Wednesday’s candidate forum held at Cerro Coso Community College featured District 1 Inyo Board of Superviors candidates Jeff Gabriel, Executive Director of the Eastern Sierra Interpretative Center, and small business owner Trina Orrill, currently a Bishop Unified School District board member.
The forum started with brief introductions and the answer to the question “why are you running?”
Gabriel has worked for non-profits throughout the country. He noted Inyo residents have similar desires and “we have to do it together.” He realizes there is a lot of work involved in the position of Supervisor and the key is to be vibrant, helpful and kind.
Orrill is running to be of “service to others.” She is nearly a lifelong resident of Bishop and wants to see a safer town. Her view of the Supervisorial job is representation and collaboration.
Question 1: What are the County’s three most pressing issues and how would you address them?
Orrill has spoken to residents whose primary concerns are infrastructure, specifically roads, wildfire preparedness and housing. Roads should be prioritizes and be included in Inyo’s Capital Improvement Plan. She suggested wood chipping could be a big business.
Gabriel’s agreed roads and sidewalks were a high priority. He added Broadband and the need to finish the mid- and final miles. In addition, he noted the Bishop Airport and its importance to the economy and the Small Business Resource Center with its partner the Job Spot. Working with state and federal agencies as well as local tribes was also part of the solution.
Question 2: How can all the agencies in Inyo work together?
Gabriel’s career has been working with public agencies and organizations. Referencing California’s Community Economic Resiliency Fund as a way to encourage jobs that pay a living wage.
Orrill talked about cross boundary collaboration and clear communication. She added that Inyo has to work with Mono County since the two counties area dependent on each other.
Question 3: How would you address the housing shortage?
Orrill said that addressing the housing shortage is necessary to be able to recruit and retain a workforce. She added that California’s SB9 and 10 would expand the available housing inventory. “If a large retailer wants to come in,” she said, “make them build houses.” On homelessness, she said we need to understand and address the reasons for homelessness
Gabriel felt homes for those who live here should be addressed first. He noted the requirement to release 100 acres noted in the Long Term Water Agreement between Inyo and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Other solutions included looking at zoning, set-backs and parking requirements as well as encouraging developers to look at the two large, empty retail parcels.
Question 4: How do we heal the divisions in the County?
Gabriel: with kindness; “we’re all human.” COVID eroded trust within the County, but we have to move forward and focus on problems we can solve. “Viable solutions from everybody will solve our problems.”
Orrill noted “we are all family and friends.” The answer was to find common ground and goals. “We can model that behavior.”
How can the Board of Supervisors facilitate conversations at its
Orrill said the public can interact with the Board within boundaries. She added the three-minute limit is standard among public agencies. “We have to be accessible, through e-mail and phone,” she added. She would hold quarterly town hall meetings. She has committed to walking her district one day a week to interact with citizens.
Gabriel agreed that communication with constituents was important and was committed to being available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. “It’s important to know the concerns and opportunities available to our constituents.”
Question 5 focused on CalTrans’ North Sierra Highway project and helping citizens with exorbitant permit fees.
Gabriel said the intent of the highway project was to slow traffic and create a more pedestrian and bike friendly section of U.S. Hwy. 395. The activity is all on CalTrans right-of-way. He would help store owners navigate through the project.
Orrill said the project was out of the control of the County and CalTrans wasn’t accountable to anybody. She has spoken to residents and store owners and wants to know what the State will do to compensate those impacted. She added the County has the discretion to waive permits and that property owners should be compensated if they lose land.
Question 6: What efforts would you make for Wounded Warrior accessible recreation?
Orrill looks forward to the project on the Owens River being completed. She noted the Bishop Chamber is working on destination development, but the Supervisors’ job is to look at the County as a whole.
Gabriel: COVID overloaded our area. He noted Mammoth’s Camp Like a Pro program that addressed some of those issues.
Question 7: How would you facilitate the County’s recreational needs?
Gabriel said recreation and tourism were critical to the County and had to be looked at from a fiscal standpoint.
Orrill noted the County’s fish plants and campgrounds and the need to work with the Bureau of Land Management and the Inyo National Forest.
Question 8 focused on managing County resources: land and water.
Orrill would facilitate responsible management
Gabriel said education was important as was responsible stewardship. He mentioned the ESIC took fourth graders to Rock Creek to build water sheds.
Question 9: How would you assure broadband county-wide?
Gabriel noted that private industry was responsible for the final mile in Inyo while Mono County took a more active role. That last mile is very important as everyone is dependent on the Internet and cell service.
Orrill agreed we’re all reliant on technology and handicapped without it, noting the issue in Chalfant. If private industry couldn’t do the final mile then the County has to.
Question 10: What can be done to get fire hydrants into rural areas?
Orrill agreed that resources needed to be expanded.
Gabriel said grants and other funding sources should be tapped into to fill those needs, noting that lots in Mustang Mesa can’t be subdivided because the community isn’t part of a fire district.
Question 11 focused on homelessness and the failed safe parking project
Gabriel: Homelessness is everybody’s responsibility and everybody should step up. He noted issues with IMACA and the fact the County stepped up to help with funding.
Orrill focused on understanding why people are homeless. Veterans needed special help; single parents, those with substance abuse issues, those coming out of foster care need a plan going forward. She understood the issue with the safe parking project but would have liked to see a better location.
Question 12 Should Bishop rezone downtown to accommodate housing?
Orrill suggested going to the residents who would be impacted to see if that’s what they wanted. If the majority wanted the rezoning, she’d support it.
Gabriel said landowners are the ones building and subdividing but they shouldn’t infringe on others. “We have a housing shortage and have to look at the options.”
Question: How would you deal with hiring and firing staff?
Gabriel admitted that managing people is the hardest thing to do. “It’s a process. You have to talk and provide a timeline.” He said the challenge was hiring people from outside the area. “When people call and ask if there are jobs available, I ask them if they have a place to live. If not, then call me when you do.”
Orrill said that when hiring, you have high expectations and staff has to be held accountable.
Question: What are your leadership skills and how does your experience fit with the history and needs of the Owens Valley?
Orrill said she is a team player. She isn’t confrontational but wouldn’t shy away from her responsibilities. “You have to value the people doing the work; listening is a valuable skill.”
Gabriel referred to his leadership positions in different sectors, both locally and state-wide. “I’ve seen things that worked elsewhere and can bring those here,” he added.