If seven candidates get equal opportunities to speak during a two-hour forum, the moderator normally wouldn’t have time to ask many questions for each candidate to answer.
So League of Women Voters moderator Mardi Geredes tried a different tack at the Oct. 13 event showcasing seven of the eight candidates vying for three four-year terms on the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors.
(Candidate Thomas Kirkey, a retired businessman, couldn’t participate because of a medical emergency.)
After the candidates’ two-minute self introductions, moderator Geredes chose to ask each question of only one candidate, who had one minute to respond, instead of asking every candidate to answer every question. The moderator then moved on to the next question and the next candidate, and so on down the long table on the vets hall stage.
The other six candidates couldn’t immediately respond to an opponent’s answer, although some managed to wedge brief replies into their answers to their own, often unrelated questions.
I’m finding this process discombobulating.
Write-in candidate Stephen Kniffen, on the initial form of questioning at the forum
Geredes asked eight questions that way, then looped back to get answers to four of those questions from some — but not all — of the other candidates.
Write-in candidate Steve Kniffen said at that point, “I’m finding this process discombobulating.”
Geredes then returned to the customary ask-each-candidate-the-same-question method.
She quizzed participants on such topics as the district’s moratorium on new water connections, finances, communications with the public, rehabilitating Santa Rosa Creek wells from MTBE contamination, what the area’s most important environmental issues were and a couple of questions about CCSD utility rates.
Eight of the 15 forum’s questions addressed the town’s water supply and its Sustainable Water Facility (SWF).
The Cambria Chamber of Commerce sponsored the forum; League members moderated it and controlled the flow of questions, which had been submitted in writing by audience members.
The candidates on the ballot are, alphabetically, former social worker and current astrologer Harry Farmer, Kirkey, former business owner Dewayne Lee, incumbents Amanda Rice, Gail Robinette and Greg Sanders, and caregiver/Pewter Plough Playhouse house manager Jeff Walters. Write-in candidate Kniffen is a restaurant manager who chairs CCSD’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space Commission.
Chamber officials estimated that about 165 people attended the forum, although CCSD staffers said later they’d eventually set up every chair in the hall, totaling more than 200.
The forum’s tone was cordial and polite, with a couple of spurts of humor, such as when somebody asked Sanders to check the score for the Dodgers baseball game (they won), or Farmer’s answer when the moderator asked whether he owns property on the district’s water wait list and if so, whether he thinks that a director who does should recuse himself/herself from voting on related issues.
Farmer answered quickly, “No. Yes.”
Following audience laughter, he explained that he’s a responsible renter, and not only does he pay his rent on time, “if my landlord is going out of town, I pay my rent early.”
The candidates seem to agree that water-related issues are among the most urgent ones facing the district, with infrastructure maintenance and the community park also getting frequent mentions.
Sanders said he believes the most important issue is “the threat of fire. We could truck water in, but if the town burns down, there’s nothing we can do.”
He said dead trees in the forest “add immeasurably to the fire load,” and “we need to purchase a biomass facility, to burn the dead trees in an environmentally sound way” and provide electricity to the wastewater treatment plant. The district, Cambria FireSafe Focus Group and county FireSafe Council are working on the biomass project.
Farmer stressed the district’s need to find water losses in the distribution system, and then fix those problem areas. He said “right now, we’re losing millions of gallons per billing period,” with a difference of from 8 to 9 percent between the amount of water that’s pumped and the water that customers pay for.
Walters repeatedly touted an atmospheric-recharge system that could provide water to individual property owners by pulling water from air. Each owner would pay for his or her own system, so public money would not be involved, he said, adding that a working demonstration project has been installed at Soto’s True Earth Market. He said CCSD must adapt to changing environments. “This is not a drought, really. This is our new normal.”
Lee emphasized environmental issues, including safeguarding the ocean and knowing that resources other than water limit future growth in Cambria, such as roads, the forest and the town’s aging wastewater treatment plant.
He also urged more open communication. “The more open CCSD is, the less chance of us guessing, and guessing wrong … when you get everything out in the open, you take away the mystery.”
Kniffen gave an alternate opinion, saying “It’s not necessarily the CCSD board’s responsibility to communicate with you. It’s your job to be aware of what’s going on … if you want to know what’s going on, go to the meeting, be part of the process.”
All three incumbents and Lee also said they support having more standing committees, which (unlike ad hoc committees) require posting agendas in advance and taking public comment.
Robinette said she envisions the district’s next standing committee as focusing on alternative sources of energy. “There are a lot of things happening in that technology,” she said.
Rice said that while getting a regular permit for the water facility is vital, so are other issues, such as the fire department, parks, the forest and fixing pipes in the ground.
She also said the recently revised rates are fair and “as low as we possibly, feasibly could” keep them. She added that, unfortunately, “the rates will go up again,” because infrastructure maintenance had been deferred for such a long time.
Kniffen said the most important issues are “the water, infrastructure and dealing with the sewer plant and the park.” But “I do things like my grandfather did: Save it, fix it, save money in an envelope and do not buy anything until there’s enough money in the envelope.”
Robinette, Sanders and Rice support the SWF water-reclamation plant they approved, a facility that’s running now so the district can complete a two-month state-required test.
Lee suggested letting Cambrians vote on whether they want the plant to only operate during water-shortage emergencies, or as a sustainable plant that could operate at any time.
Robinette said the plant is the best solution for mitigating Cambria’s water crisis. “We had the threat of subsidence to our aquifer,” in which “it starts closing down on itself and you never regain the capacity … there were very good reasons why we did what we did.”
“This isn’t just about us,” Rice said. “It’s about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”