Jeff Dickey and Michael “Dan” Frasier all live in District 5 and came to the Journal for short pre-election interviews last week.
A lifetime resident of Trinity County, Frasier said his local lineage goes back to 1861 on his mother’s side. “I have deep roots in Trinity County,” he said.
Asked why he’s running for a supervisor seat, he said he first got into politics around 2012 when SB2112 sought to regulate the use of dogs in hunting. Frasier also said it has been suggested by many community members.
“It’s more that I am trying to service the people in my district, rather than trying to become a supervisor,” he said. “I’m just trying to do what people would like.”
Frasier has been the District 5 Planning Commissioner for about six years.
Frasier said he would like to see that the main role of each supervisor return to that of a public servant, who is accountable to the public and exercises oversight of the bureaucratic branches of local government.
Asked for his ideas to improve local economies, Frasier said the county needs to look at options besides cannabis and tourism.
“I’m personally involved in timber,” he said. “The timber industry is almost dead in Trinity County. Ranching is slipping away and I think we need to look at preserving what we have left of those industries and building those up, but we need to look at ways to bring in industry. I don’t think any county can live on one revenue stream. Like any other business, we need to diversify and bring money and business into trinity County instead of just watching it go away.”
Build or rebuild
Asked for a preference between rebuilding the county’s existing stock of housing or building new housing, Frasier said both need to occur.
“There are a lot of places in the county where there aren’t a lot of homes,” he said. “There’s a lot of open land [and] undeveloped properties.” As a planning commissioner, Frasier said he updated the county’s Housing Element, a document that analyzes an area’s housing needs by income level and creates plans to address those needs.
Frasier said many community members expressed a desire to have Class K, Limited Density Rural housing zones.
“Something I would like to see moving forward is to ease the cost of permitting,” he said, “and to help people who are living in houses that aren’t permitted.” He said a lot of people in District 5 do so.
“Most people live in an unpermitted house or a trailer because the cost of permitting and building is prohibitive,” he said. “You can’t build new houses unless you are financially well off. I would like to see renovation of existing structures, too. I know there are a lot of poor-looking buildings and houses that are falling down and vacant but you can’t force someone to live in it. We need an overall economic boost to renovate the existing houses.”
As for his feelings on cannabis, Frasier said it’s common knowledge that he’s not a fan.
“I do think that since the county said ‘We’re going to permit it,’ it needs to be done a little better than it has been,” he said. “The whole program seems to be an erratic mess.”
Estimating that about 95 percent of Trinity County grows are unpermitted, increased enforcement needs to take place to either bring the black market into compliance or take it out of business. He said if the legal growers are investing tens of thousands of dollars to become compliant, it will be impossible for them to compete with black market growers.
“At that point, our ordinance is not worth the paper it’s written on unless we have some sort of enforcement against the black market,” he said. “Moving forward, personally, I think that if we have 535 permitted grows, if they are put in the places they should be, nobody will even notice. We’ve had people growing in Trinity County for my entire life, and it just wasn’t in everyone’s face before. If we do it properly, it will be a lot less of an issue than it is right now.”
All agreed that increasing the amount of law enforcement personnel around the county was a matter of money.
Frasier said the top priority of the board should be public safety and reallocating money toward it.
“Surely, we’re not going to get back to having 20-plus deputies anytime soon, but it would be nice to see the Sheriff’s Department funded,” he said, “and if they had what they need… like in my district, I don’t think I’ve seen a deputy in probably three months, at least.”
“There are areas in the South County where there is no cell phone coverage,” he said, “and there are no radio repeaters, so Kettenpom, in particular, there are dead spots where they can’t get out with fire radios. Mad River is the same way and it’s one of our biggest areas on the side of South Fork there are areas where you can’t get out with a radio or a cell phone.” He said that even if a resident deputy were placed in the areas, it would do no good to call them without cell or radio coverage. He said the county should examine way to use money wisely in order to make public safety a top financial priority.
Regarding local homelessness, the last Point in Time Count tallied 96 adults and seven kids in the county without a place to live. Frasier said that while the local problem is far less than what’s happening on the coast and in Shasta County, he was not certain how the Board of Supervisors would address it.
“There are so many state programs and redundancies,” he said. “If it became an issue that needs to be addressed, that would be the time to take it up. We have homeless people and that’s a problem, but for the most part, there are programs to help them and if they seek help, they can get help, but there are definitely plenty of vacant properties in Trinity County…”
Asked how he would involve the public in the decision-making process, Frasier said it would start with listening. He said that with only three minutes at the dais, many board speakers get frustrated.
“I’ll try to make myself available personally for face-to-face conversations, phone calls, email, and try to answer people,” he said. “I know that’s a big thing, because if you send a lot of emails and leave a lot of voice mails and no one responds, you don’t feel you’ve been heard.”
He said that as a planning commissioner, he enjoys that people in the 5th District reach out and speak with him about concerns and issues.
On the hypothetical side, all candidates were asked what they would do if given a $1 million, unrestricted grant to promote local economy.
“I would try to promote our county to businesses,” he said, noting that any large industry would need to be based in Weaverville or Hayfork, as other areas lack the infrastructure. “Something that could supply steady work to multiple people would be something I’d like to see in Trinity County, rather than spending the money studying what we could spend the money on. It would be better to promote the county to somebody who could bring money here.”
“I’m just like anybody else in Trinity County who’s been here forever,” he said. “I’m just trying to maintain a livelihood and do something positive for our county because it’s getting to the point where young people can’t stay here. There are no employment opportunities, and there’s only so far we can go before we reach the tipping point. We only have an older population getting older and nobody is staying. Our county’s in trouble. That’s not a sustainable population trend.”
Frasier urged community members to make the drive to supervisors’ meetings and candidate forums and ask tough questions.
Jeff Dickey has a wife and family in Hayfork, where he has lived for 23 years and has worked for the county 21 years, in general services, building and grounds, has been a building inspector, code enforcement officer, and is currently the lead code compliance specialist in the Planning Department’s Cannabis Division.
Dickey explained that when the county’s cannabis program started, he performed compliance inspections solely, but now oversees two other inspectors and is also the county’s building inspector.
“I pretty much take care of everything south of Hayfork Summit,” he said, “Southern Trinity, Hyampom, Ruth, Zenia, Kettenpom, Mad River and Hayfork.”
Asked why he’s running, Dickey replied, “I’ve watched things from the inside out for 21 years, and I feel I have a very unique perspective that not many people have. I think that I have the ability, knowing county government and the way things work, and having the perspective I do, to hit the ground running. More so than someone who doesn’t have the experience I have.”
Dickey said the role of a supervisor is to be the voice of one’s constituents, and to be available to hear residents’ ideas and complaints. He said as a county worker, he has been able to meet and speak with residents from all corners of the district. He feels he’s earned the respect of those who know him, even in his county capacities.
“I’ve been very fair, even when I was doing code enforcement,” he said. “I’ve never been accused of not being so.”
“They need a voice and I feel there’s been a lack of acknowledging that,” he said. “Especially in these outlying areas, where people feel like they’ve been neglected and are underrepresented.”
While a supervisor is beholden to one’s own district, they also take part in matters that affect the entire county, such as the economy and functionality of its largest town.
Asked if he has any ideas or visions to improve the economy in Weaverville and the surrounding county, Dickey spoke of the promises of cannabis.
“It’s disappointing that we do have all these empty storefonts,” Dickey said. “In Hayfork, there’s not even a place where you can take a family to eat. I would have hoped the cannabis industry would have stimulated that but it hasn’t.” Dickey said it’s a difficult question to answer but suggested legislative barriers to local economic development be removed.
“Basically, it’s been known as a retirement community,” he said. “Most of our children grew up here and they leave. Hopefully, they’re able to come back and offer something to the community with the education and experience they gather, but I think it’s up to individuals in the community who have a vision themselves. We need to encourage it and make it as easy as possible for them to see their visions happen.”
He said that while most retail businesses in the county have benefitted from cannabis and the influx of seasonal cannabis workers, the flipside is the environmental impact of illegal grows.
“I think we’ll continue to see benefit from the legal cannabis market and our licensing program,” he said, adding that a retail market needs to be established.
“Maybe we could fill some of these storefronts,” he said. “It’s only going to be a limited number, but it’s something.”
Dickey called affordable housing “a big thing” in the county,
Asked if he would prefer to renovate the area’s current housing stock or build new homes, Dickey thought a moment.
“A lot of the older homes are rental homes,” he said, “and a lot of the landlords and people who own the rental homes aren’t willing to upgrade them or put the money into them.” He said the Planning Department sees home renovations regularly.
Dickey noted that a requirement of the county’s cannabis ordinance is that the applicant must have a legal dwelling on the property in order to get a license.
“It’s stimulating growth in that respect,” he said, “whether it be manufactured homes or stick built homes.” He said vacant properties are being developed with new infrastructure and new homes, creating new tax revenue for the county.
While Trinity County doesn’t have the homeless numbers of its coastal or valley neighbors, the seasonal presence of indigent and unsheltered people is obvious, especially to fire and law enforcement personnel who respond to trespassing, littering and illegal campfire calls. Asked if local homelessness is an issue the Board should be addressing, Dickey said absolutely. While he noted that some of the transient population arrives for the cannabis industry, he said others are truly homeless, the result of bad circumstances.
“I think we should definitely take the people whose circumstances have created a situation that’s not where they want to be and there should be some way to help those people,” he said. “We have people who are homeless because of mental health issues. I think we should be able to identify the different reasons that people are homeless, help the people we can, address the mental health issues among the homeless.” He said with the right help, those subjects may also be able to get their life together and move on.
“I want to be as accessible as possible,” Dickey said. “I want to be the voice of my constituents.” He said he will make himself accessible by all technological means, as well as through speaking dates at events, fire halls, community functions and though face-to-face conversation.
“I also want to be as transparent as possible,” he said. “I think transparency is something we haven’t had enough of. I think it’s very important. I think you eliminate a lot of the issues we have by having transparency…”
Asked what he would do with an unrestricted $1 million grant to improve the local economy, Dickey thought for a minute.
“I would love to see some affordable housing,” he said. “Affordable housing is something we don’t have enough of.” He said he feels rentals are overpriced when compared to the local income.
“It’s why we have so many people living in RVs, or at parents’ houses or on vacant pieces of property where they have to deal with code enforcement because they’re living in that situation.”
Asked if he’d like to tell a bit about himself, Dickey said, “I’m one of them. I’ve lived here a long time and I love the outdoors. I spend a lot of my time at Ruth Lake. I love fishing and hunting and I love Trinity County. It’s why I came here.”
Prior to living here, Dickey was on the coast and during a fall hunting trip to Hayfork, he and his wife were caught up in the beauty of autumn colors in the valley and decided to make a home here. He called himself fortunate to be able to have a career and an opportunity to help.
“I want to see this county succeed and become a place where we can attract more economic development and more people,” he said, noting the difficulties of development in his own district. “I’d like to see it become a place where people can raise a family, build a future here and have a place where you can retire.”
Diane Richards has been in Trinity County since 2008 and said she ran several automotive businesses in the Bay Area. She’s a mother of six, two of which are EMTs in the Hayfork Fire District.
Asked why she’s running for District 5 supervisor, she cut right to the chase.
“Because our county is very corrupt,” she replied, “and I intend to break the corruption.”
She said she plans to investigate where $125 million per year is going, why the roads aren’t being fixed and why people are not being allowed to build homes.
“The state law mandates that we have low density rural dwelling,” she said. “It’s mandatory law. We don’t have it in place, so [the county is] stopping people from building houses here, but the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Department are responsible for that,” Richards said.
She said limited density owner-built rural dwellings, also known as Class K housing, would broaden the assets of the county, while helping to solve housing issues.
“We are in dire need of housing for families,” she said. “It would help build our schools if we let people build on their property using this policy.” Richards said a policy was drafted by the Planning Commission but later nixed by the Board of Supervisors.
“They’re always saying we don’t have enough money, for instance, for deputies,” she said. “That’s not true. We have the lowest percentage of funding for our public safety department than any other county. Most other counties, it’s the highest department that receives funds. In this county, the department that’s the highest-receiving fund is the public ways and facilities fund, which covers roads, buildings, and the airports. Well, we haven’t built anything in a long time. The jail is not taking that money, the new jail, and so therefore, where is $22 million to $29 million, year after year after year going when those funds could actually be serving public safety, or having more deputies?”
She said that while District 5 has an inadequate number of deputies, farther south, there’s essentially no public safety in place. She recalled an incident in 2011, where a couple were attacked by their neighbors’ killer, and attempted to sue the Sheriff’s Office, saying a deputy instructed them by phone to go to the residence and check on their neighbors.
“That’s not the way you handle public safety,” she said. “We should have deputies there all the time.” She said the county does not have deputies at night, and that the county used to have twice the number of deputies, using less than half the amount of state and federal funding.
“If we have $125 million, that money needs to be used to protect the people. That’s what it’s for, to provide services, not for whatever it’s going to,” she said. “I intend to find out where that money is going and redirect it to the proper places for the people to be served.”
Fill the role
“The role [of a supervisor] is actually provide services to the people. That’s what you’re supposed to do,” she said. “They seem to think it’s regulating the people and their property, which is absolutely a constitutional violation. You can’t make regulations on private property. The ordinances are to be how you govern government property.” She said the board violates the law by regulating private property owners and that she would rather see roads fixed, officers hired and services provided.
“We have areas in Southern Trinity, it’s the forgotten district, where the have no electric, no cell phone use, no telephone, no sewer or septic, no services whatsoever. No roads, even though they divided and made the area where there were like one-acre parcels. I think it’s 1500 parcels,” she said of Trinity Pines. “There are no roads, basically, we don’t maintain them, and we are supposed to. We are supposed to at least, grade those roads and we should even be snow-plowing them.”
She said a $22 million to $29 million fund source exists, but is not being used.
“Where is that money going?” she asked.
Noting the voter approvals that led to legalization of recreational cannabis, Richards simply said, “The people have spoken.”
As for local legislation of cannabis, Richards questions the legality of current ordinances, saying the state law should be followed instead.
“If they follow the state law, they will most likely not get sued,” she said, “but at the rate they are doing, they’re going to have plenty of lawsuits against them.” Noting that Humboldt County has been sued over its cannabis ordinance, Richards said Trinity would not have the money to deal with lawsuits and must be careful in creating local laws.
“If we follow the state rules, we would be safer,” she said.
Saying it’s been here a long time and the county is regarded as the best place in the U.S. to grow, Richards said the county should assist experienced growers. She called it unfair to charge for permitting before the grower has harvested, since many factors will affect the output of their crop. She said fee costs are prohibitive to new growers.
“I also think we should reward people who grow it organically, without any chemicals so we can protect the environment,” she said. “If you show that you are growing organically, you should pay a very minimal amount of fees.”
Regarding her visions of how to stimulate local economy, Richards returned to local housing restrictions, saying the population would increase if it were easier to build homes here. She said the area could also be a medical cannabis destination, providing a stable source for patients, who would then put money into the local economy and spur the creation of more local businesses. She said it’s also a great place for patients to regain their health.
“We would become a real healing community,” she said. “A lot of people already know we are, but we could expand on that.”
Richards called homelessness a public safety issue, saying residents in Weaverville and Hayfork are talking about it.
She suggested employing local homeless persons, using federal funding, to reduce fire fuel loads in area forests.
“At least, people could be employed,” she said, “and be able to start over again in life. Those that are just criminals, that’s a different story. Some of them are just criminals, but those that want to better themselves, I think that we can get them employment and that’s what we should do.”
Richards spoke of a possibility that supervisors meetings will be live-streamed and suggested that county residents should be allowed to ask questions online, rather than drive three hours from some distant part of the county.
Generally, the way the board operates is that they don’t let you ask questions,” she said. “They let you comment … but it seems like they don’t listen anyways. They should respond to questions and let the people participate.”
Richards suggested the board have meetings in other county towns, and alternate the schedule to include evening meetings.
“That might be inconvenient for the supervisors or their staff but hey, they’re getting paid to do it,” she said, “and they need to make themselves more available so that people can see government in action — or inaction.”
Asked how she would spend a $1 million grant to improve the local economy, Richards paused before saying part of the grant would need to go to marketing videos. She said the production would need to showcase the grandeur of the county, so people will be willing to make the drive here. She said such a grant could also sponsor music and art festivals, asserting that the county used to have them, but “the Planning Commission basically shut those down” with county restrictions.
Richard said wildfire is the greatest threat to county residents.
“We could be looking at catastrophic fire just as easily as Paradise did and Redding did,” she said. “Therefore, we need to make sure our fire districts are fully staffed, all the time, 24-7, that they have the right equipment.” Richards called bulldozers one of the best ways to put out fires but said we don’t have any in the county.
“We should have bulldozers on semi tractor trailers to go get those fires out right away, not wait for some federal [or state] agency to save us,” she said. “we should have it in the areas we need it.”